Happy as clams: Revamped 'Calm' Jam gets kudos all around

Has the angry neighborhood tide begun receding from Clam Jam, the once booze-fueled, disruptive, end-of-year beach party for Fairfield University students?

At this year's party last Saturday, which was moved to a new venue and run by the college itself, there were no arrests and no ambulance calls for intoxicated students, only a few tickets issued for infractions.

And the outraged reaction from year-round neighborhood residents, which erupted in the aftermath of the annual antics, subsided.

"I see this as a new tradition," said Thomas Pellegrino, vice president for student affairs at Fairfield University.

What was once a private party hosted by students living at the shorefront Lantern Point enclave, was instead a tightly controlled gathering at Penfield Pavilion that required tickets and wristbands, not just to get in, but to drink beer. Students were not allowed to bring in their own alcohol, and food was provided all day long.

Those factors, Deputy Police Chief Chris Lyddy said, were key.

"This was a significant change to the unregulated condition that existed during prior Clam Jam events, where individual homes would purchase kegs of beer and there was no control mechanisms in place to regulate who was consuming and how much," Lyddy said.

And Clam Jam parties of the past had little or no food available. "This year, Fairfield University provided an endless supply of food to everyone," he said. "Food tends to limit alcohol consumption."

Neither the first selectman's office nor the Parks and Recreation Department's office received any complaints after the event, and Lyddy said police only received one.

"Most of the feedback from the neighborhood has been positive," he said. "There was one negative comment from an area resident related to the volume of the music."

Ian Bass, head of the Fair Acres Association, echoed those comments.

"I have not heard anything negative from area residents, so I would say this change of venue was successful," Bass said. "From my observation throughout the day, I believe the event went according to plan."

He thanked police and university staff for the planning that went into maintaining order at the event, and the university seniors who attended "for respecting the neighboring area while simultaneously having a good time."

Pellegrino said this year's Clam Jam got good reviews from students, too.

"Students did give us some constructive feedback on things like repositioning the stage closer to where the food/drink were, and adding more porta-potties, but beyond that, they really liked it and really appreciated the effort of all the people that went into doing it," he said.

Lyddy said the police officers who have worked the event in past years commented that the general demeanor of students this year was "very pleasant" compared to prior years. "There were no transports to the hospital due to intoxication or injury. There were five cited violations for open containers in the neighborhood. Most importantly, there was no secondary or after event," Lyddy said. "This was a very important item to us during the year-long negotiation with the university and student representatives."

Officials also were pleased "to have given some relief to area residents of Lantern Point," Lyddy said. "We are attempting to make a cultural shift of a tradition that spans 40 years. This is not an easy endeavor. We applaud Fairfield University and the graduating Class of 2015 for working with town officials to make this year's event, a safe event for everyone involved."

"I think what we've shown this year is this event is transitioning from an, at times, disruptive event to one where Fairfield University students can enjoy themselves, and yet continue the harmony of the neighborhood," Police Chief Gary MacNamara said.

There were 1,500 tickets available for this year's Clam Jam, which sold out. Students who live off campus in the beach neighborhood walked to Penfield, while students living on campus arrived via shuttle bus or Uber cars.

Students without a ticket or wristband were not allowed in, but Pellegrino said no one without the proper credentials tried to get into the party. Temporary fencing all along the beach kept out interlopers, and the university hired both a private security force and local police to enforece the rules. There were different-colored wristbands to separate the students who were of legal drinking age from those who weren't. Those younger than 21 also had a black "X" marks on their hands, indicating they were not to be served alcohol.

Things went "incredibly well," Pellegrino said. "There was tons of food and it was also a well-paced event," he said.

Pellegrino said the revamped year-end party was fully supported by seniors living at the beach. "This really took a lot of work to pull off, and I have to give credit to my staff, the Fairfield police and the seniors," he said. Some seniors, he said, were skeptical about the school taking over Clam Jam, but later expressed pleasure at the way the event unfolded.

MacNamara said there was an atmosphere of respect at the event, something that was often missing from interactions between students and police in past years.

"Kudos should go to the university and especially to Deputy Chief (Chris) Lyddy," who he said was instrumental in the venue change.

Things got started after 10:30 a.m. Saturday, with buses arriving on a staggered schedule from the campus. From the get-go, egg sandwiches, hot dogs and hamburgers were available.

University officials began shutting down the party around 4 p.m., first slowly clearing out partygoers from the stage area, then moving students out from the other end near the Jacky Durrell Pavilion. Police said the "soft closing," and the fact many students boarded buses to get back to campus eliminated the mass exodus that normally marks the end of the party, with several hundred students milling through shoreline neighborhood streets.

The police command post was set up in a lot across the street from Penfield Beach, and Fairfield officers were assisted by police from Easton, Trumbull, Monroe, Westport and Bridgeport. Paid and volunteer firefighters were also on scene, and an EMS tent was set up in the Penfield parking lot, though it didn't have many visitors.