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April 26, 2013

OH-Fest ready for return to Neahwa

By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star

---- — College students, police, city officials and others in Oneonta have been preparing for Saturday’s OH-Fest, which after months of planning will have a concert in Neahwa Park after a year’s absence as well as a carnival on Main Street.

The eighth annual OH-Fest carnival will be between 1 and 5 p.m., and four bands will play in Neahwa Park between 6 and 10 p.m. during a concert with enhanced private security.

Students organizers at SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College arranged to hire 28 unarmed security officers at a cost of about $4,200 for the concert venue, organizers said, to meet a stipulation imposed by the city Common Council, which was concerned about crowd control. About 7,000 people are expected to attend the concert, organizers said.

In 2011, the rapper Pitbull performed at an OH-Fest concert in the park, drawing a crowd of about 10,000 people that sparked concerns about public safety. Under a revised approach, OH-Fest last year included a week of activities at Hartwick’s Oneonta campus, a carnival downtown and a pair of paid indoor concerts at the State University College at Oneonta.

Students are excited to have the carnival downtown and to be able again to attend a free concert in Neawha Park, MaryBeth Carswell, president of the Student Association Activities council at SUNY Oneonta, said.

“I hope everyone comes and has a great time,’’ Carswell, a member of the organizing executive OH-Fest board. “It will be a great day.’’

Main Street will be closed from 10 a.m. To 6 p.m. Between Chestnut Street and Ford Avenue, Lt. Douglas Brenner of the Oneonta Police Department said.

The city also will have extra police patrols and fire department crews on duty for OH-Fest. In Neahwa Park, a command center will be set up in the skate house near Hodges Pond.

Brenner said police will monitor areas outside the concert venue, which will be on the city softball fields near the Memorial Walk. Alcohol and bottles won’t be allowed into the park, he said.

The Oneonta police full contingent of about 25 officers will be working Saturday and will be assisted by about five state police officers and two or three Otsego County sheriff’s deputies, Brenner said. The private security detail will free up officers to go into Center City, he said.

“I think we’ll have a nice event this year,’’ Brenner said. “I think it will be good for everybody.’’

The Oneonta Fire Department will add 10 or 12 firefighters to its usual crew of six, Chief Patrick Pidgeon said.

“Hopefully everyone is well-behaved,’’ Pidgeon said.

Four bands, including two local and two headlining groups, will perform for 45 minutes each, organizers said, and the concert program will end at 10 p.m.

Special musical guest One Sweet Burgh and a student band selected during a Battle of the Bands event earlier this month will open for The Ready Set and Outasight, which are co-headlining a national tour that kicked off in February, a media release from the colleges said.

For this year’s OH-Fest, each college has set aside $40,000, said Bill Harcleroad, director of campus activities at SUNY Oneonta. Main Street Oneonta, an organization that promotes merchants and businesses downtown, has contributed $4,000 toward the event.

By Thursday, the event plans were “in good shape,’’ Harcleroad said.

“We’re exited to be back and have the whole community involved,’’ he said.

At the carnival, activities will include music by bands from both colleges, inflatable rides, arts and crafts, street performers, games, food and prizes. Some activities are free, and others are fundraisers. The carnival is sponsored by the Hartwick College Activities Board, SUNY Oneonta Student Association Activities Council, Main Street Oneonta and the city of Oneonta.

“We’re hoping it will be nice and sunny out, and everyone will want to come out to the carnival,’’ Carswell said.

The forecast for Saturday calls for partly sunny skies, with high temperatures in the mid-60s, the National Weather Service in Binghamton said. Saturday night skies are predicted to be partly cloudy, with a low temperature of about 40 degrees.

Holly Bennett, a senior at SUNY Oneonta, said she looks forward to OH-Fest, especially to the outdoor concert.

“It’s out in the park — it was awesome when it was downtown,’’ she said.

Common Council members Bob Brzozowski of the Seventh Ward and Chip Holmes of the Eighth Ward were on the OH-Fest Planning Committee, along with students and administrators from both colleges.

The Oneonta Common Council in March approved a permit for OH-Fest’s return to Neahwa Park with an amendment attached after council member Michael Lynch of the Fourth Ward raised concerns about the firmness of security arrangements with the Hartwick and SUNY Oneonta student associations. Under the amendment, the city reserved the right to withdraw the permit if it or Police Chief Dennis Nayor decided organizers weren’t holding to the agreement.

At that March council meeting, Lynch said he didn’t want a repetition of the 2011 OH-Fest, when the Oneonta Police Department provided security for the concert but faced a crowd estimated at 10,000, leaving the surrounding area, including his Fourth Ward, largely unprotected.

The kinks from the 2011 concert have been worked out, Brzozowski, a member of the MSO board, said Thursday, and the Main Street community is looking forward to this year’s OH-Fest.

“The weather is supposed to be good,’’ he said. “We’re looking for a good time.’’

Carswell said the students, college administrators, city leaders and Main Street Oneonta worked together to make this year’s OH-Fest happen. The security request was a challenging additional expense, she said, but MSO has shown “huge support’’ for the event.

“The carnival is going to be great and family friendly,’’ Evan Englander, a student activities associate at SUNY Oneonta who attended OH-Fest events when a student at the college. The planning committee included nine students, he said, and dozens of students will volunteer Saturday to help with activities.