Panic at LarkFest: News not fit to print?

Edward Munch

Edward Munch

Two weeks ago I wrote this letter to the editor at the Times Union. I guess they’re not going to run it, so I’m hereby publishing it here:

As a lover of rock and jazz music for over five decades, I’ve been to countless concerts, most notably the Woodstock Festival in 1969. But never have I experienced the sheer panic that I felt at LarkFest, trapped and immobilized in the crowd near the main stage when Moby was playing.

The crowd was composed primarily of college-age, beer drinking youth, but I’m not complaining about them. Like the rest of the multi-racial, multi-generational crowd, the majority were friendly and well-behaved. Rather, I’m blaming the organizers who decided to book Moby and Bell X1, build a mammoth stage that blocked much of the street, and hold a free concert wedged in between row houses.  

As Moby began, I was part of the crowd shown in Michael P. Farrell’s photo, fairly near the stage. After half an hour the crowd was getting to me, so I decided to leave by making my way to State Street and over to Washington Park. On the sidewalk, people were pushing in both directions, but progress was almost nonexistent. Pinned in by strange bodies, shoved and jostled from all sides, I began to panic. “I’ve got to get out of here,” I called repeatedly to no avail. A woman heading south while I was trying to go north said, “Don’t go this way. It’s even worse up ahead – really dangerous.” So I turned around. During the eternity it took me to backtrack half a block, it occurred to me that I could actually die here, crushed by the mob. At last I made it to the next corner, where I could walk and breathe freely once more.

 

What if someone had started screaming, even pulled a knife or gun? The resultant stampede could have turned instantly to tragedy. I’m not saying the city shouldn’t book name bands for LarkFest, but they need better plans for crowd control. A simple solution: next year, move the main stage to Washington Park.

Why didn’t they run it? I’ll probably never know, but here’s my theory. LarkFest is an annual event sponsored by the Lark Street Business Association in conjunction with the city of Albany. It’s intended to lure people to Lark Street and promote its businesses. For those not familiar with the Capital Region, Lark Street is an attractive destination, with bars, restaurants, galleries and boutiques. The newspaper’s follow-up stories, including a front-page feature and a music review, portrayed this event in the best possible light, with no mention of the potential danger, although there was a small “unrelated” story about a stabbing that took place near Washington Park when the crowd was breaking up.

So was this a deliberate cover-up decision designed to protect the neighborhood’s business interests? Or did some unpaid intern simply shuffle through that day’s letters and decide mine belonged in the circular file? Who knows? In any case, I’ll probably bypass the event next year.

Yesterday, in contrast, my husband and I strolled through a “Motorcycle Art” festival in downtown Schenectady en route to a “high tea” (a story in its own right). The street was full of bikes and bikers in full regalia, many drinking beer, but I felt safe and secure, even when I was on my own. The difference? It simply wasn’t as crowded.

My husband had a different reaction, though – having ridden motorcycles in the past, and being more sensitive to that world, he was acutely aware of which folks were serious “gang bangers” and which were simply ordinary folks doing a little weekend role playing and showing off their Harleys.

I’m way behind on new blog posts, so I want to get this one up today. Tomorrow maybe I’ll search out some more relevant graphics, but now I’m off to a free reading at the Arts Center of the Capital Region. Memoirs about travel, with wine and French cheese – decadent, maybe, but I deserve the respite after meeting my Web Con deadlines.

9 thoughts on “Panic at LarkFest: News not fit to print?

    • Thanks, Donna, me too. Actually, I know someone who might have insight into their letters policy – Greg Haymes, the excellent music critic whom the Times Union laid off a few months ago. Now they sometimes run his reviews and identify him as “a freelance writer from the wilds of Schodack.” Journalism is a tough profession these days.

  1. I enjoyed this post too, Julie. I remember several concerts I have been out that have been in desperate need of crowd control as well. It really can turn into a dangerous and serious condition quickly. Thank goodness most attendees at these events are there for a good time and are generally fairly good natured. Except for the panicky moments when you couldn’t escape the crowds it sounds like it was a fun time!

    Nancy, from Realms of Thought…

    • Hi Nancy. Actually it was’t a fun time, except when I was actually standing near the stage, watching and listening to the bands. The problem arose when I tried to leave. I’d told my husband I’d meet him at 5pm in Washington Park near where we’d parked our car – he had better sense than to try to get near the main stage. (He doesn’t share all my musical tastes, especially in rock, and I don’t make him endure it – one reason we’ve stayed married for 35 years!)

      We were in touch by cell phone, and I should have just told him, “Forget it – I’m not getting out of here.” I’d have done so with no qualms, but Moby was beginning to bore me. But even if I’d stayed put, the potential for a dangerous mob scene was still very much there.

      Another thing that was panicking me was fears of swine flu! But at least the event didn’t make me sick.

  2. I enjoyed this post too, Julie. I remember several concerts I have been out that have been in desperate need of crowd control as well. It really can turn into a dangerous and serious condition quickly. Thank goodness most attendees at these events are there for a good time and are generally fairly good natured. Except for the panicky moments when you couldn’t escape the crowds it sounds like it was a fun time!

    Nancy, from Realms of Thought…
    Sorry… forgot to say great post – can’t wait to read your next one!

    • Hi Jane, thanks for visiting. The painting is by Edward Munch, one of my favorites, especially because like me, he’s Norwegian and tends toward the gloomy and expressionistic in his art. (Actually, I’m a third-generation American of 3/4 Norwegian and 1/4 Swedish descent).

  3. We stopped going to LarkFest years ago because of the crowds. It was so outrageous that you could hardly get near the vendors to look, let alone buy. I like a busy but not crazy festival. Pinsksterfest/TulipFest at least has the whole park for the crowds to inhabit (but the parking issues are another matter…). Glad you posted this, Julie. Someone needs to look at crowd control for this event. All they’d need would be one or two people to “lose it” and there could be a terrible result.

  4. Hi Marilyn, thanks for visiting! You’re right – LarkFest has been this way for years, but I’ve never seen it this bad.

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