Spoiler Alert: this is not a post about the overwhelming traffic to my site. Shocking.
This past weekend was the Festival of Dark Arts, a single-day deluge of very dark beer held at Fort George Brewing’s campus during, appropriately, Stout Month. I say “campus” because there are two buildings, a courtyard, and a balcony, and roughly twelve places to get beer during the fest at Fort George, and I say “appropriately” because February is officially Stout Month (it is no longer called “February,” whatever that means), and that is because it was invented in the 90s by Jack Harris, who started Fort George.
Festival of Dark Arts got a lot of flak a couple years ago for being a “shit show,” according to some sources. I was there a couple years ago, and thought the shit show was mitigated to obscurity by the breadth and quality of stouts, the artisans working their crafts, and the spooky burlesque dancers. Yes, there were people crammed into every conceivable space. But look, people: it’s a stout fest during Stout Month in chilly wet Astoria, Oregon. I know you don’t like to touch elbows, much less come within feet of each other in a mosh pit, but suck it up; you’re in line for Parabajava. Where else can you find Parabajava in Oregon? Nowhere.
This year’s Festival of Dart Arts was, in comparison to 2016, more mature. At least, I was more mature; I knew not to stand in that stupid rainy entry line at noon when I could easily wait out the line with a beer at Reach Break Brewing, literally within a stone’s throw of the line. The crowd, as a unit, was also more mature. Yeah, they were older (but they still partied; just ask the people next door to us at the Norblad). They didn’t jostle. The one thing that held back the chaos in the first two hours of the fest was the fact that everybody knew they needed a beer in order to deal with the crowd, and if they could just wait in line to get that beer, the chaos, which was mostly in their heads, would dwindle to a din. Once everybody got beer in their awesome little whiskey snifters, got back in line, and did it again a few times, the fest was terrific and some people touched elbows.
I spoke briefly with a shift lead in the pizzeria at Fort George the next day, and she impressed upon me the literal insanity of that beer fest. Over 100 employees and 50 volunteers move everything, set up, herd people to beer, and then put it all back together within 24 hours.
Ask a manager at any busy place about the psychology of lines. “I was in line for 20 minutes!” somebody might complain on Yelp. But that’s likely not true. Maybe they were in line for five or 10 minutes, and since it was obviously busy, their order took longer than normal. That’s not 20 minutes in line, that’s a manager stressing out over a ten minute wait because of a Yelper. The same psychology applies to lines at beer festivals. Unless something is seriously wrong or the keg of Hunahpu’s is about to be tapped at Hellshire, nobody waits that long for a beer. And lines aren’t bad, evil things to be afraid of. Hell, they’re probably a sign that a fest is successful. For the fest organizer, it’s where to put those lines that matters. Upstairs in the pizzeria shortly into the Festival of Dark Arts this year, the line to get to the bar to get beer snaked so wildly that it was hard to tell who was in line and who was just standing around with their glass getting empty. That was a shit show, but I eventually got beer, so it was great! And the line abated after a couple hours. The fest is only as happy as you make it.
When you subject yourself to a beer fest, a tiny universe in which the people are like insects whose only purpose for the duration of their short lives is to get drunk, you have to let go. Maybe you make a plan of action because you are a smart insect, but you must trust that the organizers mostly know what they’re doing. And the organizers trust that you are there to have a good time; that’s the relationship.
Festival of Dark Arts can be a hunt and a throng and a cattle call and a shit show and all the things people want to call it who didn’t let themselves enjoy the space for the marvel of stout and crowd control that it is.
For one day.