Modesto ready to rock this weekend at annual Xclamation Festival

The streets of downtown Modesto once again will be filled with the sound of Xcitement.

The ninth annual Xclamation Festival, X-Fest for short, will bring thousands of music lovers and partygoers to town for an evening-to-late-night outdoor extravaganza Saturday. Headlining will be "American Idol" runner-up Blake Lewis and Canadian pop-rockers Simple Plan, among others.

The music will kick off at 6 p.m., and by evening's end will have featured about 50 bands on eight stages.

Among the other nationally recognized acts are Hawaiian reggae rockers Pepper, grunge act Candlebox, heavy metal rockers Y&T, '80s dance star Debbie Deb, reggae punkers The Expendables, electronica star Bad Boy Bill, gangsta rappers N2Deep, alt rockers Eve 6, pop group Girlicious, Bay Area rock band Mother Hips and Modesto favorites the Moonshine Bandits.

"I want to try to have something for everybody at X-Fest," said event creator and promoter Chris Ricci. "An event of this size, you have to have a variety of different genres and acts to appeal to the widest variety of people. I think it's a strong lineup and I'm proud of it."

Besides the music, the street festival for the 21-and-older crowd will include a motocross demonstration area, as well as merchandise, food and beverage vendors lining more than a dozen city blocks.

Downtown streets will begin closing to through traffic at 9 p.m. Friday. Preparations will go on through the night and into Saturday to be ready when gates open at 5 p.m. Most businesses within the festival grounds will remain open to pedestrian traffic throughout preparations.

Ricci said ticket sales are on pace to meet last year's sellout of about 15,900 attendees.

As in years past, security will be paramount throughout X-Fest's seven-hour run. Ricci has employed 200 private security officers and is paying for an additional 100 local law enforcement officers. Officials from the Modesto Police Department, Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department, and state Department of Motor Vehicles and Alcoholic Beverage Control will be on hand to keep the peace.

Modesto police Lt. Ron Cloward, in charge of operations for downtown and special events, said the closure of two downtown Modesto clubs inside the festival grounds within the past year should help with crowd control.

Last year, no major incidents were reported.

"Last year, they sold out and we had very few problems," Cloward said. "I don't foresee it being a big issue this year, either. This year should be as easy as it was last year, if not easier. When you mix that many people with alcohol and dancing, you know (small incidents) are going to happen. But we really haven't had any major incidents for a couple of years."

Before entering the grounds, festivalgoers will be patted down and have their identification checked and bags searched. No weapons, gang attire, chairs or outside food and drinks are allowed. One sealed bottle of water will be permitted per person.

The last performers on outdoor stages will finish at 1 a.m., with the event's indoor stage at the Fat Cat Music House & Lounge wrapping up its live lineup at 2 a.m.

All alcohol sales will end by midnight. There are no out-and-in privileges during the festival.

Each year, the event, which has become one of the area's largest music festivals, attracts people from surrounding areas and as far away as the Bay Area and Sacramento.

"I am thrilled with how the community has embraced X-Fest," Ricci said. "It's a dream come true. It's nice to see a vision that I have worked on for so long become a reality in terms of being a member of the community and part of the establishment, as opposed to something that is a question mark every year. I'd rather it be an exclamation mark."

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