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OPINION: Suddenly a city, loud and thirsty

By Tracy Warner, The Wenatchee World, Wash.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

June 19--This makes me feel like an prude, a classic stick-in-the-mud neo-prohibitionist fat old guy who doesn't want anybody to have fun, but I don't understand much about Paradiso. That's the June 27-28 festival that will transform the Gorge Amphitheatre from a dusty bluff south of Quincy into one of the largest human habitats in Eastern Washington. The Gorge: Pop. 25,000.

Paradiso is an EDM festival. It is, say its organizers, the largest EDM festival in the Northwest. To prove my sorry state, I had to search around to find out what EDM means, and found it is an acronym for "electronic dance music," which is comprised of pulsating, percussive digital sounds and rhythms of varying texture, which entice adherents to hop up and down for hours or days on end. There are tens of thousands of people willing to spend hundreds of dollars each to participate. I glanced at the website and must say, I was impressed. The festival features performances from nearly 60 groups, and not one have I heard of before.

I know. This doesn't prove a thing about the worth of Paradiso, it only demonstrates my ignorance. I am thoroughly unqualified to comment on Paradiso's cultural or artistic worth and will not critique it or wish it to go away, like an overdose of Apple Blossom cruising. That so many people find this spot on the Columbia so appealing is genuinely flattering. The Gorge Amphitheatre is itself an amazing success story, that began with Stan Getz playing for a few hundred of us at a dusty backroad winery, to multiple and regular mass events of worldwide fame. That none of them appeal to me is of no concern. It still grows.

This success, though, raises concerns, as it would any time you concentrate 25,000 people in temporary quarters. With that many people, there will be concerns for public safety, health and sanitation whatever the event, be it an EDM festival or life insurance sales convention. Any city of that size would have a sizable police force, a fully staffed fire department, ambulance and emergency medical care, and a public works department to supply potable water and remove waste. When you have an event like Paradiso, which by intent involves physical exertion for hours in temperatures possibly above 90 degrees and humidity lower than most attendees have experienced, and that some or many will seek to chemically enhance their trance-like state, potential problems multiply. And that may be why officials of Grant County Fire District 3 wrote the county commissioners last year, saying "It is apparent that a major disaster at the amphitheater or campground will happen unless changes are made. The only question is when and how many people may lose their life."

That is a serious warning. Then there is the genuine trouble for the Quincy Valley Medical Center, a rural medical facility with tender finances, being suddenly thrust into the role of urban emergency room. As has been reported many times, the small tax-supported hospital absorbed $100,000 in staffing costs and $400,000 in unpaid bills from last year's concerts, and treated 120 during last year's Paradiso festival alone. One young man died after being rushed to Central Washington Hospital, dehydration and methamphetamine intoxication the cause. The Gorge owner, Live Nation, and the hospital have not been communicating well. Whether they are on speaking terms or not, some means for concert-goers to compensate the hospital and fire district must be found, as would be just for any user of tax-supported services. The Legislature may be asked to intervene.

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Meanwhile, The Gorge and Paradiso organizers vow to have expanded 24-hour medical care with multiple locations on site, 12 water stations, shade tents, roaming "safety officers," and a "Conscious Crew" "taking care of others." Law enforcement will patrol concert and campground. Ambulance crews will be on standby.

Not much else to say, but welcome EDM fans, or whatever you're called. Enjoy, be safe, and drink before you're thirsty. Water is best.

Tracy Warner's column appears Wednesday through Friday. He can be reached at warner@wenatcheeworld.com or 665-1163.

Reach Tracy Warner at 509-665-1163 or warner@wenatcheeworld.com.

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(c)2014 The Wenatchee World (Wenatchee, Wash.)

Visit The Wenatchee World (Wenatchee, Wash.) at www.wenatcheeworld.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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