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Eigth X-Fest features 40 bands for Saturday show

Expect big sounds and bigger crowds this year as the annual Xclamation Festival returns Saturday.

Modesto's outdoor music fair, dubbed X-Fest, enters its eighth year as one of the area's largest single-day draws. About 15,000 people are expected to flood downtown streets starting at 5 p.m. Saturday to listen to 40 bands on eight stages.

Headliners include rock groups Blue October, Powerman 5000 and Unauthorized Sublime featuring Q-Ball; hip-hop acts Digital Underground and Young MC; classic rockers Y&T and Pat Travers; Latin artist Stevie B; and electronica artists including the nationally known DJ Dan.

As in years past, revelers at the 21-and-older event will have a wide variety of music choices, from rock to rap, country to classic rock, electronic and local talent. New this year are SCS Racing motocross racing demonstrations along I Street.

Along with the entertainment, the event's party atmosphere is one of its biggest draws. X-Fest promoterChris Ricci said people come back year after year for that reason.

"I think it's because it's a blast," he said. "It's a really good time. You get to go and have a lot of fun. It's downtown; it's lots of bands and it's lots of people; that's what it's all about."

Not that all the partying isn't serious business. The Modesto Convention & Visitors Bureau estimates that the event has a $1 million economic impact on the city from increased staffing, sales tax, restaurant revenue, hotel rentals, parking fees and more.

"Modesto has a reputation as the art and cultural hub of the Central Valley, and this event is certainly one of those reasons," said Jennifer Mullen, chief executive officer and executive director of the Modesto Convention & Visitors Bureau. "X-Fest has a reputation as fun music and a great night. We've had calls from as far away as Hanford and the Bay Area."

Weather to cooperate

Crowds could be bolstered this year by the relatively cooler weather. Three of the last four years, X-Fest has unfurled under 100-degree-plus heat. Last year's event featured unusually hot weather — Modesto's high was 111 that day.

The National Weather Service predicts a peak temperature near 96 Saturday, with the low dropping to about 65 degrees overnight.

Nevertheless, Ricci and other officials have warned business owners and employees to be on the lookout for heat exhaustion.

Modesto police Lt. Ron Clow-ard, in charge of operations for downtown and special events, said 139 personnel — including police, community service, Department of Motor Vehicles and state Alcoholic Beverage Control officials — will be working that night. Of those, 94 will be law-enforcement officers. Ricci also has hired 200 private secu-rity staffers for the event.

Ricci pays for the personnel, public and private, on duty for X-Fest. Last year, he reimbursed the Modesto Police Department $40,000 for overtime costs from staffing the event.

"Safetywise, it's a very safe event," Cloward said. "Any time you mix alcohol, music, dancing and a large, diverse crowd, there is always a potential for a fight. But a fight is a fight, and they happen. Our job is to stop it quickly and remove them. We're not there to spoil anyone's fun, just to make it safer."

More than a mile of fencing, about 6,000 feet, will encircle the festival's boundaries, said police Detective Mike Hicks, whose main duty is alcohol enforcement. All festivalgoers and their bags will be searched upon entry.

Alcohol service will stop at 11:30 p.m. For the past few years, police have employed a "soft close," staggering the clearing of stages and opening additional exits beginning at 12:30 a.m. The festival ends at 1 a.m.

Downtown restaurants and bars within the festival grounds will be open throughout the event. Each year, Ricci collects signatures from businesses within the perimeter for approval. Cloward said that while 75 percent permission is needed, Ricci collected close to 90 percent this year.

Still, he faced an unusually skeptical City Council in April when he sought Modesto's OK to hold this year's X-Fest. Two council members, Janice Keating and Will O'Bryant, voted against allowing Ricci to host the event, citing concerns about crowd safety and alcohol use. The council's other five members supported Ricci's request.

"There are always questions when events like this come up," Cloward said. "But I think (Ricci and the organizers) have had a pretty good record over the years. When you figure that you're putting 15,000 people into a fenced area with eight stages and alcohol, and you can come out of that with only (on average) 30 to 35 arrests, that is a very low percentage."

Last year, 11 arrests were made.

Some groups within the festival grounds are embracing the exposure the event will bring to their offerings. The underconstruction Gallo Center for the Arts will be a new landmark on the festival grounds this year.

"I think having X-Fest down there by the center and people seeing it who may not have seen it before will be good," said John Turchon, the Gallo center's director of customer service. "With the plaza looking so pretty with the trees now, I think people will notice it and I think we'll have offerings that will appeal to the X-Fest crowd as well as any other crowd."

Ricci said festivalgoers should come early to avoid long lines at the grounds' three entrances. "Go out early, relax, have a good time," he said. "We've got a perfect night coming. It's all shaping up to be really great."

On the Net:www.xfestmodesto.com. Bee staff writers Adam Ashton and Rosalio Ahumada contributed to this report.

Bee entertainment writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at mrowland@modbee.com or 578-2284.

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