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Police, local officials prepare for Slammin' and Jammin'
Mar 26, 2004 12:00 am
It's more than two months away, but the annual Slammin' and Jammin' car show – which has drawn international praise from enthusiasts as well as stinging criticism from local police – is already a topic of interest for some.
Last year's 10th annual event drew some 10,000 revelers, but it also drew allegations of open beer-drinking, female breast-baring and reckless driving from police, who publicly said they hope the event never returns.
But it apparently will, according to James E. Ward Agricultural Center Director Larry Tomlinson, who said contracts have been signed to stage the annual gathering once again over Memorial Day weekend.
"Other than the fair, this is generally our biggest event of the year," he said.
Tomlinson said he and event organizers recently attended a meeting arranged by the local Chamber of Commerce which included Lebanon police and sheriff's department officials as well as fire department and Wilson Emergency Management Agency representatives.
Chamber Executive Director Sue Vanatta described the meeting as "positive."
"It was basically just to go over our calendar of events for 2004," she said. "We don't want anybody to be blind sided. We want all the agencies to be prepared if they need to bring in extra people or make some kind of special arrangements. That's how cities successfully host events like these, through planning."
But police are apparently planning as well, though they have divulged few details of what they may have in store for the weekend of the show.
Lebanon Public Safety Commissioner Billy Weeks said the LPD "pre-plans" for such events as part of its international accreditation, and officials would publicly reveal some details of those plans as the event nears.
When pressed for details, he would say only that the department is planning "a lot of enforcement and visibility" which will include "extra people" and increased DUI enforcement.
Tomlinson said those plans suit him just fine.
"I'm all for that – I would think everybody in Lebanon would be for keeping drunks off the streets," he said. "That's what they ought to be doing every weekend."
Tomlinson and other Ag Center officials said last year's crowd was well-behaved on site, though police painted a far different picture beyond the confines of the fairgrounds. Police officials said they received complaints of public drunkenness, partial nudity and speeding throughout the weekend.
Weeks, Police Chief Scott Bowen and other officials said they also received complaints from motel owners about the behavior of patrons, though several later said they welcomed the revenue the revelers brought to town. Allegations that a video crew from the infamous Girls Gone Wild series were on hand for the event later proved to be false.
Even Mayor Don Fox jumped into the fray last year, siding with police who condemned the event in response to a post on the city's website.
Vanatta and Tomlinson said they think they may have hit on an idea which has worked in other cities that host large-scale car shows – a formal parade through the city's streets after the close of the show.
Vanatta said several car enthusiasts have told chamber officials that such parades work well in other host cities, giving participants a chance to show off their elaborate vehicles later in the evening after the normal flow of traffic has cleared.
"We've heard from some people who say that works particularly well," she said. "All they really want to do is drive around and show off their cars a little bit."
Tomlinson said the event's sponsor, Charlie Cobble, embraced the idea and offered to present trophies to the best vehicles in the parade.
But city officials have not yet responded to the proposal, Tomlinson and Vanatta said.
"That's kind of where it was left standing," Tomlinson said. "Somebody from the police department was there and was very receptive to that, but he said he would take it back to his superiors, and we've never heard back from them."
Until last year's controversy erupted, the event may have been below the radar for many local residents, attracting so-called "low riders" in customized vehicles from around the country with virtually no advance publicity in the local media. However, the event receives extensive coverage in glossy, nationally distributed magazines devoted to car enthusiasts.
Tomlinson said during the recent meeting organized by the chamber, Cobble displayed a European magazine calling Slammin' and Jammin' "the best thing to come out of Tennessee since Jack Daniels whiskey."
"It's really amazing how widespread this is," he remarked.
Tomlinson and Cobble strongly defended the primarily 20-somethings who attended last year's event. Tomlinson said police offered little assistance with traffic in front of the fairgrounds, while the promoter suggesting police may need to take a good look at how they handle such gatherings.
"If you put these kids into a hostile environment they're going to be hostile. We've found that to be the case in Lebanon over the past 10 years," Cobble said last year in response to police criticism.