Bloem Beer Fest 2017: The Verdict
Judging Bloem Beer Fest is a difficult one. It’s been over a week since the objectively failed event and I’m still struggling to gather my thoughts. Reason being, I had a great time. The frustrations of people who were upset with the (initial) lack of lavatories, cancelled headline acts and limited selection of beers are, of course, valid. Unfortunately, frustration leads to disappointment and that lead to poor reviews of the festival.
Avid readers of JoburgBrew will remember my 10 criteria for having a good festival and the standards set by Capital Craft. Putting Bloem Beer Fest through those paces sees me wanting to alter a few criteria. For example, Bloem Beer Fest wins on the efficiency scale but not because of any system. Rather, it wins here because the 150 – 200 odd people who were there were never enough to make a sizable queue for beer.
In most other objective aspects it failed as well. One only need read their Facebook page to see that the people assembled were not happy and claiming their money back. I feel bad that this is the impression of my hometown but facts are facts.
One fact overlooked though is that many who were there, even those who complained, had a good time. Making people happy in an environment of beer, music and friends isn’t an especially difficult feat.
This begs the question, what could Bloem Beer Fest done differently to make the fest objectively better?More importantly, what can other, smaller town introductory beer fests learn from the failings of Bloem Beer Fest?
Having befriended the organisers, I did my homework and went to check out the venue on the night before. At 21h00 on the night before the festival, the stage was far from set up, the grass was still being cut and looking at the fest area foreshadowed that the festival would certainly not begin at 10h00 as advertised on Facebook nor at 12h00 as advertised on the festival posters.
Indeed, the festival only officially began at 14h00…a time when most people at comparable fests would have already left following a couple of beers and lunch. It wasn’t long before the rumours that Prime Circle and Roger Goode were cancelled were confirmed alongside a confirmation that the R150 entry fee to the fest would be refunded…a cost that prohibited many people from even considering going.
From that, we’ve already learned that aiming for the stars to land on the moon is a bad idea when it comes to expectations. A cheaper entry fee with an exclusively local lineup would have aided the fest well. As experienced, Bloemfontein has great local artists from K2 to Simple Stories to composition bands made up of awesome local artists. Other local bands who didn’t perform include Wolfgang Marrow and Snowcones and I’ve known each of those bands to pull a crowd of significantly over 150 people. Local festivals should support local artistry and realise that local artists who have local following will likely pull more people than cancelled national act.
This would allow one to drop the price of entry and attract more people. With more people, you’d attract more breweries and not leave Steller, Redrock and The Famous Brew and Still to pick up all the slack. That’s right…there were only three craft breweries on offer. Carlsberg was there masquerading as a craft brewery but nobody was falling for it.
It also became clear that making too many promises in the light of not being able to follow through became an issue. The fest promised 30 different craft beers, a viewing of the local and concurrent Cheetah rugby game as well as national artists. None of these materialised. It took well over an hour after the delayed start of the festival for the lavatories to arrive and shade in the the warm Free State afternoon was difficult to come by…unless you parked in the tents awkwardly set up in a manner that placed the brewers’ stalls in the line of sight to the stage.
In response to the raising of these issues, the organisers indicated that they had difficulties with third party vendors. This may to be the case in most instances but successful festivals tend to have deadlines, contingencies and follow-up procedures in place to ensure these difficulties aren’t apparent to the end-user.
Whatever. I still had a great time…a great time, I wouldn’t pay R150 for but a great time. Unfortunately, if you’re a rugby loving, Prime Circle listening, non-willing-to-pee-against-a-tree, multiple beer loving individual, you would have had your expectations crushed…and therein lies the rub.
Bloem Beer Fest aimed for the stars without a route and, more importantly, with a diesel engine filled with petrol. Ordinarily, at least they’d land on the moon but have you ever put petrol in a diesel engine?
There’s a trap festival organisers tend to fall for; that if they have all the bells and whistles, more people will come to their fest. In turn, they do silly things like have VIP tents, gun for big and expensive names in artistry and charge a premium to get people in. Sure, this works in some instances but inaugural beer festivals should stick to the basics and get them right. Also, are VIP tents still a thing?
The narrative of promising your city the greatest thing it’s ever seen is old, stale and generally not sexy anymore. Fewer people go to beer fests today to brag about how hipster they are because they’re drinking something all their friends aren’t (but probably have had recently) and listening to artist their friends aren’t (but probably have seen in the last 5 years). Today, beer festivals (and festivals in general) are for the experience, gees, and general good time. A good example of this in action is the unusual success of Oppikoppi as documented by yours truly.
You can generate all the experience, gees, and general good time you need with more creativity and less reliance on getting feet though the door by means of pushing big names that are supposed to attract people but clearly don’t.
That being said, Steller’s legendary stout eased the pain of some attendees while the Famous Brew and Still had a rocking selection of craft gin (with rose water…y’know, because City of Roses)…and sold it by the liter…which pleased most of the rest. I was also given some
The music was enjoyable and had a few more tents been erected or some more seating be provided, more people would have been nearer to the stage. Never underestimate the power hay-bails have to cause the congregation of people.
I’m a super easy dude to please when it comes to beer and music but some of my lady friends needed a lavatory and weren’t as willing as I was to abide by the adage, “every tree is a lavatory.” Some of my friends wanted more variety. Some of my friends wanted to spend the morning there and be gone by the afternoon to go to the rugby. Obviously no fest is going to please all the people all the time but you can certainly improve your odds…the way Bloem Beer Fest should have done this is focused on a local narrative, lower cost of entry and more convenient times…and of course, our 10 basic standards.
It’s a shame that many people were disappointed in the fest because the craft culture of Bloem is on the rise and many are willing to invest in it. Speaking to Brew and Still’s Phillip, he told me he could have made more money at a private function but so badly wants to be part of the growth of the craft culture and will prioritize access over profits…but with the great whisky he stills, I doubt he’d ever have trouble with profits.
In conclusion, the school fees the organisers have paid should certainly manifest in lessons of how to structure the narrative, the importance of the basics and what type of expectations to create. I’ll give Bloem Beer Fest another chance in 2018, despite 2017, because if lessons aren’t learned and acted upon from such expensive school fees, it will at least give ammunition to the notion that school is worthless.