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L.A. Fiesta Organizers Would Like an Encore

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Organizers of the trouble-free Cinco de Mayo music festival were grinning from ear to ear Monday and cautiously predicting that the event--which drew 500,000 people to a nine-block stretch of Broadway on Sunday--would return next year.

The family atmosphere that prevailed over the festival--called L.A. Fiesta Broadway--proved that a Latino gathering can be successfully staged, organizers said Monday.

The event’s success, they said, will help erase memories of violence-marred Cinco de Mayo celebrations like the one last year at Lincoln Park, where one person was stabbed to death during a melee between rival street gangs.

The city abolished a similar downtown festival, the L.A. Street Scene, after rock- and bottle-throwing crowds repeatedly disrupted it. During the last street scene in 1986, one person was fatally wounded and 40 others were injured during one brawl.

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Police on Sunday reported no violence and only eight arrests, most of them for public drunkenness.

“It went beyond all of our expectations, the size of the crowd and its behavior,” said John Echeveste, a co-producer and promoter of the one-day event.

Estela Lopez, executive director of Miracle on Broadway, a nonprofit group of merchants that was the driving force in staging the fiesta, was near euphoria while describing the festival’s ambience:

“A half-million Hispanics came together, and there were no disturbances,” she said.

Organizers said three factors contributed to the festival’s violence-free atmosphere:

*The entertainment was geared to families. Spanish-language television station KMEX, which arranged for the artists, steered clear of some groups that might have attracted violent fans. While some acts were aimed at the younger set, there were also established stars--such as ranchera legend Lola Beltran, Mexican singer-actress Beatriz Adriana, and several mariachi bands--to appeal to parents and grandparents. Much of the violence at the 1986 Street Scene occurred when crowds drawn to the heavy-metal rock music began to brawl.

* Admittance to Sunday’s festival, while free to the public, was controlled. Authorities set up checkpoints at intersections leading to Broadway and occasionally searched some persons who entered. This was not the case at last year’s Cinco de Mayo celebration at Lincoln Park when gang members freely entered the area, apparently intent on starting trouble.

* Beer sales were strictly controlled. Only two booths for beer were allowed along Broadway and authorities monitored them for problems. There was beer sold inside bars and restaurants on the thoroughfare, but those sales did not pose a serious problem, said Los Angeles Police Capt. Greg Berg.

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There were some anxious moments late in the day Sunday, when authorities temporarily stopped some stage performances because too many people were packed near some stages, trapping spectators.

But the crowds did not panic, and the performances were allowed to continue.

“The people kept their cool and just waited for the music to resume,” said Berg, who ordered some of the acts to stop because of the surging crowds.

While organizers were happy about Sunday’s festivities, they were cautiously optimistic about whether L.A. Festival Broadway would return next year.

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“We would like to do it again,” said KMEX-TV General Manager Emilio Nicolas Jr. “But I would not want to be presumptuous and say it’ll happen again. But I believe the city is very excited about it.”

KMEX paid more than a $1 million to stage and promote the festival, and station officials said it would likely organize it again if some of its costs could be covered. There was no immediate estimate of total costs to the city for the event, but police officials estimated the department spent $150,000 for the 400 officers assigned to patrol it. The city spent at least another $300,000 for additional staffing.

City work crews and police officers will be back on the downtown streets this weekend when Olvera Street stages its annual three-day Cinco de Mayo street fair.


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