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Aviva Copaken just wants some damn mac and cheese, and Kraft won’t cut it. She’s tried to attend three mac and cheese festivals in 2019. All three were cancelled.

“The first time I was like, ‘It happens,’” she says. “The second time I was like, ‘Seriously?’ And after this third one I’m like, ‘This is all bullshit. It’s ludicrous. It’s the new Fyre Festival. It’s such a simple thing. It’s mac and cheese. It’s not crepes or something delicate.’”

These pasta fests promised caloric afternoons of sampling ooey gooey Instagram bait from food trucks and restaurants. “There are so many horrible things nowadays in the world,” Copaken continues. “To give people a little joy and take it away is cruel.”

“Absolute nightmare.”

“Disaster.” 

“Highway robbery.”

These are all words attendees used to describe various food festivals in the D.C. region since City Paper started tracking them in April. The knife-twisting reviews of pizza, taco, jollof rice, beer, mac and cheese, and paw paw parties gone wrong are red flags flown too late—comments left on zombie event pages when they’re already over. Downtrodden foodies like Copaken seem to relish comparing disappointing experiences with the not-so-luxurious Fyre Festival in the Bahamas.

While complaints of long lines, skimpy food, and hot sun don’t actually have much in common with the 2017 debacle that defrauded Bahamians and attendees out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, there are plenty of people who feel they blew their weekend budget on a food festival that didn’t live up to the hype.

Entry to these events, which are often in stadiums, on fairgrounds, or on closed-off streets, tops out at around $70 per person unless attendees pony up for VIP add-ons like early entry. Some charge less for admission and require that attendees purchase food or drink tickets once through the gate. They typically feature a line-up of food trucks, caterers, and restaurants eager to add new revenue streams and gain recognition.

There’s obvious potential for fun, but even organizers admit that their industry is risky and complex enough that few festivals go off without an issue to overcome. “I say we’re in the circus business,” says Charlie Adler of TasteUSA Festival Management. “The question is, who are the clowns? Are they the food trucks? The attendees? I don’t know.” 

Should you spring for a ticket next time you see food porn topping an advertisement for an all-you-can-munch taco fest in a parking lot? Consider the three following case studies, chosen from a larger selection of troubled 2019 festivals, followed by explainers from festival organizers who have been at this for decades and perspectives from truth-telling food vendors.

The Case of the Too Popular Filipino Food Festival 

The Taste the Philippines: DC Filipino Food Festival sought to spotlight Filipino chefs and cultural performers on June 22. But when people craving pancit and lumpia arrived at The Wharf, they encountered two lines leading to their destination, District Pier. Even those who bought tickets in advance had to join queues. 

“It was like I was at Black Friday or a concert,” says Edward E. Brooks. “It just kept going and going. Both lines looked a half a mile long. There’s nothing I hate more than waiting in line. We took the Metro to the Pentagon City Mall and got Chinese instead.” 

An attendee named Anna stuck it out because she bought advance tickets and was eager to introduce her American boyfriend and his children to her culture. When she got through the entry line, she discovered that some vendors were out of food an hour into the four-hour event. Anna says she stood in line for a total of two hours for two bites of food. “As a Filipino, we always make more food than normal,” she says. 

The afternoon took a turn. “They weren’t emptying the trash bins,” Anna continues. “My boyfriend’s son got stung by a bee while standing in line. He’s sitting there crying. A woman offered to give him some ice out of her drink so I could keep him from screaming at the top of his lungs. I don’t blame him. This is just insane. There was no organization.” Cathal and Meshelle Armstrong, who own Kaliwa at The Wharf, put on the festival together with Joni Rae from Mindset Communities and others. 

Another attendee, Lynne, worries about how restaurants who participated in the festival will be perceived. “Hopefully they won’t get a bad rap because people have a sour taste because they were part of the event,” she says. “They need to have a very confident and capable organizer when they try to do these festivals because there’s a lot of things at stake.” 

Patrice Cleary owns Purple Patch, a restaurant in Mount Pleasant. She was hesitant to sign up to serve food at the festival. “Filipinos are very critical of what you do—it has to be perfect,” she explains. “I know from opening a Filipino restaurant. Sometimes I choose not to do things because I don’t want to be criticized. But no risk, no reward.”

Organizers told Cleary to bring 2,000 portions of food because they expected up to 3,000 festival-goers. Then 21,300 showed up. Cleary prepared boxes of garlic fried rice with tocino and papaya salad. Attendees were grabbing eight to 10 at a time. “I empathize with the people that set this whole thing up because no one in their right mind would expect so many people to come,” she says. “You could fill a soccer stadium.” 

Cleary hypothesizes that organizers got tripped up by the “X factor” of social media commitments. Most festival organizers create event pages on Facebook. The public can mark themselves as “going” or “interested,” even if they haven’t bought tickets. While some organizers depend on Facebook for low-cost marketing, they must also grapple with whether to trust these RSVPs. 

For example, attendees question why organizers weren’t more prepared since Kaliwa posted a message on Facebook nine days before the festival boasting that nearly 2,000 people said they were going and “a whopping” 18,000 were interested. 

“You were even bragging about the number of attendees and interest in it a week ago,” Lynne says. “So saying ‘unanticipated’ doesn’t sit well.” The email organizers sent offering refunds to individuals who bought tickets but couldn’t get in said they were “blown away by the excitement for this event and Filipino culture,” and “due to this unanticipated demand, we were not able to serve everyone to our highest standards.” 

“We had to go off [actual] ticket sales,” Rae explains. “Ticket sales were really low at that time. When you’re putting on an event like this, you don’t realize the cost associated with everything. To get ready for an 18,000 person event just didn’t make sense to us at that time.” 

After the festival, the event’s social media page became a sounding board for almost 800 incensed people to spew negative feedback. “Stay away from social media, my good friends told me, and I listened,” Rae says. “I did feel it. I was the one processing refunds. I got all of the emails and read them. It was definitely heartbreaking.” 

Most commenters bemoaned the lines and shortage of food and sniveled about far they had traveled. Others made small-minded, sweeping generalizations about Filipinos and Filipino culture. “You need to hire real event organizers—Filipino are simply not good at it,” one wrote. “Filipinos are chaotic,” said another. One individual said the festival was “run like the government of the Philippines.” 

Next June, Rae says they will run two time blocks to stagger the crowd and will limit attendance to pre-sale tickets. “I’m truly sorry,” Rae says. “I learned so much and was humbled by this experience. We are definitely going to make it right.” 

The Case of the Missing Paw-Paws

The Montgomery Parks Paw-Paw Festival may also need a mulligan. The annual festival paying tribute to the region’s most mystical native fruit didn’t go as planned on Sept. 7. “Everyone is always saying it’s the most delicious fruit in the world,” Ahmed Khalil says. “Some people say it’s like passionfruit, mango, and banana mixed together.” 

The festival, which doubled as a fundraiser for the Meadowside Nature Center, kicked off at noon. Khalil says he arrived at the gate at 12:25 p.m. “As I was approaching there were a couple of grumbly people leaving,” he says. A woman emerged from the crowd to tell fellow attendees there were no paw-paws left. “It sounded like such a fun thing to do with my daughter and ended up being a very negative and acrimonious thing. Who would have thought something as graceful as this would have gone awry?” 

Khalil didn’t buy a ticket in advance like other attendees, but sensed that even those who committed early didn’t get to try the green-skinned fruit. Rushika Mehta was one such individual. She pre-registered part of her group, paying the $5 entry fee in advance. She says she arrived around 1 p.m. 

“I’m talking it up to my son,” Mehta says. “It’s going to be so cool. You’ll get to try this fruit. He was so excited, and he was starving too. When we got up there, there was the disappointment of being told there’s nothing. I was visibly upset.”

Mehta was floored volunteers were still asking attendees for $5 even though beer flavored with paw-paws was the only thing left. “It seemed in bad faith that they were still accepting payment even though there were people who prepaid and got nothing out of it,” she says. “It was an absolute nightmare.” She eventually secured a refund. 

The director of the nature center, Carolina Giraldo, says this was the 7th annual paw-paw festival. Based on previous years’ attendance, she anticipated 500 people would come, not 800. While she admits they ran out of trees for sale, fruit, and samples, she disputes Khalil’s claim that it happened early on. “We didn’t sell out until 1:45,” Giraldo maintains. “There were definitely long lines that might have contributed to that feeling that we were out of stuff.”

She confirms no one reserved fruit for those who bought tickets in advance. “Around 1 p.m. when things were getting pretty hectic, we said whoever is here has first dibs. It’s not something I want to repeat for sure.” Next year, they too will do pre-sale tickets only, according to Giraldo. 

The Case of the Disappearing Mac and Cheese Festivals

Copaken first tried to attend the April 27 NOVA Mac & Cheese Meltdown Festival organized by NOVA Food Fest Productions. But just days before the event, attendees received an email from a company representative announcing that the Leesburg, Virginia event would not go on. Michelle Godfrey, who has also gone by Michelle Hale, pinned the cancellation on the Loudoun County Health Department.  

“We happened to be on vacation last week and we returned to a slew of emails from our food vendors that were unhappy and didn’t even want to attend the event on Saturday because of the dealings with the health department,” Godfrey told City Paper in April. The health department countered, arguing they provided Godfrey with a packet detailing the lead time required to put on a safe event.

Food festival organizers, especially when they’re just starting out, can find themselves at a fork in the road when they suspect their plans are falling short, sometimes for reasons outside of their control. Should they cancel the event and offer ticket holders refunds, hoping they can repair their reputations? Or do they hold the flawed festival and brace for backlash?

At first, NOVA Food Fest Productions did neither. When they “rescheduled” the Leesburg event, initial correspondence obtained by City Paper explained that in lieu of refunds, tickets would be transferred to another mac and cheese festival four months later in Frederick, Maryland. 

This didn’t sit well with Jocelyn Bothe, who bought four VIP tickets for a total of $155. She didn’t think a festival nearly 30 miles from the original site was equivalent. Bothe wrote to the Better Business Bureau and created a Facebook support group: “NOVA Mac & Cheese Meltdown Victims.” 

If attendees couldn’t make the Frederick festival, they could also exchange their tickets for three other events: The DMV Chicken Wing & Craft Beer Festival on June 29 at Little Bennett Golf Club in Clarksburg; the MoCo Community Mac & Cheese Festival on Sept. 7 at the same golf club; and the MoCo Sandwich Festival on Oct. 5 at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds.

After City Paper published a story about the Leesburg festival, Godfrey doubled back and offered refunds. It’s a good thing, because all four alternative festivals did not take place, according to each venue. Copaken planned to attend the one in Frederick.

A number of individuals lodged complaints against NOVA Food Fest Productions on the company’s BBB page, prompting the consumer protection site to pen a September article titled “Canceled Food Fest Creates a Fuss, Leaves Complaints Unanswered & Future Events Uncertain.” 

It implores readers to consider an organization’s history before buying tickets and notes that BBB gets reports of fake festivals or festivals that promise more than they deliver annually. “Victims purchase tickets and show up at the time and location, only to find a crowd of frustrated ticket holders,” it reads. “The festival either never existed or fell far short of the organizers’ promises.” 

City Paper discovered that Godfrey registered the trade name “Grub DC” in Maryland in July. That’s the company behind the forthcoming Breakfast Festival of Maryland on Nov. 16 at the Frederick County Fairgrounds. The venue confirms it has the event on its calendar, but the festival was originally set for Oct. 5, according to an Aug. 25 Facebook post: 

“The Maryland Breakfast Festival event for 10/05 will be canceled. We will be refunding all of the tickets that were purchased. We are actively looking for another venue to host the event at a later date. Thank you for your understanding. Grub MD Management.” City Paper interviewed Godfrey in October about her new venture, but she later retracted her comments. 

The most recent mac and cheese festival Copaken bought tickets for wasn’t one of Godfrey’s. TasteUSA cancelled the Oct. 5 NoVa Mac and Cheese festival in Ballston eight days in advance. “We sold more tickets than the food vendors could have handled,” Adler says. “The challenge is selling the right amount of tickets, but you don’t know until you do it. Have we made mistakes? Absolutely.”

When food festival organizers first start out, they have no choice but to run with a festival, even if it’s not up to snuff, according to Adler. “You literally get in there and do what you can,” he says. “Now I can afford to drop an event and say, ‘Sorry, this is a loser. I’m not going to be able to perform.’” 

TasteUSA’s message to attendees blamed “challenges that would have impacted the overall quality of the event.” Some attendees balked at the vague rationale, even though it came with a refund and free tickets to the Richmond Mac and Cheese Festival. “Clearly someone is trying to cover their butts,” Francesca Bunker says. She was looking forward to the event. “Transparency and accountability are always at the forefront of my mind.” 

Copaken is considering yet another chance to sample copious variations of one of her favorite foods. There’s a DC Mac + Cheese festival on Oct. 26. The Trigger Agency is behind the event. One advertisement reads, “Our festival is happening on 10/26 and WILL NOT be cancelled! It’s the BIG CHEESE!” 

Is she game? “I would consider it because I really love mac and cheese and my heart has been set on doing at least one and I’m pretty stubborn,” she says. “But I’m definitely cautious about it because I’ve been scarred so much and truthfully, if I decided to try one last time and this doesn’t happen, I’m fairly certain I’d be done with all food festivals.” 

***

Three area festival organizers have been in the game for at least a decade: Greg Nivens of Trigger Agency, Charlie Adler of TasteUSA, and Steuart Martens of Taste of DC. They explain just how hard it is to pull off a flawless festival. 

Nivens has been in the industry since 1993 and estimates that he’s carried out about 400 events. “It’s a disease,” Nivens says. He planned his high school prom and served as his college fraternity’s social chair. “You catch it and it never goes away.” 

Based in Baltimore, Nivens operates the Trigger Agency, under the motto “Drink. Eat. Relax.” Some of his recurring D.C. area festivals include Beer, Bourbon & BBQ; the NATIONAL Wine & Food Festival at National Harbor; the Chesapeake Crab, Wine & Beer Festival; and Tacos N’ Taps. 

Nivens enjoys the challenge of continually trying to make an event better. “And hopefully you continue to make money,” he says. “Sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t. I’ve lost $100,000 in one eight-hour day. People look at us and think, ‘These people print money. It’s so easy, they don’t really work.’ They have no idea of the mess you have to deal with at events.”

He even thinks some other organizers underestimate the toil involved. “They host a show, lose money, don’t pay people, and people who bought tickets get screwed,” Nivens says. “And then I get screwed because people think we’re all the same. We live in a world where people don’t give a shit about anything and everything is replaceable. I don’t live in that world.”

Typically, organizers gain control of their event space the day or night before, leaving logistics teams with less than 24 hours to “build” a festival. That can mean erecting stages for live music, pitching tents, posting signage, arranging porta-potties, securing the perimeter with fencing, and setting up entry gates. “People have a strange series of expectations in their brain of what can be done on a temporary basis,” Nivens says. 

Festivals, Nivens continues, are legalized gambling. “You roll the dice every time you have a festival,” he explains. For a long time, the weather was the biggest threat. Festival organizers monitor the radar more aggressively than a neurotic couple planning an outdoor wedding in April. Nivens doesn’t cancel for rain, but will for high winds or lightening. 

Alcohol is another risk, as some of Nivens’ festivals include unlimited drink pours. He finds attendees respond better to all-you-can-drink pricing than buying drink tickets on top of the cost of admission. All-you-can-eat events are dodgier. 

“If you ever say in the food business it’s unlimited food, you better get ready,” Nivens cautions. At one of his all-you-can-eat crab fests, his team caught people Old Bay-handed, loading crabs into coolers to take home, even though that was prohibited. “They get mad when we bust them on that. When is enough enough?”

Swirling winds and overserved patrons are no longer the greatests risks for organizers like Nivens. “Nowadays you get somebody who wants to do a mass shooting,” he says. On July 28, a man used a tool to cut through a fence at the Gilroy Garlic Festival where he opened fire, killing three people and wounding more than a dozen others. “That’s my biggest fear.” 

Festival organizers began paying a premium to secure festivals earlier, according to Martens. “After the Boston Marathon bombing [in 2013], we started seeing huge changes in terms of creating a controlled environment,” he says. “The price skyrocketed to close down a street.” When he used to barricade Pennsylvania Avenue NW to host Taste of DC, he says the police bill started at $100,000. Another festival organizer who uses the same site confirmed this average cost.

Martens revived Taste of DC in 2010. He’s been in the hospitality industry since he was 14. He loves what he does, but it challenges him. “If I could give my younger self some wisdom, it would be don’t get involved in the festival business,” he jokes. “We’re not perfect—we’ve had plenty of flops of our own.”

Vendors and attendees complained after Taste of DC in 2017. Martens moved the two-day event showcasing D.C.’s culinary scene off Pennsylvania Avenue NW and into RFK Stadium. During the event, Post columnist Gene Weingarten tweeted: “Do not go to #TasteOfDC at RFK Stadium. Total ripoff. Endless lines, no food. Spent $25, left without eating or drinking. #WasteOfDC.” 

The same year, Taste of DC experimented with radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology. Festival-goers were to load money onto Fitbit-like bracelets that could then be held up to reading devices to buy food. The cashless system largely malfunctioned. 

“Don’t cook a new dish on Thanksgiving,” says Captain Cookie and the Milkman founder Kirk Francis. Taste of DC used to be one of his most lucrative festivals when it was held on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. The food truck owner reports making $5,000 in one day. That didn’t happen in 2017, nor in 2018 when Taste of DC was at Audi Field. 

It pains Martens that there aren’t as many affordable festival venues in D.C. proper compared to what he’s encountered in “second-tier cities.” Others confronted similar issues, including brick oven producer Francesco Marra, who had to postpone a 2019 pizza festival in D.C. because he couldn’t find a venue similar to what he utilized in Boston and Los Angeles. On Facebook, 97,000 people said they were interested in attending. 

Martens preaches that having ample bathrooms, short lines, and cold beer separates good festivals from bad ones. “There are a lot of other things that make a great festival, but you have to win at those three things,” he says. “That’s where you’ll get nabbed on social media.” 

Adler calls social media an art form and carefully monitors responses after a festival wraps up. He admits to removing some negative comments. “If it’s a personal attack, I just pretty much delete it,” he says. “I’m unique in that I want some criticism and I want it to be public because I want people to realize that we’re not perfect. I like to leave a certain amount on there even if I fixed it.” 

He left one up from the Pittsburgh Mac and Cheese festival that read, “This event was probably the worst festival I have ever attended … We sampled 2 of the worst tasting Mac n cheese I have ever had … We may have stayed longer but it was so hot and there were no tents set up anywhere to shade people from the sun.” 

“Is it the job of the promoter to provide shade?” Adler retorts. “In a tent you’re going to get steamed to death.” 

Adler started out hosting wine events in 1997 through his first company, TasteDC, until business dried up during the 2008 recession. He returned to the events industry in 2016 when he first produced the Virginia Wine Festival and founded his second company, TasteUSA. Adler’s other recurring events include Taco, Beer, Tequila; regional mac and cheese festivals; and the DC Chocolate, Wine & Whiskey Festival.

“If it had rained at any of the first three I did I would have been out of business,” Adler says. “Can you imagine living like that for the first year and a half?” Some financial insecurity remains. “You’re always living on your next festival,” he explains. 

Festival revenue can experience dramatic swings. Adler says he makes most of his money off ticket sales, while others, like Martens, rely on corporate sponsorships. According to Adler, an organizer can lose $100,000 if it rains. If the weather is beautiful and ticket sales are strong, it’s possible to make $100,000, especially if a festival is in its third or fourth year. “It balances out on average to be maybe $20,000 to $40,000 per festival.”

Outgoing funds are easier to predict. Adler calculates that it costs $100,000 to $200,000 to put on a large outdoor festival. Others estimate closer to $300,000. The priciest line items are the venue rental, staging and entertainment, security, fencing, tenting, seating, labor, porta-potties, and alcohol. 

In dreaming up large-scale food events, Adler considers the environment of music festivals combined with the indulgence of eating at a county fair and tries to elevate the experience. “[People] want to envision themselves eating something that’s over-the-top,” he says. “I turn food into an OMG experience … Oh. My. God. Do we always get that? We get it pre- but can we get it during or after? That’s what we’re working on.”  

There’s a steep learning curve, according to Adler. Inaugural events are often self-fulfilling prophecies because an untested event with a fledgling organizer will have trouble securing prime food vendors and entertainment, leaving attendees wanting more. “There’s no school for festivals,” Adler adds. 

But there is an annual conference. Laurie Kirby, an entertainment lawyer turned festival producer, has put on FestForums for the past five years. She convenes festival organizers for panels on best practices in areas such as safety, ticketing, and sponsorship. 

The best festival Kirby ever attended was an Asian food festival in Los Angeles: “The decor was beautiful, food amazing, lines were short, admission was frictionless, trash bins were plentiful, and the restrooms were luxurious. Those are the elements that go into creating a good festival experience.” 

Struggling festival organizers shouldn’t give up, Kirby coaches. “There are many many festivals that have failed. They come back. The model takes at least three years. The failure rate is very, very high. Same as the restaurant business.” 

***

A food festival is only as good as its food vendors, and when an event goes awry, the organizers and vendors sometimes play the blame game. “You have to look at relationships with vendors like a marriage,” Martens says. “You go through good times and bad times together.” 

Where a county fair relies on concession stands that hawk high volume, standard fare such as funnel cake and corndogs, many food and drink festivals have moved toward highlighting local restaurants, caterers, and food trucks. 

“There are a lot of companies that do concessions,” Nivens says. “But [organizers] don’t use them because they’re not a food truck. We live in a hipster world. Food trucks are great, don’t get me wrong, but they’re not skilled at events and can’t move fast enough. It takes 30 minutes for you to get your cow tongue taco with cilantro.” 

Organizers cash in off vendors in various ways. Some charge a flat fee up front, others take a percentage of revenue at the end, and there’s also a hybrid combining both. Sometimes attendees pay cash or credit for a full-size portion of food, other times vendors are asked to come up with sample-size options that attendees pay for with tickets. In the latter scenario, the festival organizer typically reimburses vendors a percentage of the value of each ticket. 

To participate in the 2018 Taste of Arlington food festival put on by the Ballston Business Improvement District, food trucks had to play a flat fee of up to $500. Festival attendees then purchased tickets worth $5 each that could be redeemed at food trucks for a few bites. When the gates closed, event organizers reimbursed food trucks between 25 and 75 cents per ticket. 

“I couldn’t even comprehend it,” Francis told City Paper last year. “I assumed the tickets were being sold for a dollar. Even that would be bad, but this is just laughable.” 

Flash forward to 2019 and Francis has learned to negotiate with organizers. “We’re not paying what was advertised,” he says. He makes a case about dependability and argues that a dessert truck has a smaller per transaction revenue. “It’s not all roses for people holding events. They deal with a lot of last minute cancellations and flat tires. Captain Cookie always shows up.”

When deciding whether to roll up to a food festival, Francis argues that the most important factor is past performance. “If we’ve done it before, we’ll do it unless they’ve done something to screw it up like if they’ve moved from a great location,” he says. “If something’s been rescheduled twice and moved locations once, it’s not a good indication.” 

Lebanese food truck operator Chef Roro says he turned a profit on five of the six festivals he participated in over the past year. He broke even on the other. He can earn as much as $2,000 to $5,000, but there are costs to doing business such as the participation fee, labor, gas, and ingredients. “I need to make at least a thousand to make it worth it,” he explains. Roro typically participates in festivals charging $200 to $300 and prefers if they have a charitable component. It’s often an arduous day that can start with a 5 a.m. load-in time followed by an eight-hour shift. 

Roro asks that organizers stop short of overestimating their reach in order to properly ensure the ratio of food vendors to attendees is advantageous. “I suggest first time festival operators be on the conservative side of hiring vendors and food trucks, he says. “The worst thing you can have is 20 food trucks for five people. It takes a village of businesses to make an event successful. You don’t want to think your event is going to be a Coachella when it’s your first one.” 

Making money is the first check mark, but some vendors seek out opportunities to be in front of a crowd. “I think a lot of it is marketing and exposure,” says Rocklands Barbeque marketing manager Candice Siegel. “We don’t have an advertising budget. Our advertising is participating in all of the area events. It’s always helpful for us to put food in people’s mouths instead of paying for a print ad of a pork sandwich.” 

Peter He used to participate in a range of food festivals with People’s Bao. His experiences have been hit or miss, and he agrees with Francis that location is the most important factor. Neighborhood Restaurant Group held Snallygaster, a monster-themed craft beer festival, on Pennsylvania Avenue NW for the first time in 2018. He says he made more in five hours than he did at Taste of DC in two days the same year. While he hypothesizes that anything in that location will do well, he adds that Snallygaster’s “rates are very reasonable and the people are very easy to work with.” 

He is not the only vendor to prop up Snallygaster as proof that a well organized festival is possible. 

This year’s meeting of the beer nerds was on Oct. 12 on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. NRG scrapped drink tickets in favor of higher admission prices for the first time, allowing attendees to drink without whipping out their wallets. VIP tickets were $100 and allowed for early entry while general admission tickets cost $50. Both sold out. 

“I think we killed it just based on reactions and the way people responded at the event,” says NRG’s Director of Operations Erik Bergman. The event garnered rare positive feedback online. One attendee gave kudos for the breweries in attendance, the “buffet-style” ticket, the venue, the music, and the fact that most beers were still available well into the festival.

Bergman says they reserve the space nine months in advance and start overall planning for Snallygaster about six months out. “Just like service in the restaurant, there are a million things going wrong in the back that we’re hiding from everybody,” he says. “Sometimes it’s harder to hide at these kinds of events. We created a temporary city for a minute.”