Nearly 20,000 tickets were sold by the organizers of the inaugural Houston Beer Festival, although the festival's venue only had a capacity of 12,000 people. And that was just the first of many issues that arose at the beer bash on Saturday afternoon, after the embattled organizers had already contested questions about the 501(c)(3) status of the festival's charity organization and tickets sales that were in direct violation of TABC regulations.
KHOU reported that several attendees were treated for heat exhaustion, a result of standing in a line that stretched for blocks while only a handful of volunteers worked the festival's sole entrance. Jake Rainey, general manager at the nearby Flying Saucer, was working a booth at the festival and was stunned when he saw how the line had built up in only a short amount of time after the festival opened its doors.
"I went outside the tents and there was a line basically on two sides of a block square," said Rainey. "I talked to a cop and he said it took 55 minutes to get from one corner to another. It was a two-and-a-half hour thing to get in."
A mass of nearly 20,000 people flooding into the one entrance at Hermann Square Park was simply too much for festival organizers and volunteers to handle, and the lines inside the event weren't much better, according to festival attendee Chris Linebaugh.
"The lines inside made it unbearable," Linebaugh said via email. "The more known vendors had about 20 to 30 people in each line, and the lesser knowns had about 10 to 15 in each. These lines took forever and you would almost regret having to go get in line."
Linebaugh had purchased tickets to the event through Houston Beer Festival itself and waited 50 minutes just to gain entrance. Unlucky attendees who had purchased tickets through Groupon were faced with the much longer lines that Rainey witnessed, however. In addition to aggravating those who had used Groupon and other discount retailers to purchase their tickets, Linebaugh says it bothered him that the Houston Beer Festival organizers were essentially penalizing those who had purchased their tickets ahead of time.
"Why punish those that actually want to go and bought their tickets earlier?" Linebaugh asked. "It should be the other way around. I was very frustrated when I saw the DailyDeal that came out a few days before the event advertising $12.50 tickets when I paid $20 per ticket."
Many people bailed on queuing up for the event, as the lines were moving at a snail's pace, and opted instead to head to local bars like Flying Saucer in an attempt to get both beer and air conditioning.
"We had quite a bit of overflow," said Rainey. "It was much busier than a normal Saturday." But even what could have been good news for downtown bars turned sour as the bars were suddenly slammed with patrons. "We appreciate the sales, but we weren't ready for what it was going to be like."
Back at the event, beer began to run out hours before the festival was scheduled to end at 10 p.m. And worse, it completely ran out of water at 5 p.m., according to Rainey.
There were "trees to shade the very hot sun," according to Linebaugh, as well as a good selection of food, but the lack of water and the heat in combination created a dangerous situation.
The organizers have taken an unusual and what some might term unprofessional approach in response to criticism leveled towards them on Facebook and Twitter.
Last night, they created a Facebook group called "I hate the Houston Beer Fest," and this morning, the festival's Twitter account went private. The organizers -- including Timothy Hudson, with whom I spoke last week -- have not returned requests for comment, although they are providing refunds via email at email@example.com.
"It reminded me of fraternity parties when I went to college," said Rainey of the flip cup and beer pong competitions that took center stage over the few craft beer and small-production brewers that were at the event. "They kind of dumbed down a lot of what we try to do in the beer culture; they didn't put the beer culture's best foot forward."
Regardless, the organizers still plan a second, three-day-long festival this time next year. And despite being disappointed with the festival, Rainey has high hopes for its future: "It was really neat to see that many people downtown, excited about the festival. The venue itself was pretty neat. It just wasn't executed the way it should have been."
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