Overcrowding causes some to miss concert

Thursday, July 22, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:52 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

Payton Spence, 19, arrived at The Blue Note on Tuesday night two hours after the doors opened with a ticket in hand for the Snoop Dogg concert. He said he was confused to see a long line still outside and disappointed when he found out people weren’t being allowed in.

Spence was among more than 100 people holding tickets to the sold out concert who never got to see the show because of concerns that the venue would fill over capacity.

“The first time Snoop comes to town you want to go see him,” Spence said. “I just hope he comes back sometime soon.”

Columbia Fire Marshal Steven Sapp said he became concerned about whether the club was exceeding its occupancy limit when a battalion chief who was in the area reported a large crowd outside the venue.

Sapp said he then met with the venue’s owner, Richard King, and decided to closely count people entering the club. When the maximum occupancy of 835, which includes Blue Note staff and the performers, was reached, Sapp asked for the doors to be closed and the venue complied. Between 100 and 140 ticket holders were unable to attend.

King said Sapp arrived at the scene with the intent to take control of the doors.

“It was not a meeting to me,” King said.

King said the Columbia Police Department contacted him before the day of the show to inform him that more officers would be put in the area, but that Sapp did not attempt to speak to him before the show.

Police Chief Randy Boehm said that putting extra officers in the area is routine for larger events, especially in congested areas such as downtown.

“We knew that was a big-name act and there would be a significant crowd,” Boehm said.

The number of tickets sold — 800 — did not exceed the club’s capacity. In addition to ticket holders, however, about 50 people were on the guest list to attend the show for free, and Snoop Dogg’s entourage and The Blue Note staff made up another 50 people.

Once the show reached capacity, admission was changed to “one in, one out.”

“If someone left the show for any reason, then someone else could come in,” Sapp said.

He estimated that about 50 to 75 upset fans waited to see if people would leave. Sapp said no violence occurred outside the venue, but Columbia police reported three people were arrested at the show: one for refusing to leave, another for an open-container violation and one for third-degree assault.

Blue Note employee Lindsey Spratt worked the show on Tuesday and sat in the venue’s box office Wednesday afternoon giving out refunds to those who were turned away.

“People have been really understanding that it’s not our fault,” Spratt said.

During his 24 years of business, King said he can only recall three occasions where he encountered the fire marshal and that it is very uncommon for shows to be over capacity.

“We all apologize to all of our patrons,” King said.

In 2003, the fire department responded to a report of overcrowding at The Blue Note during country artist Sarah Evans’ concert. Sapp said officers stood “fire watch” at the show but did not evacuate the building. He later spoke with the management about dealing with the problem in the future.

Sapp said the fire department doesn’t keep tabs on which shows might have more potential for overcrowding. He said the fact that this was a rap concert had no bearing on his agency’s response.

“Sarah Evans or Snoop Dogg, it makes no difference,” Sapp said. “Overcrowded is overcrowded.”

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