Record concert crowd tests State Fair as leaders promise improvements

A record 13,000 people attended the Pentatonix concert at the 2017 Nebraska State Fair (NTV News)

The combination of heightened security and a record crowd tested the Nebraska State Fair, as leaders pledge to review concert procedures.

After that record-setting weekend, vendors and staff at the fair appreciated Monday’s slower pace.

“Saturday was pretty swamped out here, had a good day Saturday,” said Jim Danhauer of JoJo’s Gelato.

Crowds were driven by Pentatonix, as a Nebraska State Fair record 13,000 people attended a sold out show by the popular vocal group.

Fair Board President Chris Kircher said it attracted many from Lincoln and Omaha.

“The eastern numbers are looking good and a concert like Pentatonix draws a lot from the eastern part of the state so that helps bring people out to the fair who haven't been to Grand Island,” he said.

By that metric, the concert was a success; But the fair may be experiencing growing pains.

Executive Director Joseph McDermott said, “It tested us and there are certainly some areas we need to make improvements in. But for most part, concert went well.”

Specifically, some raised concerns about long lines to get through just two general admission security checkpoints.

“That was an issue,” McDermott said, “That is what maybe slowed the entrance into the concert down.”

Security workers used handheld metal detectors to scan each person coming into the concert, while also checking bags, and not just purses and backpacks.

McDermott said, “We're certainly going to look at lawn chairs. Lawn chairs in a bag caused problems, because you have to take them out.”

Like many venues now do, the fair may go to a clear bag policy. And McDermott said they’ll consider adding another concert entrance and re-evaluate the outdoor concert setup.

“There are things we can do to make it a better venue for outdoor concerts, especially the larger ones,” he said.”

Fair leaders say they want to make sure visitors have the best experience, and part of that is ensuring safety.

McDermott said, “We think it's important. The acts definitely think it's important and quite honestly the insurance company thinks it's important. it's here to stay. We just need to find a way to make it more efficient.”

As a new week begins, fair leaders hope to build on what they see as a strong start.

“Saturday was an awesome day,” McDermott said.

He said they’re considering walk-through metal detectors, although he’s not sure if that will expedite concert entrances or not. He said they’ll also review the policy on lawn chairs and bags, and says they do want to continue to improve the outdoor concert experience.

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