Great American Food and Music Fiasco
Livenation gave refunds to this event, no questions asked, and was very prompt at processing the refunds. So, while the organizers have a lot to learn about putting on an event, Livenation understands how to deal with customer service, especially when there was obviously a problem.
Went to this festival over the weekend. Sounded like fun, good food from across the country, Country Store BBQ from Elgin, TX, Katz Pastrami, Anchor Bay Buffalo wings, Pinks Hotdogs. Demonstrations from Guy Fieri and Bobby Flay, music from Little Feat, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Marshall Crenshaw. But, the event was a poorly planned, and even more poorly managed disaster. Very sad, since a lot of people were very excited about the concept.
When we got there, it was obvious there were problems already. The line to get into the festival was at least 1/2 a mile long. Uh oh. We’d already bought our tickets, and were there with friends, so we weren’t willing to throw in the towel yet.
We finally get in the gate, The sullen people at the gate give us a food ticket. Weird, we were suppose to get one meal and 4 admissions with the “family pack”. Following the vague instructions on the website, we go to the armband booth. They were going to have electronic cash armbands. Sounds really high-tech huh? Well, it melted down, the paper ticket we got at the gate was for our first meal, then pay cash at the booth. We later find out the system broke almost immediately (after thousands of people had paid money to put on their electronic armbands), and that for the first 90 minutes, no one could buy or sell anything, since the organizers (and I use that word loosely) did not have a backup plan if the high tech cashless system broke down. Sigh. When will people learn to not rely on technology without manual backup plan? Well planned events have contingency plans.
The first line we see, for Pinks, was huge. And it looked more like 5 lines, filling the entire width of the concourse. We think maybe that’s because it’s next to the entrance. We walk up the hill. Burger line. No, that can’t still be the burger line. You have got to be kidding. There are hundreds of people in line for a burger. We tell each other this looks like a bust.
Decide to just get in line for something, we just tossed out our “we’ll all get different things and sample” plan. We’ll all get one plate of food, and decide if we’re staying after that. We briefly consider all getting in different lines, but that wouldn’t be much fun, when you came to hang with friends, now would it?
The line is near Anne Burrell’s demonstration. We can’t hear her, because the sound system is turned down so low. I note that there are 28 chairs set up in the field for the hundreds of people watching the demonstration. Really? Why did you put out any chairs at all?
We joke with the nice people around us in line that at this rate, we’ll at least get to see Guy Fieri at 3:00. No lines for drinks. Perhaps that’s because beer is $12 and wine is $8. Yeah, that’s probably it.
We get to see Guy Fieri. His entire 45 minute demonstration. He was great, a lot of fun, the field was packed with people, but we got to see him from the line snaking all the way around the field. Oh, and we also hear that Katz ran out of Pastrami from disgruntled people who’d waited in that line for hours, we saw the sandwiches get smaller and smaller as we waited for our BBQ. I read they made more later.
Guy ends, one of our crew heads off to get in line for something else, since it’s clear we’re not spending the day here, or standing in another line for another 2 hours. Keep in mind everyone was getting exactly the same thing. There was no choice. A sausage and some brisket on white bread (with a slice of processed American cheese, which was new to me). They were obviously just not set up to produce food for this many people quickly. Did the organizers forget to tell everyone how many tickets they sold?
We finally get our food. Over 2 hours in line. We head off to find a place to sit, bring our other friend food. He’s been in a very short line for Bacon. However, the people in the booth were simply not set up to crank out this much food, the lines aren’t moving.
I should add, as we get to the front, we notice a second (sort of 3rd) line off to the left, much shorter than the one we were in. So, not everyone had to wait 2 hours, but with absolutely no organization or communication, how would anyone know?
Giving credit where it’s due, the BBQ was very good. Way better than we expected. The bacon was good, too, if you’d just walked up to the booth, but not if you waited 45 minutes. The BLT, not so good, Too much mayo, not enough bacon, more like a British tea sandwich. For $7.
We’re done. No way we’re standing in line several hours for more food, the line for Pinks is as long as when we arrived. As we leave, there’s a long line of people asking for refunds. As they should be. This is after the time Ed Levine says everything got better. Sorry Ed, it didn’t.
I call the venue, they tell me to just send my tickets back for a refund. Live Nation says they’re sorry the event was unpleasant. More kudos to them (of course, I haven’t gotten my refund yet, may take up to 2 weeks).
Ed Levine at Seriouseats.com finally published an apology of sorts. Unfortunately showing a lack of understanding the extent of the problems. Ed makes the claim that it was only the first 4 hours that were bad, and then lays implied blame on people showing up “early”. The comments to the post tell it all. It did not get better, it was entirely the organizers fault, and the organizers should pro-actively tell customers refunds will be given. Unfortunate I see no mention of offering refunds in the apology. Ed can’t be the sole person responsible, so I do give him kudos for being the lighting rod, however, if Ed and the other organizers ever want to put on event without people actively lobbying against it, they’ll need to fully apologize. It was the organizers, not the attendees, who caused the event to fail, and it did not get better, or live up the promise. Not at 2pm, not at 8pm.
Years ago, Shoreline had an event called New Orleans, by the Bay. It was very well organized, there was food and music everywhere, and people had a good time, year after year. It can be done at this very venue.
This event was littered with signs of poor management of a large event: lack of line organization lack of information, lack of food portion/price control, insufficient eating areas, poor use of the facilities. Small Band and demo areas were co-located, so you got some music, or a hard to hear demo. Scattered smaller music pavilions with local musicians, in addition to the “big names” would have been a better use of space than selling Comcast and Verizon booths in the concourse, even that would have been for the benefit of the customers, not revenue generators for the festival.
Heck, even the whole “first plate of food is free” concept, where that first plate could be a tiny Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich, or a plate of BBQ ($6 or $12 respectively) shows a lack of understanding on how a good food festival operates. People shouldn’t have to research, compare and plan to enjoy a casual festival.
The best thing Ed and the organizers could do to garner any further support, after they fully take blame for the failure, and advertise easy to obtain refunds, is to actually hire someone who’s run successful food festivals before they even consider doing this again.
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Jun 16 2009