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With Extravaganja, two concerts on tap, Amherst readies for big weekend



Saturday, April 12, 2014
AMHERST — Thousands of college-age people are expected to spend this weekend listening to bands perform in downtown Amherst and at concerts on the University of Massachusetts campus.

With many anticipated visitors, including those attending the 23rd annual Extravaganja rally on the Town Common Saturday, and the possibility of spring-like weather, the police and fire departments are preparing to handle issues that arise, such as loud parties that generate noise complaints and overconsumption of alcohol requiring medical attention.

“It’s going to be a nice weekend,” said Fire Chief Walter “Tim” Nelson. “It may rain a bit, but it’s going to be warm, and will be pretty active.”

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But unlike the March 8 Blarney Blowout that brought people to Amherst to drink alcohol, and which resulted in behavior that prompted police intervention, police and fire officials are anticipating minimal problems at Extravaganja, the marijuana legalization festival that features music, speakers and vendors.

“It’s more of a traffic and crowd issue,” said Police Chief Scott Livingstone. He said with so many people driving in town center, the roads will be busier than normal.

Nelson agreed that few medical calls are likely. “Traditionally, we don’t get a lot of activity there,” Nelson said.

Still, Nelson said the departments are waiting to see whether there will be carry-over by college-age people from the pre-St. Patrick’s Day parties that led to dozens of arrests.

“Part of the dynamic still at play here is Blarney Blowout,” Nelson said.

What is it like to be at Extravaganja? See a video of last year's event here.

The Mullins Center will stage two concerts. The first, Saturday from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., is called Code Black, featuring music by DJ 4our 5ive, and concludes Soul Fest week. The following day, the annual spring concert features rock band the Goo Goo Dolls, rap artist Wale, and Slightly Stoopid, a band that combines rock, reggae, hip hop and funk. The music begins at 6 p.m., with doors at the Mullins opening at 5 p.m.

For both concerts, two out-of-town ambulances and an Amherst unit, made up of one captain and two paramedics, will be stationed at the venue to treat anyone in need of medical attention.

In addition, UMass Emergency Medical Services will be in the audience to assist concert-goers.

“We will be staffed up Friday and Saturday nights, extending to Sunday night, as well, because of the spring concert,” Nelson said.

Nine paramedics will be working Friday and Saturday between 5 and 9 p.m., staffing that will increase to 13 between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m., allowing all five ambulances and a fire truck equipped as a paramedic-level vehicle to be on the road. Sunday the department will have 11 paramedics on from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. Monday.

UMass Deputy Police Chief Patrick Archbald said there are at least seven events planned on campus Saturday, meaning a lot of students will remain on campus.

“Without a doubt this will be one of the busiest weekends,” Archbald said. “We have all hands on deck.”

But Archbald said the department has informed Amherst police that it will be ready to assist in responding to any large off-campus disturbances that occur.

Additional events on campus include a free concert Friday evening at the Southwest beach and horseshoe, a lip sync contest as part of Greek Week at the Mullins Center Friday at 7 p.m., and the fifth annual Dash & Dine run and walk across campus Saturday morning and afternoon that benefits the Amherst Survival Center and promotes healthy eating.

UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewski said there will be many opportunities for students to socialize throughout the weekend, but the expectations are that they will behave responsibly.

A brief message is being sent to all students by Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Campus Life Enku Gelaye encouraging them to partake in the various activities, while recognizing that their behavior can cause issues for Amherst residents.

“Over the past couple of weeks, UMass Amherst students have continued the effort to be mindful of their impact on the community,” Gelaye wrote. “In the coming days, please maintain the positive efforts and encourage your friends to do the same.”

Extravaganja, organized by the Cannabis Reform Coalition at UMass, is expected to draw around 4,000 people, said coalition treasurer Delaney Ratner.

Ratner said 60 vendors will be selling food, glass, jewelry and other products.

Some of these will be set up on the North Common, closer to Town Hall, as the festival gets bigger. Livingstone said that is part of an indication that the event is outgrowing its space.

“It’s gotten to the point where it’s hard to fit them on the common,” Livingstone said.

Livingstone said the influx of visitors to downtown is likely a boon for businesses. He has advised organizers that those attending the event should not disrupt any other activities going on nearby, such as the weekly peace vigil.

“I made it clear to them they are not to conflict with anyone else using the common,” Livingstone said.

The music begins at noon with Honeycomb, followed by Bootystank, Elephant, The Frotations, DJ Wubson and concluding with Ballads and Softcore Porn.

Interspersed with the music will be speakers, such as Sarah Kant from the Family Law and Cannabis Alliance in Boston; Keith Saunders, a Boston sociologist whose professional work focuses on drug policy and social movement; and Valerio G. Romano, a Boston attorney and founder of Massachusetts Marijuana Compliance.

Ratner said the event will be a celebration of recent achievements, as well as looking ahead two years for national appeals for legalization.

“Our goals this year are to draw attention to the big push in the legalization movements that are starting to happen, specifically the 2016 push for federal legalization to be on the ballot, and to continue to educate event attendees on specific aspects of legalization,” Ratner said.