Dancing on Main Street may need revamp

By Jason Hawk - jhawk@aimmediamidwest.com

“Is this the last year?”

That’s a question Dancing on Main Street organizer Teresa Gilles hears every August — and it’s one we heard over and over at Saturday’s downtown festival.

No decision has been made to end the annual bands-and-beer party, which just wrapped on its 15th year.

But it may get a revamp.

Gilles said her eyes were opened late Saturday when she spent time with Amherst police officers dealing with rowdy crowds. After 10:30 p.m., there were several incidents from shoving to screaming matches to an assault.

Lt. Mark Cawthon said there were 16 calls for service related to Dancing on Main Street, down from 24 last year. But he warned that “the numbers can be somewhat deceiving.”

“I say that because in my experience over the last few years… at the end of the event, there seems to be a crowd that comes down there for trouble,” he said.

Main Street Amherst started the festival in 2003 to highlight the pubs in Amherst’s historical downtown district. Gilles, who serves as executive director of the nonprofit, has said it’s become the biggest sales night of the year for Park Avenue and Church Street bars.

But this year Cawthon said three establishments were overloaded around midnight and police had to step in to enforce occupancy laws. “It got to the point where the crowd was agitated because some couldn’t get in,” he said. “But we had to at least make sure that people could get out.”

Main Street hires Amherst officers to provide security at the event. Cawthon said he asked Lorain police and state troopers for help Saturday night too as folks downtown became more aggressive.

After the event, it was difficult to clear both intoxicated people and litter from the street, he said.

Cawthon and Gilles met Monday and the lieutenant said there is a need to look at overhauling the event next year in the name of safety.

Gilles agreed steps should be taken, though she said “it’s not Amherst people” causing problems. She said “young people” from outside the city created many late-night problems.

She said one idea is to drastically change the hours for Dancing on Main Street — for example, it could run from noon to 8 p.m., which would be more family-friendly.

This year’s daylight attendance was up, she said, which indicates there’s an interest in the family-oriented aspect of the festival.

And, after-dark problems aside, there was plenty to celebrate at Dancing on Main Street 2018: Attendees loved the rockin’ sounds of The Roadhouse Band, new act MadFly, and Dann Swift’s The Current Vibe.

They also flocked to new food vendors for pierogies, macaroni and cheese, and kettle corn, Gilles said.

“It was nice to see people with kids coming down and having fun,” she said.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

By Jason Hawk