Weekend marijuana rally, UMass concert have Amherst officials on alert
AMHERST — Amherst will be a mecca of music Saturday as the town center is filled with performances — and pot smoke — at the 22nd annual Extravaganja, while an electronic music concert caps off the evening at the Mullins Center at the University of Massachusetts.
While marijuana will be used freely on the common during the daytime rally aimed at legalizing that drug, police and fire officials are more concerned with the fans attending the Rusko concert at UMass. Rusko is an electronic dance disc jockey.
“These types of shows will attract people who want to use drugs and alcohol,” said Fire Chief Walter “Tim” Nelson.
Extravaganja, Nelson said, “is mostly about people hanging out and being mellow.”
As a result, Nelson will have three firefighter EMTs working at a triage area at the Mullins Center when the Rusko concert begins at 7 p.m. and has plans to call for assistance by mutual aid ambulances from Easthampton and Westfield. The idea is to treat people at the scene if possible and avoid tying up ambulances for trips to Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton.
Nelson expects 3,000 spectators at the show, which he said is a reasonable number to handle, though he still expects four to six transports and between 14 and 16 people seeking medical assistance.
Setting up a triage area has proven successful, he said.
“With triage, it’s better for us, better for the hospital, better for patients and better for the system itself,” Nelson said.
The chief said the success of the triage system was well illustrated last weekend. On Saturday night, the Euphoria show at the Mullins Center, featuring hip hop and soul music, saw 17 patients at the triage area, 10 of whom were University of Massachusetts students. Seven needed to be transported to Cooley Dickinson for treatment, while one person was placed into protective custody by UMass police.
The following day, during the spring concert with bands including Big Sean, Cobra Starship and Tyga, also at the Mullins, 22 people were seen at triage, 14 of them UMass students, and four people were transported to the hospital. Three were placed into protective custody.
“For me, this points out why we need to do this triage thing,” Nelson said. “Without that, it would have generated 39 ambulance calls where we would have at least had to have gone (to the Mullins).”
In anticipation of a balmy spring weekend drawing college-age revelers outdoors in large numbers this week, his department will have six ambulances and 13 firefighters on duty Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m., with two of these ambulances staffed by funding from UMass. This spring is a rare opportunity for the department, because the new ambulance recently purchased is on the road and the ambulance that would be retired is licensed as a medical vehicle through the end of the year.
“There’s going to be a lot going on,” Nelson said. “I think we’re ready to handle it. We’re staffed up and we’re ready to take it on.”
Meanwhile, Police Chief Scott Livingstone said his department usually only deals with traffic-related issues at Extravaganja during the six-hour event.
“Our concern with Extravaganja is not usually behavior-related,” Livingstone said.
Though Amherst police detectives will be watching the common, and have coordinated with organizers, it is mostly to ensure that the 10,000 to 15,000 who come out enjoy the music, speakers and vendors. Unlike when the event was still in its infancy and marijuana laws were more stringent, Livingstone said there is no intention to make arrests.
“It’s a relatively respectful understanding. We won’t harass them,” Livingstone said.
Among those performing at Extravaganja will be Who’da Funk It?, Deadfish, Downbeat Keys, The Sun Parade, The Mary Jane Jones and BootyStank.
The one issue stemming from the marijuana rally is it comes at a time when police are increasing vigilance in other areas of town where large outdoor parties are expected, Livingstone said. In the past, college students have tried to resurrect the Hobart Hoedown, the notorious block party that drew large, drunken crowds and sparked a riot in the past.
“This is a weekend when we’ll have all hands on deck,” Livingstone said.
Amherst police are again partnering with UMass police on disturbance response teams that can mobilize quickly to end problems.
The joint patrols are supposed to be supplemented with a state police Community Action Team, though Livingstone said this may not come to Amherst if needed in Boston after the explosions at the Boston Marathon.