SM PIER – Turns out you don’t need a jumbotron to bring 20,000 people to the beach for a free show.
The attendance figures for the Twilight Concert Series are strong as ever despite some City Council-requested changes meant to shrink the crowds, which were becoming a threat to public safety, according to city officials.
While the crowd sizes are holding steady, there are more police and fire department members on the ground – the result of a roughly $250,000 council-approved increase to the public safety budget.
The concert series, which turned 30 this year, is free to attend and held on the Santa Monica Pier on Thursday nights. This Thursday’s concert will be the fifth of 10.
“The beach crowd seems pretty much the same as last year,” said Pier Administrator Jay Farrand. “They’ve built a great summer tradition down there and it seems like it’s here to stay.”
While the beach crowds have not swelled to the 20,000 to 30,000-person size of last year’s Jimmy Cliff concert – the example cited by city officials as a show that could have gotten out of hand – the numbers are still large.
“Every show has consistently drawn approximately 4,000 to the pier and anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 visitors on the sand/beach,” said Santa Monica Police Department spokesperson Rudy Camarena, who noted that they don’t keep official numbers.
Members of the police and fire departments say that the boosted presence has been sufficient.
“Thus far we are comfortable with deployment numbers and police presence,” Camarena said in an e-mail. “We continue to receive positive and constructive feedback, which is communicated in real time to the on-scene, Incident Commander so (s)he can make immediate decisions and take corrective steps if and when necessary.”
Before the start of the series, police warned that they would be cracking down on beach rules, including the prohibition of alcohol or smoking.
There haven’t been any arrests or citations, Camarena said, although police have warned some concertgoers spotted with unopened alcohol containers.
“The right-sizing of personnel deployment is of course work in progress,” he said, “as we look at many variables that might impact attendance (weather, historical patterns, popularity of the talent, event promotion, social media trending topics relative to the talent, competing events in the city where attendees might divert to the pier/beach, etc.)”
The Santa Monica Fire Department has 14 members on the ground at the concerts and they plan to keep it that way for at least the next couple shows.
“We’ve had good cooperation from the public,” said Deputy Chief Tom Clemo. “It appears that the deployment size of the fire department has been right-sized and we have the appropriate number people in place.”
In one instance a concertgoer has a seizure on the beach near the pier and a medical cart team nearby was able to take care of the patient, transporting them to safety.
“We have had a few success stories,” Clemo said. “We’ve had a couple of medical calls where we were right there and able to treat somebody and get them not only the help they needed and the appropriate transport but if we had not been there it would have taken quite a long time to get to them.”
For several reasons, Clemo said, the public safety response has been a success.
“One is the concentration of resources in the right place,” he said. “Two is a unified command with the police department. We coordinate, sharing intelligence on a second-by-second basis. We got a lot of eyes and ears out there. We share a common radio channel so we know what’s going on. I think putting in the lanes and the flags absolutely articulate a certain area where people are in. I think that all contributes.”
Audiences have been well behaved thus far, Pier Manager Rod Merl said, and they seem comfortable and secure.
“The main thing I would say is that the new layout on the deck has worked much better for both public safety with better access and movement areas and for the public in a less congested feel and better sight lines,” Merl said. “It allows more people to enjoy the concerts on the pier deck.”
They’ve added a second entrance, near Al Mare, to make it easier to get on the pier without waiting in line, Farrand said.
His only frustration has had nothing to do with the crowds.
“On the night of the first show, we had some audio problems with one of the bands which was frustrating,” he said, “but we got that solved by the second show and it seems to be smooth sailing.”

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