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More than 500 detained at country music festival

David L. Ryan / Globe Staff

Concert-goers appeared in court today.

WRENTHAM — More than 500 fans were arrested or detained during a popular country music festival at Gillette Stadium, including some who were so drunk they were taken to hospitals, authorities said Monday.

“From the holding pens we sent them to the hospital because they started to present medical conditions,” Foxborough Police Chief Edward T. O’Leary said.

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Police said they made 102 criminal arrests and put 467 people in protective custody during the two-day Countryfest, which drew approximately 103,000 people. Country stars Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw headlined the festival.

O’Leary said that the number of arrests easily fits in the “top five” of the most people arrested during an event in the town, but said that comparison would include single-day events.

About 27 people, all in their late teens and early 20s and without criminal histories, appeared one by one Monday before Wrentham District Judge Emogene Johnson Smith.

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Johnson Smith ordered them to enroll in a special program that focuses on decision-making and substance abuse treatment. If the defendants complete the program by Nov. 23, their charges will be dropped.

The rest of the defendants are scheduled for appearances throughout the week.

Other venues have had their share of problems recently. At a concert at the Comcast Center in Mansfield last month, two people died of drug overdoses. During another concert there earlier this month, police arrested 35 and took scores more into protective custody for intoxication.

O’Leary said that while the overwhelming majority of Countryfest concert-goers were well-behaved, hundreds were intoxicated — some with blood alcohol levels twice and even three times the legal limit.

“For a small suburban police department, it’s a major problem,’’ he said in a phone interview “We’re getting letters of complaints from normal fans that went and had their fun evening, expensive fun evening, interrupted by drunken louts.”

The charges ranged from disorderly conduct to assault and battery of a police officer.

Sydney Matteson, 17, of Johnston, R.I., was among those who appeared in court Monday. She said she was just “having a good time” with friends at the stadium’s parking lot and was not drinking when she was arrested.

“It was intimidating,” said Matteson. “In the moment, I said something wrong which as soon as I said it, I was like ‘oh no’ and I was put under arrest, and then I was charged with something. So I wasn’t arrested for possession, I was arrested for saying something.”

She described the massive arrests as chaotic and said she felt like a “dog in a kennel” during her detention in a police wagon at the scene.

“When I went in there, there were like 15 girls and they were just all talking about how they didn’t do anything,’’ she said.

It is unclear what penalties prosecutors may seek against defendants with criminal histories or those charged with more serious offenses.

Police underwent training at the recent Bruce Springsteen concert and Monday Night Football game to prepare for the ninth annual New England Country Music Festival, and that training allowed them to identify trouble sooner, O’Leary said. Authorities placed an emphasis on checking tailgaters.

State Police, the Norfolk County Sheriff’s Office, and police from 14 surrounding communities also patrolled this year’s concert. The festival has been the stadium’s biggest summertime draw, bringing in fans from throughout New England.

O’Leary said his department will conduct a thorough review of the policies and procedures in Foxborough to evaluate whether changes are needed.

He said that in talking with officials at other venues across the country, they do not appear to have the same problem in terms of numbers of arrests or people placed in custody.

“So I really can’t explain that sociologically,’’ he said. “It appears that people just come down to our community and feel that anything goes.”

Brian Ballou can be reached at bballou@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeBallou.
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