(KRON) — The first Bay Area sideshows took place in the parking lot of a McDonald’s, across the street from Oakland’s Eastmont Mall. They involved young men, some drug dealers, flush with cash showing off their flashy cars while locals from the neighborhood gathered to watch.

That is according to Daryl Anderson, better known by his stage name “DJ Daryl.” He says these sideshows in the 1980s were far more tame than the ones that happen today, which have shut down busy intersections, and even the Bay Bridge.

Daryl would know. He produced the 1990 record “Side Show,” performed by rapper Richie Rich, before going on to work with artists such as Tupac Shakur and Snoop Dogg. He says the song often served as a soundtrack for these early smaller sideshows, which were already in place by the time the song dropped.

“I’m the music to a movement that was already in place amongst the drug dealers,” DJ Daryl said.

In the song, Richie Rich raps about early sideshows. He paints a picture of weekend nights in Oakland, with music playing and people coming by in fancy cars to perform “donuts” and other tricks:

“Now listen, this is the code to the show
For the people out there who just don’t know
If your car is real clean, then bring it
If it’s high-performance, then swing it
If it’s a motorcycle, you better serve it
And if you get a ticket, you better deserve it.”

Sideshows are an important part of East Oakland’s culture, according to East Oakland native Richard Maximino. Maximino has known about sideshows since he was little and has participated in some.

“It’s something that runs in your bloodline,” he said. “It’s a culture. It’s a lifestyle.”

“Public safety threat”

In 2023, sideshows are large-scale events that have left police departments scrambling to keep them in check. On Sunday, police said close to 3,000 people gathered at Alameda Point to watch an “unpermitted” sideshow.

While sideshows are celebrated by some, Oakland leaders are concerned with the effect they have on the city. In addition to the attempt to stop reckless driving and violence that occurs at these sideshows, police officers trying to break up sideshows are unable to respond to crimes elsewhere.

Oakland City Councilmember Treva Reid called sideshows “a public safety threat… all across the city.”

A new measure introduced to Oakland this spring intends to keep these sideshows in check. The ordinance, passed unanimously by the city council, makes it a crime to organize and facilitate a sideshow.

“You can get fined, or jail time, mostly a fine, but they can add up and they are not going to be cheap,” Oakland City Councilmember Dan Kalb said.

Why did sideshows become so crazy?

Maximino and DJ Daryl both admit that sideshows have taken a turn towards the wild side over the past ten years. The men have different answers for why that happened.

According to DJ Daryl, sideshows began to spiral out of control when the drug dealers who were first involved started to go to prison. With them out of the picture, he says the people that took their place were more daring.

“When they left the streets, the streets became unorganized,” he said. “There’s no more mob. There’s nobody to follow. There’s nobody to look up to and want to be like. There’s no hero, if you will.”

Maximino credits the prevalence of smartphones for the audacious acts that occur at some sideshows today.

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In the era of social media, wild tricks at sideshows have gone viral, garnering millions of views. Maximino says that when the cameras are out, people are inclined to go their craziest.

“If I see a camera out, I for sure want to show out so they get a good angle of me,” he said.

Sideshows have spread from Oakland all across the Bay Area. They can be dangerous. Last summer in Vallejo, a 19-year-old young father suffered traumatic brain injuries after being hit by a car at a chaotic sideshow.

But sideshows are an important part of Bay Area culture for some who grew up around them. They likely won’t be going anywhere soon.

“I know it’s dangerous, but we know what the consequences are that come with it… As long as you stay in your lane and participate how you know to participate, you’ll make it back in one piece,” Maximino said.

The punishment for organizing or facilitating an Oakland sideshow can be up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.