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X-Fest passes first vote of council

Modesto City Councilman Will O'Bryant on Monday called Xclamation Fest a "powder keg," but he couldn't persuade two of his colleagues to block the annual summer concert.

O'Bryant, a retired Alameda County Sheriff's detective, spoke out against the event at a meeting where concert promoter Chris Ricci sought an endorsement to host X-Fest downtown July 21.

Ricci got what he came for when the council's Safety and Communities Committee voted 2-1 to allow the event, with O'Bryant voting against doing so. Ricci must return to the full City Council on March 27 for a final vote.

Last summer, he drew more than 12,000 people for the seventh annual X-Fest with a lineup that included 1990s superstar rappers Vanilla Ice and Tone Loc.

O'Bryant, who voted to allow the 2006 concert, said he was on the fence about this year's X-Fest until he saw Police Department footage of last year's concert taken from a helicopter.

The video "shows a city block swamped with everyone butted up against each other shoulder to shoulder. If someone had a heart attack, a medical emergency, or if there was a fire, we would have a major tragedy," O'Bryant said.

He continued, "It's not American Graffiti. It's not nostalgia. It's not family-oriented. It's not A&W Root Beer. It's just too much. Someone's going to get hurt."

He said he was concerned about people drinking and driving, and about the possibility that a public safety officer would suffer a serious injury trying to keep order in the crowd.

O'Bryant's remarks triggered a testy exchange with Ricci, who helped found X-Fest in 2000.

"There's plenty of room for culture and choices. That's what a community is about," Ricci said.

When O'Bryant reiterated his concerns about fire access, Ricci told him:

"You are wrong. We've done it before. We have 24-foot fire lanes. When a fire truck comes, people are not dumb. They get out of the way."

Police Chief Roy Wasden and Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods Deputy Director Bob Quintella praised Ricci for working closely with the city to make the event safer each year.

Some of those steps included instilling a dress code to prevent people from wearing gang affiliated clothing and prohibiting downtown bars from allowing patrons to take alcohol out of their establishments and onto the street.

"We could have issues, but seven years says something about what we've been able to do," Quintella said.

Ricci reimbursed the Police Department $40,000 for its work around X-Fest last year. He paid the Fire Department $3,500. He also paid the city 10 percent of his ticket revenue — $26,760.

Councilmen Bob Dunbar and Brad Hawn voted to permit the event.

"If X-Fest depended on my dollar, they'd go broke. It's not my thing. But it is the thing for over 12,000 people in Modesto. It has an impeccable safety record," Dunbar said.

Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at or 578-2366.