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Published: Wednesday, 7/5/2006

Underage drinking at concert is targeted

FORT LORAMIE, Ohio - Youthful visitors looking for a nonstop, alcohol-fueled party at Country Concert '06 may want to rethink their weekend plans.

Last year, agents with the Investigative Unit of the Ohio Department of Public Safety, which is responsible for enforcing the state's liquor laws, cited 116 people for underage drinking.

County music star Keith Anderson's description of his own show pretty much sums up the atmosphere of the concert in Fort Loramie.

"It's a party on stage. We get the crowd involved. There's a lot of singing and dancing going on in the crowd," he said. "It's just a party, beer drinking, and being there with your girl."

Brent Devery, agent in charge of the department's Cincinnati office, said the agency uses 25 undercover officers to patrol the grounds.

But before the event begins tomorrow, the agency is helping train bar workers on methods of checking identifications and how to spot fake ones.

"We don't support underage drinking," said Jim Prenger, promoter of the event, which run through Sunday and is in its 26th year. "We're pretty adamant about it."

Mr. Prenger said the agency has been "a great group of people to work with" and provides advice on controlling alcohol sales.

Despite the appearance of a high number of arrests for underage drinking, Mr. Devery said the 116 citations last year was smaller than years before, when some numbers topped 200.

Promoter Prenger said the event draws 77,000 people to the rural Shelby County town 115 miles south of Toledo and west of I-75. "I think it's just the nature of the music festival," he said. "I think we're moving in the right direction."

Country Concert, established in 1981, has earned a reputation as a top place for fans to hear established country stars and up-and-coming artists.

State agents began taking a serious look at the event when the Shelby County Sheriff's Office sought their help because of problems with teenage drinkers and peacekeeping that resulted from fans who became intoxicated.

Enforcement efforts, coupled with the festival's public service announcements and electronic billboard, have helped curb some of the problems, Mr. Devery said.

"Over the years, they have gone down," Mr. Devery said. "It's been a good event. The owners really try to make it a family- oriented event."



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