For some rowdy concertgoers in Gilford, show’s over before it even begins

  • Florida Georgia Line Justin Mrusek—

Monitor staff
Published: 8/7/2016 11:10:11 PM

Thousands of country music diehards, rockers and pop enthusiasts have flocked to the small lakeside town of Gilford each summer to see their favorite artists take to the outdoor concert stage. But a small minority of those people lose out on the chance to see the show, with some never making it through the venue’s gates.

Of the 18 concerts held at the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion (formerly Meadowbrook) between June 3 and July 18, more than 230 people were taken into custody before midnight. However, roughly half of those people are not facing criminal charges; rather, they were taken into protective custody for drunkenness at the venue, both before and during a show.

A concert can draw up to 10,000 attendees to Meadowbrook Lane. Of those who are arrested on a given night, the majority are charged with underage drinking.

The Monitor has compiled data to examine the regularity of civil detentions at a local concert venue and the process one goes through when taken into protective custody. The data is a sample of what’s become common behavior at concert venues and assists in the understanding of how officers are trained to respond.

An officer has the discretion to detain someone, and Gilford police say they and the law enforcement agencies they work with make it a priority to release people to sober family members and friends whenever possible. The alternative is transporting them to the Belknap County jail in Laconia, where they are held until sober and then left on their own to find a ride home.

The Gilford Police Department has worked closely with the pavilion, once known as Meadowbrook Farm, for nearly two decades to promote a safe, family-friendly performance venue for all, according to police Chief Anthony Bean Burpee.

Broadly speaking, they’ve accomplished that goal so far this season with no significant issues reported in the daily logs. Instead, the logs are composed of the customary alcohol-related arrests and civil detentions of people who were intoxicated in public.

“Protective custodies do range in age, but many are members of the younger crowd,” Bean Burpee said. “When you get artists like Ringo Starr, who typically draws an older crowd, the people are responsible, they eat, drink, watch the show and they leave. When we have the big country shows, one of which was Florida Georgia Line, they’re up and coming, they draw a diverse crowd, and sometimes that signals trouble.”

Each year brings a new or returning act with a reputation for drawing rowdier – and often younger – concertgoers. In late June, American country duo Florida Georgia Line took the crown, after 87 people were taken into custody during the act’s two performances. Those 87 people represent 38 percent of all arrests and civil detentions made during the 18 shows.

Lynyrd Skynyrd and Dave Matthews Band came in second and third, respectively, for the number of people taken into protective custody during a show. Police made no arrests during the performances of Ringo Starr, Jason Isbell and Frankie Valli.

Tailgating is a pre-event tradition for some. But for those who violate the town’s ordinance on alcoholic beverages in public, a fun time can turn sour fast. Local law prohibits people from drinking alcohol in any public or private parking lot, among other public locations. The complication lies in that many concertgoers aren’t familiar with the ordinance, and even those who are don’t necessarily abide by it, Bean Burpee said.

The venue sends out an email bulletin to all ticket buyers with information about the local law and the expectations of police, but it’s hard say how many people take note, he said.

R.J. Harding, president of the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion at Meadowbrook, did not return multiple messages left by the Monitor during the past two weeks seeking comment.

Once police detain an intoxicated person, he or she is not permitted to return to the concert, per the pavilion’s policy. That also means the sober friend or family member caring for that person can’t see the show.

The Gilford Police Department says it fully supports the policy, in part because an officer’s initial interaction with an intoxicated person likely wouldn’t be the last. Additionally, officers don’t have the time to respond to repeat calls with thousands of people to protect, said Gilford police Lt. Kristian Kelley, who is in his 18th year with the town.

“Our No. 1 priority is keeping people safe. We want them to enjoy themselves, and we want to make sure they’re safe in doing that,” he said. “That’s not just at the venue, but when they go back onto our roadways . . . it’s a big responsibility for us.”

Gilford Town Administrator Scott Dunn said the town views the concert pavilion as a major asset to the community and the Lakes Region. He said the police department does a great job working with the owners and keeping everyone safe.

“Our men and women do work a lot of extra hours. As the season winds down, I worry about them over-exhausting themselves, but the police chief has informed me that that’s not the case,” Dunn said.

Officers work detail at the venue, which pays $60 per hour per officer. In Gilford, $45 of that is paid to the officer and $15 is given to the town for administrative fees, Bean Burpee said. How other agencies break up that $60 varies and is dependent on police contracts, he noted.

The performers and the demographics of their fans often dictate how many officers will be staffed at the venue on a given night, police said. Anywhere from six to 18 officers could be working at one time.

“We want to stress to the public that we understand they want to come and have a good time,” Kelley said, “but they need to do so responsibly.”

(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319, or on Twitter @_ADandrea.)

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