Top 6 Ways To Improve Summer Fest Next Year

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More FPSF 2012 Coverage:Summer Fest line-up reviews on the Rocks Off blog.
Free Press Summer Fest 2012: The Sexy, Sweaty Crowds
Popsicles and Pizza: The Food of Summer Fest
FPSF: The Bands from Saturday
FPSF: The Bands from Sunday

Free Press Summer Fest is very much still a work in progress. This past weekend, nowhere else was this more evident than when the barricades blocking a good part of the Eleanor Tinsley Park lawn in front of that Jeep display led to a horrendous bottleneck of people between the two main stages Saturday. That magically disappeared overnight, or rather they got pushed back drastically, enough that walking back and forth wasn't much of a problem Sunday.

There's almost no possible way the Summer Fest organizers could have imagined the kind of crowds they got this weekend, a total figure generally estimated to be 92,000. That's one and a half times last year's count of 60,000, and with that kind of numbers come some of the more unpleasant aspects of music festivals: Long lines, shortages, poor waste disposal, filthy portapotties (and not enough).

Usually those kinds of things happen when supply far outnumbers demand, so it would be wrong to say the event wasn't successful.

The Chronicle editorial board certainly seems to think to. Even if they can't spell "Snoop Dogg" right, they had nothing but good things to say about the festival on the editorial page Wednesday morning.

"One would be hard pressed to find a music festival more beautiful than Free Press Summer Fest," the editors crowed in that stilted, oddly aloof tone the daily often takes. "This is the Houston that we should want people to see." I almost feel like a killjoy pointing out that the Chronicle was a media partner with Summer Fest this year, for the first time, but hell, I'll do it anyway.

So everybody loves Summer Fest. Of course we do. After all the fun we've had, it would be hard to find a music-loving Houstonian who wants it to disappear. But there are also aspects of the festival that could have been handled a lot better.

I scrolled through a couple of FPSF-related threads on Reddit's Houston forum, the comments on Rocks Off's "WTF" blog from Monday, and the experiences of both myself and others at the park to come up with this oh-so-helpful, take-it-or leave-it list of suggestions for Summer Fest 2013.

I love you, you're perfect, now change.

6. Double the water order. Run out of beer, and that's unfortunate. Run out of bottled water, especially with temperatures hitting the mid-90s amid typical Houston humidity, and it could get dangerous. Twice Saturday, I went to buy water only to find there was none available (and it didn't look like more was coming anytime soon). The free water stations would probably do in a pinch, but better to order too much than not enough.

5. Attention Pink's Pizza, a paper towel or two with that slice would probably suffice. Instead of that bulky wedge-shaped box I saw people carrying around all weekend, and then often on the ground somewhere else. I hate to single out one vendor in a whole festival full of litterbugs, but that alone would have at least alleviated a halfway decent slice of Summer Fest's considerable solid-waste issues. Pardon the pun.

4. More small bills. This seems like such a minor thing, but it gets important in a hurry when the bartenders run out of ones and fives and insist people buy two beers at once just so they can give the proper change. Also, don't be stupid and expect to use your credit/debit card at a music festival. Some will let you, which is great, but cash is always better. At the very least, hit up one of the ATMs by the gates or in the park before you get in line.

3. Make a dedicated golf-cart path. Summer Fest staffers important enough to merit their own golf cart (gator, whatever) need to be able to use them, whether to ferry someone on the verge of heatstroke to a medical tent, bring some ice to a bar that's running out, or about a thousand other different reasons. So the festival needs to find a way to mark off a place for them to do that instead of having to navigate their way through some pretty congested crowds.

2. Better wireless. Not being an especially tech-savvy person, I don't know what kind of wireless infrastructure Summer Fest had in place, just that it wasn't nearly enough. Rare was the text message that didn't get bounced back at least three times, and it was almost impossible to get on Twitter after about 4 p.m. Saturday. (Sunday was a little better.) The alternative is for people to stop texting and tweeting so goddamn much, but you know that isn't going to happen. [Summer Fest has no control over wireless at the festival, and thus no "infrastructure" -- service is dependent on the strength and capacity of the towers belonging to each individual provider. Our apologies -- ed.]

1. Fix. The. Gates. Four out of the five complaints I have seen or heard about Summer Fest this year boil down to the long lines and somewhat chaotic ID-checking/wristband/security situation at the entry gates. (Because of my media pass I was able to enter through a staff/maintenance gate, and thank God, but I sure heard about what was going on.)

The problem is that Summer Fest is basically laid out in a straight line, and there's almost no place to add any more entrances. My idea was to set up more gates on Crosby and Gillette streets, between Allen Parkway and West Dallas, and let at least Fancy Pants holders enter through the neighborhood. Somehow I doubt that would fly.

Someone else suggested allowing people who buy passes in advance to exchange those passes for wristbands before they even get to the festival. Maybe at the same place they buy them? That would also encourage people to patronize some of Summer Fest's ticket outlets instead of buying online. Then when people show up, they would just need to stand in line for an over-21 wristband if they're drinking. Talk about rapid entry.

But streamlining the entry procedure in general, and putting more hands on deck overall, couldn't hurt. Because they need to figure something out.

And so this concludes Rocks Off's Free Press Summer Fest coverage for 2012. But not for long. Expect an announcement about a blind presale for FPSF 2013 passes soon. They just won't say when.

"No man knows the hour of the return of blind presale," Summer Fest's Omar Afra told me via email Tuesday afternoon. "It will come like a thief in the night."

Follow Rocks Off on Facebook and on Twitter at @HPRocksOff.

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