The Bay Area Rap Scene Awards (BARS) started with good intentions, but ended in chaos Saturday, December 2 when organizers asked police to disperse the crowd, which had taken over the stage like the Vandals of Rome. It’s regrettable, because a year’s worth of planning went into it, including securing the San Mateo Expo, an impressive lineup of A-list performers and presenters like E-40, Keak Da Sneak, Too $hort, Messy Marv, Guce, Yukmouth, Money B, Honest Bob, the Pack, Dem Hoodstarz, and Big Rich, plus several corporate sponsors. In the aftermath, promoter Booyowski told Close 2 tha Edge that he accepts most of the responsibility, but says others are also to blame.
The live portion of the event produced several highlights, chief among them E-40 and Keak Da Sneak performing a rousing rendition of “Tell Me When to Go,” then being joined by Turf Talk for “Muscle Cars.” Seeing San Quinn rocking through “Hell Yeah” with his son Lil’ Quinn in matching black-and-orange outfits was another high-water mark.
But storm clouds were evident from the outset. The show almost didn’t happen at all — its start was delayed by at least two hours as the crowd passed through several industrial-size metal detectors — even as the rest of security was lax despite the presence of several San Mateo police officers. Cops and venue staff were overheard commenting on how disorganized BARS seemed to be. When the show finally did get underway, confusion reigned.
Before leadoff performer Quinn appeared onstage, Booyowski made an announcement for groups not performing to clear the backstage area, where artists, dance groups, and models were congregating. Folks were slow to disperse, so Quinn took matters into his own hands. “There’s nothing back there. It’s not big,” he bellowed into the mic, walking from the stagefront toward the backstage area. But this just created another problem, as what seemed like the entire Fillmore joined Quinn on stage. Before he began rapping, though, those folks had to be trimmed down to a modest ten homies or so. Then the stage had to be cleared again after his performance, causing yet another delay. “The stage just got flooded,” says Jeannine Etter, the BARS media coordinator.
It’s something of a miracle that any awards were handed out at all. E-40 left immediately after his performance — which turned out to be a smart move — so he wasn’t around to accept the Album of the Year award. Big Rich, voted Best New Artist, was in the building, however.
Booyowski says if people want to put the BARS fiasco squarely on his shoulders, “that’s cool.” Noting that he wound up losing $80,000 on the deal, he adds, “It took so much effort” to plan the event in the first place. The lack of organization was partly his fault, he says, but he blames some of the artists, their entourages, venue staff, security, the police, and the crowd itself.
A major contributing factor to the FUBAR-ness of it all were the folks he hired to make sure things went smoothly. Booyowski says he paid $47,000 to the San Mateo Expo for the venue, security, and support staff, and thought there were “adequate” personnel — 45 security guards, thirty ushers, and ten police officers — to manage the crowd. Yet after checking in, he said he never saw the ushers; instead of directing the audience, “police were just standing there.” Security wasn’t much help either; he says several guards told them this was their first or second assignment, and he claims a Craigslist ad seeking help for this event was posted the night before the show.
Booyowski says he met with police and venue staff several times before the event and stressed the importance of crowd control. Yet he says the head of security never met with him the day of the show; even worse, he was told at 2 p.m. Saturday that the event wouldn’t happen unless he came up with an additional $7,000 in union fees which had been mistakenly omitted. The fees not only caused the delay at the front gates, but also prevented him from thoroughly inspecting the security measures and logistics.
At one point, he says, someone opened an unmanned side door. Furthermore, he claims the ticket-takers didn’t scan tickets or tear off stubs; as a result, there was some scalping of VIP tickets.
When it was clear that the stage had been overrun, one of the awards staff (Booyowski says it wasn’t him) issued a plea for police to take over. A phalanx of them in full riot gear literally told people where to go — home.
Luckily, nothing ill jumped off in the parking lot, which was a relief — the vibes had gotten pretty ugly by then. Despite reports of fighting, Booyowski notes, “There was one minor scuffle. That was it.” Indeed, there were no reported arrests or injuries, which is miraculous considering the near-riot conditions. Booyowski says he’s currently considering his options, but promoting another BARS show next year won’t be one of them. “I’m never doing this again. I’m done.”