Exclusive: FFF Fest organizers talk about Friday debacle and earning back fans’ good will
After a Friday night box office debacle that left Fun Fun Fun Fest goers standing in line for over three hours to pick up wristbands, problems at the front gate seemed largely resolved early on Saturday. In preparation for Saturday’s crowds FFF organizers beefed up staff and police and added more iPads and scanners to expedite entry. Around noon, there was no line at the gate or at will call and fest-goers were easily breezing in; the situation was the same around 3 p.m.
“You won’t find anybody more disappointed than me, Graham (Williams) and (James) Moody about the way it went,” Transmission Entertainment general manager Bobby Garza said, sitting on a golf cart backstage at the fest alongside Williams and Moody, the two festival co-founders.
The festival heads described the circumstances that led to the box office breakdown as “a perfect storm.” Technology problems, queueing problems and an unexpected rush of early afternoon attendees all contributed to the end result: Many fans who showed after 3 p.m. being unable to gain access to the festival grounds until late in the evening. Shortly before the headliner sets on Friday night the festival opened the gates to let anyone still in line enter without a wristband. They kept the box office open all night to help fest-goers who still needed to sort out their wristbands.
A post to the festival’s Facebook page yesterday described the surge of early afternoon attendees as “significant single wave of unexpected demand.” The language that didn’t sit right with many fans who noted that organizers could have used ticket sales to gauge how many folks would show up at will call. By midnight last night the post — which also asserted the festival would adhere to their six-year, strict no refund policy — had over 300, mostly negative, comments.
Festival organizers said that yesterday’s situation was unique. “Fridays usually people go to work and show up a little later,” Moody said. “But the weather hit and in true form everybody was like ‘Screw work,’ and showed up at 1 p.m.”
While Fun Fun Fun Fest was the first event allowed to return to Auditorium Shores following a year of renovations that displaced many others at the city center park, continuing construction forced the event organizers to implement a new configuration for the festival. The box office this year is not far down the road from where it has been in the past, but the location, which was dictated by the city, contributed to the queueing problems, the producers said. Last year the box office was on a corner and the space enabled the festival organizers to route the queue into 10 wide lines. This year, with a street on one side and a fence where park construction continues on the other, the queue was forced into one skinny line.
By mid-afternoon, when the line stretched all the way across the pedestrian bridge on South First street into downtown Austin, festival organizers took an all-hands-on-deck approach to try to resolve the problem. “The owners of the festival and all of the staff and volunteers were literally handing out passes and checking people in with their phones,” Williams said.
Around 5:30 p.m., it was clear that the effort still wasn’t moving the line fast enough and Williams and Moody made the decision to open the gates. But there was a time lag before they could execute the decision. “We had to talk to fire and APD and call Parks and call Right of Way and make sure all of those people were in agreement that this was the smartest thing to do for safety reasons,” Garza said. Shortly after 8 p.m. festival organizers were able to clear the line and get everyone into the park.
While customer service will still handle complaints from individual fest-goers, the blanket no-refund policy will stand. Many fest-goers who felt like they left themselves ample time to get in and missed highly anticipated acts because of organizational incompetence balked at the no-refund policy in comments Friday night on Facebook and Twitter, but the festival is sticking with it. The situation, they said, is distinctly different from the weather cancellation that occurred on the third day of the second weekend of the Austin City Limits Music Festival last year. (In that instance, festival organizer C3 Presents issued a partial refund to ticketholders). “We weren’t canceled,” Moody said. “The majority of the people were in the park.”
But Moody acknowledged that the relationship between Fun Fun Fun Fest and longtime fans has been strained. “I think we have an obligation to earn our way out of yesterday,” he said. “So if we can execute today people will appreciate that and yesterday will start to fade away, and then Sunday we’ll even solidify that even further. Our focus now is earning our way out of the problem.”