Hurry Up and Wait at the Great American Food and Music Fest

MenuPages writer Alexis Wright attended Saturday’s Great American Food and Music Festival, so we’ll go ahead and let her introduce what may have been the season’s biggest foodievent bust:

We arrived at around 1 o’clock and knew things were going to be bad when we saw the endless-looking line that snaked its way around Shoreline Amphitheater. As we locked our car door a man walking back to his vehicle told everyone within earshot, “I wouldn’t waste your time, that line ain’t moving’.”

Once we made it through the gates we sort of wished we were outside in the line. Wall-to-wall people made it nearly impossible to move. It wasn’t so much crazy lines but a crazy mob, and it was unclear how anyone was going to get food. We finally made our way down to the empty media tent and wondered, what exactly, we were going to cover. A big mob of people with no food at a food festival didn’t seem right, so we decided to go back out and see if we could find someone that had actually eaten something.

It was hard.

We asked a San Francisco couple in line for Southside Market Texas Barbecue how long they had been waiting. “For the food or since we got here?” the man quipped. They said they had arrived at the amphitheater around 11:45am and didn’t get inside until around 1pm. At 2pm, they said they’d been line for 45 minutes and were happy to actually see the ordering windows and cashiers.

Walking through the crowds the complaints became a refrain:

“This is ridiculous!”
“This is a giant line for nothing.”
“This is probably the most unorganized festival I’ve ever seen.”
“Let’s get the hell out of here and go to In N Out.”

And it’s not hard to understand why people were so mad. Having a big food festival in a concert venue makes little sense. All of the food stands were outside of the amphitheater in the concessions space. There’s just not enough space for thousands and thousands of people to line up for a Pink’s hot dog or a cheese steak from Tony Luke’s. Maybe they thought that there would be more people watching the demos and musicians, but when you’re hungry and can’t get any food it’s hard to get excited to watch someone make what you’re trying to eat.

On Sunday, organizer Ed Levine apologized for the poor organization and the breakdown in the payment system, but he also backpedaled a bit:

I will say that it was a tale of two festivals. After 4 p.m. people using cash seemed to have a great time buying food at lines that were most often 15 minutes or less, and never more than half an hour.

Readers weren’t having that. While some in the comments section acknowledged the apology, most disagreed that things went well later in the day. One even called the festival “one of the worst Bay Area events since Altamont.” That seems a little strong since nobody was stabbed to death, but most others chiming in on Serious Eats shared that level of frustration, if not hyperbole:

Sorry Ed, we did not get in till 2.30pm and the lines were endless until 8 pm at the earliest. Please try to just admit it was a royal screw up all the way around.

-fredtatman/Serious Eats

I’ve been to more organized RAVES.

-smily/Serious Eats

Ed…I still [l]ove you

-bessfour/Serious Eats

We walked around trying to find a line for food that was less than an hour wait, and ended up getting a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that was not as good as one made at home.

-rasras/SF Gate

It took an hour in line to get from the parking lot to the gate… only to find we needed stupid electronic bracelets. Then we have to wait in a different line for 25 minutes in order to marry our credit card to the bracelet in order to make purchases. Then, we get to wait 50 minutes to get some texas BBQ that was really no better than anything I’ve ever had at Armadillo Willy’s. And to top the whole thing off, the stupid bracelet software crashed by 1:30.

-planetboom/SJ Mercury News

It’s too bad, too, because the festival seemed like a really great idea, and the list of vendors and acts was top notch. There probably is a good way to put on an event like this, and we’re hoping Levine and co. will figure it out for next time, but Sunday’s model was not it.

[All Photos: Via Alexis Wright]

Hurry Up and Wait at the Great American Food and Music Fest