Gaston, SC 06/05/2023 (Paul Kirby) – The Freaknick Music Festivals, much like the one that exploded into a violent mob scene in Gaston Saturday night, has left a trail of dead bodies, sexual assault victims, and other forms of serious violence in their wake since the early 1990s according to news stories easily accessed by a quick Google search. These festivals were born in the early 1980s and at their inception had a much different purpose than the crazed, violent parties they’ve become over the past 5 decades.
The one held in Gaston last weekend was called Freaknick 803. Most of these have the word Freaknick as the lead word in the title and a suffix like 803 for the local area code or ATL for Atlanta as their names. It is not clear if this event was associated in some way with the Freaknick events that have popped up across Georgia and other parts of the southeast. Eventually, the event that started Saturday at the old Centennial Club on Main Street in Gaston last weekend, would go on to affect the cities and areas surrounding Cayce, West Columbia, the City of Columbia, and Richland County. It effectively shut down the Town of Gaston for quite some time Saturday night as police officers quickly organized under Chief Watkins and cleared parking lots and the small town’s streets and roads. Before things got back to normal in Gaston, there was gunfire but the man reportedly shot later said he was not hit. The violence from the “Music Festival” had endangered the lives of the multiple police officer from across the Midlands. These officers included Gaston Police Chief Stephen Watkins who for some time controlled the situation himself as he waited on backup from almost every law enforcement agency in Lexington County. Other officers from the City of Columbia and Richland County and the SC Highway Patrol were also on the scene assisting. Many residents of Gaston said that the town and area’s citizens, passing motorists, and the people in attendance at the event where it all began Saturday were also endangered by the violence. Despite his valiant efforts to control the situation until backup arrived, Chief Watkins’ and the first few backup units to arrive were quickly overwhelmed by mob of people that some estimated was in excess of 500 people.
The Lexington Ledger’s on scene reporter Tim Spires, a retired firefighter with decades of public safety service including countless hours of ride-alongs with Chief Watkins and the Gaston PD, said he had never seen anything like the open civil disobedience he witnessed while reporting for The Ledger Saturday night. “There was a group of the festival goers that had apparently stopped at the 7-Eleven near Main Street and Woodtrail Drive after fleeing the party when the police arrived, and the gunfire started. Four of them stood in a row in front of a patrol vehicle from the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department and simply refused to move or follow the first deputy’s commands. The deputy stayed in his SUV and waited for 3 more SUVs which arrived for backup. Once they pulled up, they took all 4 patrol units, lined them up in front of the crowd that refused to move, and all the deputies cut their sirens on simultaneously. At that point, the Freaknick goers all ran away on foot, and I didn’t see exactly where all of them went,” Spires concluded. “I didn’t feel like it was a good idea at any point to get out my Suburban. If the deputies were not getting out, neither was I.”
According to Wikipedia, the first Freaknick was conceived in March 1982 at Spelman College in a DC Metro Club meeting headed by then president Schuyla Goodson. It was sponsored by the Club, which was composed of students from Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. The DC Metro Club intended for it to be challenge to the California Club for the largest end-of-the-school-year party. Goodson suggested the name Freaknik (then spelled "Freaknic") as a portmanteau of freaky and picnic.
The name Freaknik was inspired by Le Freak by CHIC, a popular song and dance in the early 1980s. First held in John A. White Park in Atlanta in April 1982, it was attended by at most 150 students. D.J. Nab, aka Happy Nappy and Daryl Baptiste Miller, played music in the park that day. Both were students at Morehouse College, but neither were a part of the DC Metro Club. Laid back music was being played, Earth Wind and Fire, Some Prince. After D.J. Nab set was over and Daryl began DJing something magical happened. He played Chuck Brown's Bustin Loose and students ran in front of the speakers and started dancing. From that point on Daryl played GoGo music and the life of "Freaknic" was born.
Freaknick Music Festivals have brought more and more problems as the events have grown. Here is a list of just some of the articles we quickly located by using GOOGLE:
Street party in Atlanta marred by shooting, looting, and rain
‘Freaknik’ event in Monroe Saturday shut down after traffic overwhelms neighborhoods
4th suspect arrested in ‘Freaknik’ fest deadly double shooting
The Town of Gaston is having a council meeting tomorrow night, Tuesday, June 6, 2023, at 7:00 p.m. at the Gaston Police Department in the council chambers. This is located at 186 N Carlisle St, Gaston, SC 29053. This is a small room, and the seating capacity is limited. If you would like to speak, you normally must sign up prior to speaking at most town’s council meetings. The Freaknick 803 Music Festival will be a topic of discussion.
Residents who attend need to keep in mind that the town could not have stopped this event prior to it occurring without first having hard evidence of a negative history with the organizer of the Freaknick 803. In order to deny a permit to such an event, a town or city’s government must first have an Event Permit Ordinance in place. Not all small town’s do or have ever had a call for one. An ordinance of this type, which can tale several months to get in place after it is written by Gaston’s attorney, would then govern all events that are written into the ordinance. You can’t simply include or exclude an event in the ordinance because the town’s elected officials like or dislike the type of events planned. That type of thing could be quickly challenged in court. In theory, a poorly written ordinance could require that even a large church’s homecoming requires a permit to hold. Gaston’s leaders are expected to look to other towns and cities in Lexington County who already have an Event’s Permit Process for a framework to use when they start to write any ordinance they might need after the Tuesday meeting.
PHOTO CAPTION: Photo of the 7-Eleven parking lot after Freaknick 803 spills into Gaston's streets after the gunfire started.