ONTARIO — With just shortly more than 24 hours notice, about 3,000 people dropped their plans this past Saturday to attend a free concert whose headliner was major rap artist Snoop Dogg. The performing artist drove through a dirt field to thousands of eagerly awaiting fans, got up on stage and spun up an hour-long set as DJ Snoopadelic that included music of his own as well as other famous artists and was highlighted by his mascot, Nasty Dogg.
The party was put on by Hotbox Farms to celebrate the grand opening of the third recreational marijuana retailer dispensary in Ontario; it is the owner’s second dispensary in the state, their first having opened in Huntington in 2016.
Steven Meland, co-owner of Hotbox, announced the major headliner to media on Friday morning and by the party’s start at 4:20 p.m. Saturday people were pouring into the empty field where a local DJ spun tunes for an all-ages crowd until the headliner arrived.
Though he left right after his set, driving out of the field before the grand finale fireworks show began, Snoop Dogg’s impact was felt in the local area hours before and after he performed.
Ontario Police Chief Steven Romero said the event, itself, was not what concerned him; rather, it was the lack of collaboration with event hosts and city officials.
However, throughout the event and for about an hour after the finale, traffic was problematic from the Interstate to the Idaho border.
“Traffic congestion and gridlock impacted the entire eastern section of [the] city,” he said.
Furthermore, traffic was backed up to Caldwell, Romero said, and it is estimated that about 70% of concert attendees came from out of state, with Idaho having the largest number in attendance.
In fact, even the performer got stuck in the gridlock as he arrived at the Boise airport at about 5:30 p.m. then had to deal with the interstate gridlock.
Impact on patrons
From a “chamber standpoint,” John Briedenbach, president/CEO of Ontario Area Chamber of Commerce, said it “would have been nice to know ahead of time about an event like this” so that local businesses can stock up and plan staffing accordingly.
It could have “made a better showing of what Ontario could be,” he said.
Briedenbach, who was out of town this weekend, said, he was happy to hear the event attracted a significant crowd.
Romero said delays in the eastern end of town reported by local residents trying to shop in the area were as high as an hour.
Furthermore local businesses expressed concerns about the impact on their patrons as well as parking, with multiple businesses having to have employees direct traffic or put up signs or temporary parking-lot closures.
It appears that people followed those last-minute rules established by affected businesses, as a quick check with local towing companies on Monday morning turned up no extra activity. Representatives for Roadrunner Towing, Larry’s Auto Body & Towing and Rich’s Auto Clinic each said they had no tows in relation to parking during the event.
Concert crowds worked up an appetite as night fell and descended upon local eateries, including Denny’s and Dairy Queen.
Jade Werner, assistant manager of Denny’s said that the event was “so unexpected.” She described a parking lot so full that restaurant employees had to park in front of the dumpsters just to get to their work shifts. Werner said at 4:30 p.m., the bar was already packed full of patrons. The restaurant was hit so hard with customers that certain menu items were becoming scarce as the night wore on. When asked what the most popular menu items being ordered were, she responded quickly with, “Burgers and French fries, appetizers and beer.”
At Dutch Bros across the street, Gio Machuca and Zoey Parker said Saturday night was extremely busy and the location was understaffed because nobody knew about Snoop’s visit.
“It looked like Black Friday,” exclaimed Machuca.
Both Machuca and Parker said it was steadily busy from noon until the concert started. The next day brought a bunch more business, said Parker, who then described two of their Sunday customers, a couple in their 70s who had come to see the concert and stayed overnight in one of the local hotels.
At Burger King, general manager, Larry McMurriam said it was “very busy” but said that the amount of staff present was adequate to meet demand. He also said that there was an significant increase in sales compared to other Saturdays. McMurriam said Sunday’s sales saw what he estimated to be a 10% increase in sales from previous Sundays.
Mason Johnson and Veronica Anzaldua of the Ontario Marketplace Jolts & Juice described a scene of elbow-to-elbow crowds craving coffee. To put into words what the night was like, Johnson exclaimed, “Wild! Packed, insane … ’twas lit!” According to Anzaldua, the dining area was so full “it was literally overflowing.”
Dairy Queen was another of the eateries to bear the burden of throngs of hungry people. Owner, Nasir Sandhu, said Saturday was “super busy;” General Manager Jennifer Parker confirmed this. Sandhu said that it was an excellent thing that happened for the community. When asked if it was busier than most other Saturday nights, he estimated that there was a revenue increase of approximately 25%.
Even McDonald’s became busier than usual in response to the pop-up concert. Rosemary Garza, general manager of the East Idaho Avenue location, responded with “Oh yeah!” when asked if more customers came through on Saturday night than what is typical. She said that in an effort to make sure everyone got served, as many employees as possible were called in to work. Garza stated that despite the “overflowing parking lot” operations were “pretty smooth.”
According to Breidenbach, the chamber does not track occupancy rates with area hotels and motels. The Argus attempted to call as many hotels as possible, but could not connect with all of them, however, on the survey we did it appears many concert goers stayed overnight helping boost occupancy rates higher than usual for some on Saturday.
A supervisor at the Red Lion said the concert “was a pretty awesome thing,” which helped improve business overall, adding that they didn’t have any issues with parking or noise complaints from residents.
At Motel 6, which was also near the concert, it was so busy, things were described as a “mad house,” however, overall “pretty good.”
Dispensary numbers climb sky high
Meland said just over 2,000 people went through Hotbox on Saturday.
“We were busy all day, the staff was just going and going and going,” he said.
The shop did cut its losses from about 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. in order to allow staff to go out and enjoy the show, Meland said. The shop opened back up and saw “quite a few people” for the last half-hour, but had to discontinue sales to a long line of people at 9:59 p.m., he said.
Meland said Sunday morning was busy, too.
The line wound from the dispensary door around to the parking lot at the BottleDrop where it tapered off near the road.
Some opted not to stand in line and visit other dispensaries.
“It was a boost, and it definitely helped,” said Eric Lantz, manager at Weedology. “There were a lot of extra people in town and they came and visit us as well.”
The shop is prepared for the typical weekend rushes, he said, adding that he didn’t know if the event caused their numbers to actually jump.
However, “it kept us busy,” Lantz said, adding the event “was good for the whole community, I think.”
Robyn McKay, co-owner of Burnt River Farms, said “it was a mad rush to get everybody served in time.”
Chief says event caused ’substantial unanticipated cost’
“I think it’s wonderful that Ontario had that big of an event,” Briedenbach said, adding that “our local law enforcement stepped up and did a good job.”
The fact that first responders were not able to prepare for the event with sufficient resources “placed our local community in jeopardy,” Romero says.
The chief says Ontario Police Department fielded noise complaints from Fruitland, responded to complaints of fights in parking lots, traffic collisions and use of marijuana and alcohol in public places, though made no arrests at the event.
Romero said one arrest on Saturday was made “in relation” to the event, which happened outside of the event, after someone in a traffic accident was arrested for impaired driving.
“In my professional opinion, [Hotbox] placed our local community in jeopardy, due to their decision to operate this scale of event without any prior safety planning with local officials, operating without the proper permits (Even after their verbal request was denied late Friday afternoon), and without [en]suring that adequate public safety resources to insure public safety were available,” Romero wrote in an email.
Driving home the fact they were ill-prepared, Romero said that even if there was a need for mutual aid to assist his staff of 23 officers, there would not have been enough first responders to respond to a “critical event such as a ‘Las Vegas’ style shooting event” on Saturday.
The event brought “a substantial unanticipated cost to the citizenry of Ontario, due to the need for specialized equipment and additional staffing that was needed on a last-minute basis,” Romero said, though did not detail information about the equipment or amount of the anticipated extra expenses.
Romero’s department is working on an after-action analysis of the event. In addition, OPD will be working with city staff to determine the fiscal impact the event had on the city, Chief Romero said he will also be speaking with city attorneys to discuss “what actions if any” will be taken against Hotbox for violating identified ordinances including not having proper permits in place.
Meland says Hotbox does plan to have future events,
“We hit a home run with only having two days to prepare,” he said.
However, the next time, he says he wants to follow the proper channels for event planning.
“We want to be a good community partner and bring [more of] these types of events to Ontario,” Meland said.
Romero says Ontario Police Department is committed to working with all of the business community to see that they prosper and are safe, but says “we must work together to make sure that goal is achieved.”
“We got lucky and dodged a bullet this time!”