What a weekend. You know a festival ran off the rails when people start adding -pocalypse to the end of it. Well Brian and I were there to witness Hunahpocalypse 2014 firsthand.
Just like many other people, we planned to go down to beautiful Tampa, FL and enjoy a few days of sun, cigars and beer with some friends. We’d heard the rumblings from Hunahpu’s Day 2013 and how 9,000 people showed up and caused utter chaos. This year was supposed to be much more reserved, with only 3,500 tickets sold it was expected things would run much more smoothly. Yeah… not so much. Here’s my take on the situation, I’ll go ahead and say now that some of this information is my opinion, some is based on what I heard from others at the event, and what I’ve read around the web. If the details change, and it’s likely they might, I will update my post.
The Events of Hunahpu’s Day 2014
It seems the first thing to go haywire was ticket sales. Cigar City has said there were thousands of duplicate tickets. This resulted in a chain of failures where the people were scanning tickets and being told their tickets were no good. It was happening so much that, from what I have heard, CCB decided to stop scanning tickets and let anyone in that had a ticket in order to avoid arguing with 3,000 people outside the event. Unfortunately this meant there were now 7,000+ pissed off people inside the event.
The ticket issue created another problem, insanely long lines. Lines were unmanageable to get into the venue, to get beer pours once you got in, and to buy the coveted Hunahpu and other rare beers. What made this even worse is that the day before on Facebook Cigar City had repeatedly asked people not to show up early but rather come fashionably late, those that did as directed paid the price. People were posting on Facebook how long they’d been in line just to get in, some waiting 2 hours or more. Some of the comments on Facebook got quite nasty, but some showed that even when frustrated you can still keep a sense of humor. One festgoer commented, “I love line.“, while another posted the request, “Tell my wife I love her.“
Once inside the situation didn’t improve, the lines to get beer were a mess. You can’t even really call them lines as it was just a mass of people trying to get through the crowd. Unless you worked your way up to the front it was hard to tell what line you were in. If you did reach the front you had the problem of a multitude of people from all directions thinking they were at the front of the line and everyone else was cutting in line – as well as the jerks that were actually cutting in line. There were over 200 beers on the tap list for this event and I only managed to try FIVE. I just simply couldn’t get to the front of the line for the beers I wanted to try and didn’t want to fight my way through to get to the others.
CCB also started sales of some of their super-rare beers early, while many people were still outside the event. They released Double Barrel Hunahpu, Don Gavino, Fortunate Island and others for open sales. They were allowing people to purchase up to a case of Double Barrel Hunahpu, originally released to Catador Club members (their private club that allows you to purchase ultra rare beers) with a 2 bottle limit. They sold out very quickly. This upset the people still waiting to get into the event, the people waiting in line to buy 1-2 bottles while watching people leave with full cases, and the Catador members who paid for the right to buy this beer. There were also only 2 registers there to address the crowds, and the people running the registers were in no hurry at all to make the line move. I went to the tasting room on Sunday and had an employee brag to me how he heard about the sales and then ran to the line to buy his allotment. I’m all for showing favoritism for faithful employees, but you should have the wits about you not to brag to the people that got hosed that you got your share.
All of these issue ended up causing problems with crowd control. Quite simply, there was none. There were volunteers but they were understaffed, and many of them seemed more concerned with taking part in the festival than helping out. 7,000+ People were crammed into a space that was supposed to hold 3,500. It took 10 minutes to walk 100′, and it was a brutal 10 minutes with people elbowing past you, just standing there like stone walls, or getting pissed because they were trying to walk the other direction. I finally gave up and just sat in our group and drank the beer we brought. None of the beer they had there was worth the mess.
And the straw that finally broke the drunken camel’s back, they ran out of Hunahpu. This was the beer that this weekend was all about. People bought tickets at $50.00/ea just for the right to buy some of the beer. The wording on the event page is a bit vague but most people assumed that what CCB was saying is that if you were one of the “lucky” ones to get a ticket to the party then you were guaranteed to get 3 bottles of Hunahpu, that didn’t happen. The folks in my group all thought it would be in our best interest to get our allotted 3 bottles early, which was a good call. CCB opened sales to everyone from 4:00 – 5:00 with the option to purchase up to a case of 12 bottles. I got in line to get my extras at 3:30 and I was still about 10 people back when they shut the doors on us. Many people around me still had not purchased their 3 bottles and ended up leaving with nothing. Others left with 15 bottles or more. I saw a guy in the lobby of my motel wearing the armband that was supposed to be cut off once you got your 3 bottles and commented to him that it sucked he didn’t get any. However he did get his 3 bottles, they just failed to cut off his armband. If he could have made it back through the line he could have purchased 3 more.
At about 5:10 the Tampa police started pushing people back and CCB employees closed the doors on the crowd of people waiting to buy their beer. After enduring all of the BS stated above a handful of people lost it. They started yelling and banging on the doors and some even threw glasses and bottles – it was ridiculous. I am in no way at all condoning this behavior, especially from the people throwing things, but I definitely understand the frustrations that had built. This wasn’t about not getting some beer. It was about planning a trip, a vacation, taking time off for it and spending the money to go to what was supposed to be a very fun festival, only to endure a full day of bullshit and literally have a door slammed in your face. I can imagine many people thinking, “Well, this was a nightmare but I’m gonna just get my Hunahpu and call it a day.”, trying to remain cool and wrap things up only to be shut down again.
And to drop a cherry on top for everyone the Tampa police immediately ran us all out of there. My friends and I had gone back to our little corner where we still had some beer and we were going to hang out and let the crowd clear, nope… we were told to pack up and get out of there ASAP. What a day.
The Aftermath and Cigar City’s Response
Cigar City did try to do some damage control as this was all going down. They apologized repeatedly on their Facebook page during the event, offered free beer at the tasting room on Sunday, and are refunding tickets. One person commented on a beer forum that Joey Redner “was about to have a nervous breakdown” over the day’s events. However, Redner also made some comments that I’m a bit bothered by. In an interview with Creative Loafing he said, “We used to say we liked the craft beer scene because it was 99 percent asshole-free, but I don’t think you can say that anymore…” I don’t think that’s fair and I hope that was a comment made by someone in the heat of being exhausted from the event itself. There were maybe 20 or so people that really got ugly at the event, and if there were 7,000 people there that’s well below 1% of the crowd.
As I stood in the crazy lines and waited for beer that I never made it to I met some great people. I shared some of my beers (Synesthesia Saison and Rainy Day IPA were well received) with them and they generously shared their beers with me. I learned about where they were from and what they did and had an all around good time, despite the crap going on around us. I can honestly say that of all the beer events I’ve been to that the 99% rule still holds up. We’re mostly a good bunch that wants to relax and get to know each other while sharing some delicious beers.
If all of this happened because of the duplicate ticket issue then Cigar City does need to be cut some slack. On a smaller scale if I planned a party for 35 people and twice that many people showed up then it would throw me into a tailspin, however I also think a few things could have been put into place to help alleviate some of the issues even with the oversize crowd, like having some actual lines going to beer tents and bottle sales and a few volunteers helping with flow. You also had employees/volunteers that moved very slowly and focused more on taking care of themselves and their friends than they did the attendees. I do hope Cigar City doesn’t just blow this off as being the fault of a group of angry drunks.
And I will say that Sunday at the tasting room was an awesome time. The employees were a bit irritable and pushy, but that was probably due to the previous day’s events. I tried a lot of great beers and met more great people. I had a much better time on Sunday than I did Saturday. And it was very awesome of them to offer free beer to everyone. People commented that it was a bad idea to offer free beer but it was very well run and everyone, at least in the few hours I was there, was very well behaved.
Unfortunately the train wreck of 2014 has killed any future Hunahpu Days. Redner said he won’t do it again as he doesn’t want to deal with it, there will be no more Hunahpu’s Day and the beer will go into retail distribution in 2015. Opinions are divided on this but I hate that this is the route they took. There are bigger festivals than Hunahpu’s Day that go off without this many issues. I know they’ve had issues in the past but since this announcement was made on Monday, barely 24 hours after the event, I can’t help but think it was a snap judgment based on the lingering trauma of Saturday.
I’m just now getting mentally caught up with things myself. I took Monday off to get back on track and daylight savings time always tosses me sideways. I’m curious to see how things shake out from here. I’m sorry to see the festival go away, looks like I’ll need to find a new venue to meet up with all my buddies next year. Maybe we’ll go see if we can shut down Dark Lord Day.
UPDATE 1 – I received a response from Eventrbrite on the issue with duplicate tickets.
Out of curiosity and also because I personally have used Eventbrite for event planning and ticket sales I emailed them about the issue with duplicate tickets. If the issue was counterfeit tickets then it doesn’t seem like that’s likely. If the issue was duplicate tickets it just seems extremely unlikely that thousands of people would think to duplicate tickets. Unless you had 1-2 guys running a scam to sell duplicate tickets, still seems a bit munch though. Once again this is just my opinion / speculation, take it FWIW.
…I’ve heard after the fact that the main issue here was that there were counterfeit tickets and people commented that the Eventbrite format makes it very easy to counterfeit. Over 7,000 people showed up for an event that was supposed to be capped at 3,500 tickets.
Are you aware of the issues at this festival and Is it true that your tickets are that easy to counterfeit? I ask because I am curious but also because I have used Eventbrite in the past for ticket sales for my events and while I don’t expect to have anything with 3,000+ people soon it does concern me that it sounds very easy to fake your tickets…
…Each ticket generated unique from any other ticket. Tickets contain unique serial numbers, bar codes, and QR codes. Furthermore, we provide several solutions for organizers to ensure the authenticity of tickets either through printing in a check-in list or scanning tickets through the Entry Manager solution.
When checking in tickets using Entry Manager, each ticket can only be scanned once for entry. If a duplicate of that ticket–barcode or QR code–is presented and scanned again, the Entry Manager app will notify the user that the ticket has already been checked in…
Chris from Eventbrite Trust & Safety
UPDATE 2 – 03/12/14
According to BeerPulse.com, Cigar City may do a beer festival in the future that does not coincide with the release/sales of Hunahpu.
Redner will, however, consider holding a beer festival that does not coincide with Hunahpu’s release, and putting the coveted bottles into distribution. Saturday’s party attracted guests for reasons beyond beer appreciation, Redner said.
UPDATE 3 – Refund update, new batch of Hunahpu coming to compensate those with silver wristbands.
Also, stay tuned for an announcement regarding the silver wristbands. Keep them. We will find a way to get you bottles of Hunahpu’s (we’re brewing a new batch soon.