Concertgoers outraged over Salmon Fest

Rebekah Ward and Evan Careen
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Ontario woman considering lawsuit because of oversold VIP section, lack of water

A number of this year's Salmon Fest patrons left Grand Falls-Windsor with bones to pick, mostly about the concert's oversold VIP section and shortage of bottled water. One guest is frustrated enough to threaten a class-action lawsuit.

Attendees were not allowed to bring water bottles into Saturday's event, which boasted an all-day outdoor concert headlined by The Eagles in one of the hottest days of the summer.

Fans could not replenish their own supply either, since they were not allowed to leave the grounds and get back in.

The concert opened its doors at 1 p.m. According to Newfoundlander Sue Smallwood, there was already a shortage of water in some areas only a couple of hours later.

"At 3 p.m. we went to get water (for the first time), and they had run out. Three times between 3 and 6 my boyfriend went to get water, and there was none," Smallwood said.

"He ran into a guy who bought four bottles of water off another bypasser - (the guy) had paid 60 dollars for four bottles of water because his girlfriend was dehydrated."

Smallwood bought a VIP ticket to the concert, paying about an extra $100 dollars. Though she loves The Eagles, she can't stand tight crowds.

"We heard VIP was supposed to be very spacious, and easy access to washrooms and the bar, so that's why we got it. And it wasn't so. It was packed," Smallwood said.

"We were told when we bought our tickets that there were 2,500 VIPs, so there'd be lots of room to move around. By the time 5 (o'clock) hit they said there was close to 6,000. ... By the time it was all said and done, they said (there were) about 7,500 (people in the VIP section). It was dangerous. There were people passing out, and some couldn't stand up, they were just getting pushed around."

Smallwood still enjoyed the music, although she left with a sour taste in her mouth. She called for better organization, and a way for VIP ticket holders to get their money back. Debbie Dwight, who travelled from Ontario for the Salmon Festival, has threatened to take this monetary issue into her own hands.

"I intend to poll dissatisfied patrons for a class-action suit against the city, officials and promoters," Dwight tweeted from her newly created twitter account with the handle @Salmonfestfail.

Her experience in the VIP section was not what she was told to expect.

"It was awful. I was never afraid for my safety in 55 years before this and I attend concerts every month in the U.S. and Canada," Dwight said.

Dwight showed up early in the day with a lawn chair because she was told when she purchased the tickets there would be enough room.

"(As the day wore on) we were told by other people to get out of our chairs, that chairs don't belong at concerts," she said. "People were pushing us, yelling at us. It was horrible."

Dwight also had an issue with the water shortage. She said she understands the organizers want to make money with concession stands, but she felt it was too poorly organized and there were not enough vendors.

A number of people have tweeted to Dwight, including traceyforsey152, who said "@Salmonfestfail I was completely overwhelmed with the crowds and lack of water. My husband took me outside the VIP to get water. It was sad."

Dwight said she saw people being carried out on stretchers as the day wore on and it seems paramedics also had issues getting through the crowd.

Dr. Jared Butler was a volunteer at the event and one of the co-ordinators of the medical tent and paramedics.

"There were challenges getting people to the medical tent quickly," he said. "Nothing that was unsafe, I want to stress that. But it did take longer to get through than we would have liked."

Butler said the staff and the RCMP were very helpful getting them through the crowd. He also said this was the busiest year he's seen.

"I've been doing this now since KISS came and this year was certainly busier," he said "If you count all the people who needed Band-Aids or just a cold cloth, I would estimate we helped about 100 people."

Monday was a civic holiday, and local officials have not returned calls from the media.

Smallwood recounted an exchange she had with a Grand Falls-Windsor official at the concert, however.

"I spoke to the chair (from Grand Falls-Windsor) there. My friend who lives in Grand Falls dragged him over," Smallwood said.

"He was very patient, and he said, 'I apologize, but it's not our fault. It's the promoters' fault. They oversold on the VIP by about 3,000.' We said, 'No, it's close to 6,000,' and he goes 'Yeah I know, but I'm afraid to actually say what the number is.'"

Jack Livingston with SRO entertainment, the promoter of the event, said he would not be available until later in the week to provide detailed information or respond to complaints.

"(But) if the people would have moved liked we asked we wouldn't have had these problems," Livingston noted.

"It was the greatest show Newfoundland had ever seen. It was the greatest crowd Newfoundland ever had, any gathering of people, and it was hot, 35 degrees, you know. The heat caused some problems," Livingston said later in the day.

Dwight is en route back to her home in Ontario and said the experience ruined her view of the province.

"People always told me the Newfoundland is such a beautiful place with such nice people," she said.

"We saw the worst of Newfoundland."

Organizations: RCMP

Geographic location: Ontario, Newfoundland, U.S. Canada Grand Falls

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