‘Blarney Blowout’ Lessons from the past
AMHERST — Social media is buzzing and event T-shirts are ready to order. Some University of Massachusetts students seem to be itching for the pre-St. Patrick’s Day “Blarney Blowout” Saturday that is becoming an annual promotion at downtown bars here.
But town and UMass officials are determined that it won’t be a repeat of last year, when the party moved from the bars to the courtyard at Townehouse Apartments where some 2,000 people gathered for a raucous, drunken afternoon. Police and paramedics ducked snowballs and beer bottles as six people were arrested and nearly three dozen medical calls were made that weekend, many related to severe intoxication or drug use.
Town Manager John Musante said the town has been working with owners of the bars involved, McMurphy’s Uptown Tavern and Stacker’s Pub, and with UMass to try to minimize problems this time. The town is also beefing up police presence and ambulance crews in town Saturday.
“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure the day goes as smoothly as possible,” Musante said.
University officials have sent out strongly worded emails to students warning about consequences for rowdy behavior, which include arrests, suspensions and expulsions and reports placed in their student records.
Police Chief Scott Livingstone, noting that students can quickly organize large gatherings, will have extra officers on duty. He said some state police will also be in Amherst Saturday and UMass police will be on standby. Officers will be keeping an eye on North Amherst, he said, specifically Meadow Street and North Pleasant Street north of the campus, Hobart Lane and Puffton Village. Town officials have been advising landlords at off-campus housing complexes to hire additional security and to alert tenants about behavior that won’t be tolerated.
“We will not allow any big gatherings,” Livingstone said.
Expecting a large number of calls due to drunkenness, Fire Chief Walter “Tim “ Nelson said he will have at least nine firefighters on duty and four ambulances available. Last year, staffing grew to 11 firefighters as the day progressed, something that could happen again.
“As we get closer to the weekend, we will do our own intel and see what the buzz is,” Nelson said.
Nelson said it is important to coordinate with police to calm unruly crowds. “It needs to be safe for our people to get in there and do their jobs,” Nelson said.
Attempt at control
The pre-St. Patrick’s Day event — held the Saturday before the colleges’ spring break — began several years ago as an Amherst bar promotion called Kegs and Eggs. Problems increased each year as college-age patrons, who had been drinking all night, began lining up at the bars early Saturday morning to win prizes. This peaked in 2012, when drunken revelers spilled out of the bars and onto the downtown streets in the afternoon, drinking, vomiting and urinating in public while shoppers navigated around them.
To stop that, Livingstone spoke to the owners of the two bars involved, McMurphy’s Uptown Tavern and Stacker’s Pub, urging them to limit advertising, use a ticketing system for two seatings at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., and cap capacity at 99 patrons each.
That worked well last year, until the partying migrated north to Townehouse Apartments.
“Quite frankly, I don’t have any concerns about the bars downtown,” Livingstone said. “They did a fantastic job last year.”
He praised the steps UMass is taking this year as well.
“The university, to its credit, has ramped up messaging to students and landlords,” he said.
Select Board Chairwoman Stephanie O’Keeffe said she, too, is happy to see that. “I think the town and university are doing everything they can do in their respective spheres.”
UMass officials are stressing to students that Blarney Blowout is not a sanctioned event and that drunken behavior puts a strain on the community’s resources.
In her email to students, Enku Gelaye, interim vice chancellor for student affairs and campus life, cited the problems, including wild partying that jeopardized safety and left property damaged.
“This year, in response to the events of last March, police will have an increased presence throughout town and will address any potentially threatening situations swiftly and definitively, up to and including arrest,” she wrote.
Students were also warned that they are responsible for guests who enter their residence halls or off-campus housing.
Students acting, too
Students are taking steps to minimize trouble, too, said Zac Broughton, president of the Student Government Association.
“The SGA will be posting throughout our various social media outlets to encourage students to make safe and smart choices,” he said in an email to the Gazette.
Some students, though, are trying to capitalize on the event by creating T-shirts including UMass images and logos. University officials are taking steps to stop it, spokesman Edward Blaguszewski said.
“Using any sort of university logo or visual is a trademark violation,” he said. “This is something that clearly should not be branded a university event.”
One Facebook page, “Blarney Blowout Tees,” has offered both green and white shirts, with the words “2014 Blarney Blowout” and depicting a glass of beer and a UMass logo. Earlier this week, 260 people had put in requests to buy the $15 shirts.
Another site — featuring the UMass Minuteman mascot holding a mug of beer and wearing a green tricorn hat and vest over a Budweiser logo with the beer name swapped out for the words Blarney Blowout — has disappeared.
O’Keeffe said the day of drinking has seemingly become a right of passage. She’s said she is not against students having fun as long as it’s responsible and respectful.
Livingstone said such St. Patrick’s Day events are held nationwide, making it difficult to control.
“It’s not just Amherst, it’s a national trend,” he said. “All we can do is prepare for it, try to educate and try to keep things in perspective and as safe as we can.”