Kirby: Even for Lady Gaga wannabes, it’s hard to get arrested at Sundance

By Robert Kirby

Tribune Columnist

Published: January 24, 2012 04:09PM
Updated: April 5, 2012 11:38PM
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Robert Kirby, Tribune columnist

Park City • The cops threw Lady Gaga in jail Sunday evening. They thought they saw Wonder Woman at first, but closer inspection revealed Lady Gaga.

Note: A second and more detailed inspection revealed a rather hairy young male with a wig, dress and no real discernable music talent. A debate ensued over whether any of that precluded his being the real Lady Gaga.

Gaga/Wonder/Guy was part of the Occupy Wall Street’s Park City demonstration Sunday afternoon. That isn’t what got him thrown in jail ,though. He went solo, took his act on the road (literally) and struck a passing car with his protest sign.

None of the other occupiers got arrested. In fact, the demonstration itself was rather benign. About 75 people showed up, hollered slogans, waved signs, passed out handbills and did their best to attract attention. All told, a mere 3.1 on the Loon-O-Meter.

Even so, that was about as lucid as Park City streets got on Sunday. The Sundance Film Festival had attracted every unmedicated extraterrestrial in the galaxy, all of them willing to stand hours in the cold for just a chance to get hammered with celebrities.

Granted, this was only the view from the window of a police vehicle. There could have been (and likely was) plenty of important art stuff going on inside the venues. I never saw it.

Outside is where most of the police activity occurs during Sundance. In a town that bends over backward to accommodate free artsy spirits, the line between being a good host and an accomplice to anarchy can get a little fuzzy.

For cops, it comes down to keeping traffic moving and people alive. This is harder to do than it sounds, particularly when dealing with the sort of people who even when sober can’t understand why there has to be “so much #%&@! snow” in a ski town.

Unless otherwise summoned, Park City cops keep it on the street. Whatever festival attendees want to do in the privacy of their temporary abodes is private business. But the police are just right outside.

For example, nobody I saw in two days of riding with Park City PD got arrested for passing out drunk in a rented bed while clad only in cowboy boots and a plastic firemen’s hat. But it’s a whole other story when the same thing happens in a snow bank.

At least part of the problem is that so many of the Sundancers are flatlanders. They fly to Utah and soon find that going from 7 feet above sea level to 7,000 greatly aggravates the effects of alcohol (or whatever).

Quite often they only find this out when they wake up in a public place covered in vomit and surrounded by cops and paramedics.

It’s the exception. For every 500 Sundancers who can party and have a good time without attracting the attention of the police, there are always one or two who can’t understand it outside of a jail cell.

Pity, actually. This would be a much more exciting column if I could recount dozens of arrests during the festival. But in two days I only saw the Lady Gaga one.

It’s a long way from Park City to the Summit County Jail. Stretched as thin as they are during the festival, arresting someone who doesn’t really need it is counterproductive for the cops.

Most of the time I saw cops getting people back to their rooms, into taxis, or with friends who could take care of them. Anyone who went to jail really had to push it.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/notpatbagley.