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Maryland Bacon Festival organizer responds to criticism

"I must admit, I only clicked join to read all the hilariously bad reviews," wrote a Facebook user on the Maryland Bacon Festival event page on Tuesday.

She had plenty of material. The timeline is filled with upset attendees voicing criticism of last Saturday’s inaugural all-day event at Rash Field. First sentences included: “I was definitely not impressed.” “What a waste of time and money.” “Very poor execution.” “WORST FESTIVAL EVER!”

On Tuesday, I called co-organizer Evan Weinstein for his reaction to the backlash. Although he has experience running and promoting music events, this was his first attempt at a food festival. He said he was well aware of the operational issues that plagued the event, especially in its first hours.  

“Some people waited in line for two hours, and I understand their frustration,” Weinstein said. “There were definitely some challenges and some things we need to change for future events.”

The most common Facebook complaint against the Maryland Bacon Festival was the long wait in lines for bacon items. He said things “got a little crazy early,” but after 4 p.m., there was a noticeable improvement.

“There was definitely a tension at the event. It was a little uncomfortable,” Weinstein said. “Then it kind of loosened after that. It became a really nice event.”

Part of the problem, he said, was six food vendors dropped out in the week leading to the festival. (“If you have those points of sales, I don’t think you have so many backups in the lines,” he said.) At that point, Weinstein said he was not willing to cancel the event, which had already sold all of its 4,500 tickets. 

While some vendors were established restaurants, others were food trucks that were not used to such a high demand of product, Weinstein said. They operated how they normally would — one customer at a time, which was another factor to the wait times. 

Ayesha Shabazz, of Columbia, said the shortest line she experienced was “30 to 45 minutes,” and it was for the lone vendor not serving any bacon items. She said her brother waited 75 minutes for bacon funnel cake. She noted that by 2:30 p.m., the bacon doughnut vendor had completely run out of product. (Weinstein said one or two vendors ran out of samples, which temporarily caused a near "panic," but that some vendors had food left over at the end of the night.)

“We tried to prepare vendors this event,” Weinstein said. “Some vendors prepared; some vendors didn’t.”

Another problem, according to Weinstein, was the fact that “80-85 percent of the people showed up right in the first 60 minutes.” The festival was scheduled to take place from noon-10 p.m. When I told Weinstein, as an outsider (I did not attend), it seemed reasonable for a festival-goer to show up when an event is scheduled to begin, he replied: “Events like this, there’s typically a pace to them. … On a level, we did misjudge the pace.”

Anthony Yancey, of Parkville, attended from 2-5 p.m. He said there was no time to enjoy other aspects of the festival (for example, the live music) because he was too busy waiting for food.

“The lines were out of control for just about everything,” Yancey said. “It didn’t seem like enough vendors were there.” 

Yancey and Shabazz said they were disappointed by the amount of bacon items available for sample. Neither expected free food from a festival, but for a $25 admission (VIP was $70), they expected lower prices from vendors serving bacon products. 

“It really seemed them were taking money at every turn but not providing a quality experience, and that is what I have a problem with,” Shabazz said.

Weinstein said unhappy attendees should email charmcityfoodevents@gmail.com to share complaints. He said refunds would be given on a “case-by-case basis.”

There will be a Maryland Bacon Festival next year, Weinstein said, and it will come with changes. It seems everyone can agree that Rash Field was not conducive for a food festival. (“We need something that’s a little more spread out,” Weinstein said.) He also expects to have more vendors capable of handling large crowds.

He also knows he must pacify dissatisfied customers. (Weinstein went through a similar experience last May, when the electronic dance music event he was promoting — Moonrise Festival, at one time to take place at Sun Park — was canceled a month before it was scheduled to take place. Weinstein is the president of Steez Promo, which was not involved with the Maryland Bacon Festival.)

“We realize we’re going to have to give out some free tickets next year,” Weinstein said. “We’re going to have to win the crowd back and convince them we can run this professionally, and that’s what we’re going to do. We’re committed to it.”

Yancey said he would consider attending in the future (“Maybe not next year”) but would need to hear significant improvement had been made.

Shabazz was less forgiving.

“Heck no! There is no way,” she said. Shabazz said the organizers should have looked at other local food events — such as the state fair — as a guide for execution. “The blueprint is there." 

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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