I won’t say that the Flour City Brewers Fest is a clear-cut example of how not to run a brewfest. John Urlaub, proprietor of the Rohrbach Brewing Company, has organized this event year after year, and it always goes off without a hitch (apart from the inevitable annual torrential downpour).
Two things, however, were different this year. The venue changed from the High Falls festival site to the left-field concourse under the stands of Rochester’s AAA baseball stadium, and the Fest was compressed to one evening instead of two. The limited space in the concourse tunnel and the concentration of two days’ worth of attendees into one caused a crush of humanity that, from 7:00 on, sucked the fun out of the Brewer’s Fest.
If you were a dilligent beer drinker, and got there around the 5:00 opening time, you were treated to a comprehensive array of New York beers from Brewery Ommegang, Southern Tier, Lake Placid, and others, as well as Magic Hat and Otter Creek from further afield. Once the annual rainstorm abated, the patio are gave way to pleasant beer conversation and an amiable sampling environment.
As the crowd grew more, uh, crowded, things got a bit different. Lines grew much longer than the one or two volunteers per booth could handle. People who just got a pour had difficulty getting out through the throng. Food lines snaked 70 people deep.
It looked, more than anything else, like the Delta terminal at JFK.
Most disappointing of all, with no way to replenish their stock and facing such a concentrated, larger-than-expected crowd, brewers were running out of beer while some people were still outside ponying up their $25 entrance fee.
Although festival attendees were primarily young, drunk, and constantly jostled, the mood stayed very upbeat and positive. I saw no evidence of security being anything more than bored, so please don’t take this post as alarmist or reactionary. I really think festival organizers did a good job of adapting themselves to the changing realities of the evening, and I know they’re aware that the whole setup needs to be tweaked for next year. Still, we have to remember, it could have been worse.
The Frontier Field site actually offers clear advantages for both participants and attendees. The stadium’s permanent food stands are geared toward serving large crowds, and the built in bathrooms are far superior to the dreaded smelly-ass Port-a-Johns you usually get at these events.
My suggestion: Open the entire concourse instead of only the left-field half. That would better distribute the crowd.
Oh, and tell the brewers to bring more beer.