Somewhat improbably, Houston Beer Fest is hoping to make its fifth edition in downtown Houston next month its most successful to date. Its chances certainly weren't looking good a few weeks after last year's festival at Sam Houston Park, when a number of vendors, staff and performers began coming forward to complain that they still hadn't been paid. Some of them still haven't, we hear, but the new owners are promising to make it right.
The festival is as clear as can be that it's not the same Houston Beer Festival as last year. On March 24, the festival's Facebook page broke almost eight months of social-media silence with an updated cover photo that bore the dates June 13 and 14, and a return to its previous location at Hermann Square Park outside Houston City Hall (site of this weekend's mysterious "TX Fest"). The poster also promised more than 200 beers from 25 breweries, plus three stages of music. The next day, it was back with the announcement “We are happy to be back for year FIVE and under new management!!” and a link to a press release that said, in part:
The Houston Beer Festival is excited to announce that they are under new management and new ownership with the goal of making this the best beer fest in the nation.
In charge this year is Mandy Parker, who will also produce the Texas Tequila & Margarita Festival at Moody Gardens the weekend after HBF. A few months after last year's fest, she says, a group of investors came forward and negotiated a sale with the festival's previous owners, a partnership headed up by Timothy Hudson, the man at the center of last year's mess. Although there were still plenty of lingering hard feelings, Parker says once the vendors were assured that Hudson was no longer involved, many recognized the event's value and weren't hard to convince to return.
“Most of those guys had been involved in the festival in the past and saw the potential for it, and just all could basically see that it lacked organization and the financial support,” she says. “So believe it or not, on the business side, it wasn't hard to have those conversations.
“I can tell you that the investment group that came in would not have moved forward with the festival if they had not gotten such a warm welcome from the vendors,” adds Parker, a former special-events director at Moody Gardens who also produced the Brewmasters Craft Beer Festival there.
This year HBF has also hired Spectrum Concessions to manage the event, including distributing the plethora of beer samples “in an uber-efficient manner,” according to the press release. Austin's ARTSeen alliance has been retained to decorate Herrmann Square. Parker says that more than $100,000 has already been paid to people who were stiffed last year; an email account, email@example.com, has been set up to that end, adds HBF spokeswoman RoShelle Salinas.
“I can tell you that even the staffers that had worked for the festival from last year and were not taken care of, we've been able to get those guys some compensation and get them taken care of,” Parker says. “Some of them have even reached out and said, 'Hey, we'd be willing to do it again; it really is a good festival.' So that gives me a lot of hope to the future, for what it can really be.
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“That even goes for the city as well,” she adds. “The city was very supportive, and it's continuing to be very supportive in the endeavor.”
HBF's new investors have also put up enough money to buy a pretty potent music lineup, which was announced in full this past Monday. This year's music includes Neon Icon joke-rapper (or not) Riff Raff; New Orleans alt-rockers MuteMath; scruffy alt-country singer Hayes Carll; horns-up local doom-rockers Venomous Maximus; Houston rap heavyweights Scarface and Chamillionaire; brawny Austin rockers Quiet Company; and a long list of top Houston acts, including Craig Kinsey, Electric Attitude, Moji, Free Radicals and companion breakdancing troupe Havikoro, Mikey & the Drags, the Wheel Workers, Espantapajaros, Potbelly and more. Tickets have been on sale for a couple of weeks and so far sales have been strong, Parker says. The lure of near-bottomless beer and the likes of Scarface, Riff Raff and Hayes Carll onstage is a strong one indeed.
“Looking at this, Houston has had maybe some sort of love/hate relationship with Houston Beer Fest, because as we all know each year it's had its own issues, and yet it always comes back the next year with a bigger attendance than it had the year before,” Parker laughs. “It's like, where else has that happened at?”