Craft Beer, Fine Wine, Artisan Spirits, and Mouthgasmic Food.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Navigating Food and Music Festivals like a Professional

I proudly admit that I'm a festival junkie. From vino to music to gigantic dog shows, I've become a veteran at navigating crowds, feeding my stomach, and having fun. Here's a few tips and tricks I've picked up. Enjoy and I hope to see you at some of the upcoming events.

  • For expensive festivals such as Austin City Limits Festival, Fantastic Festival, or SXSW, you can always opt to buy a wristband early for a cheaper price. If I'm bent on seeing many shows, this is the route to go. 
  • If you'd like to go to a particular show, but not dying to go, I suggest that you play Russian roulette with some economic principles. This is where supply and demand come into play. According to what I learned in ECON304 (I made an A in that class back in 2000), you have to play the game early in the show or late. Also, our grades were dependent on how we played these economics games in class, so needless to say, I was motivated to make good deals. 
    • Playing early means that you're going to go the safe route and buy a ticket or wrist band when they go on sale, even getting codes to presales. You can usually easily Google the show name and the word "code" to get some hits. Playing late in the game is riskier, but can yield better deals
    • Take Fantastic Fest2008's preview of Zack and Miri Make a Porn and the Air Sex Championships for example. I played the game early, and I played the game late. I secured a ticket, but I was pretty unhappy with my seat (WAY up in the balcony). Luckily, I tried to buy another ticket later, and low and behold, some front row seats were released. I snagged one for the low price of 26.50.  You can see me here at 3:28.  It was pretty easy for me to get rid of my original ticket since demand was still sky high. 
    • I also played the late game at ACL 2009. I had a wristband, but due to work, I decided to sell it. When I finished up work early on Sunday, I decided to try my luck at a ticket. The game now is in my favor. There is little to no demand for tickets late on Sunday. Unused ticket prices should drop as they are a sunk cost, with little demand. After parking in a free spot just a 3 minute walk away from Zilker Park, I stopped the first person I saw and snagged a free ticket. I offered to pay, but he refused. Go back and brush up on economics. It'll come in handy.My ACL rocked.
  • If tickets to the festival you want to attend is out of your price range (i.e. most wine and food festivals), volunteer for the event. Usually, shifts are fairly short, you'll get to know the vendors better (always a plus), you'll get to attend other festival events and activities, and you'll probably get a free tee shirt. Houston Cellar Classic has GREAT perks for their volunteers.
Food:  This is an important topic for all of us. If you only hit up one festival a month, you'll probably stay in relatively good health. If you hit up one festival or food event per week (or four in a single week), keeping yourself at a healthy weight can be a challenge. I've been asked many, many times why I don't weigh 400 lbs. These are my tips for staying in shape.
  • If you're going to a festival with subpar food (not tasty or healthful), eat prior. That just goes without saying or bring your own. I've never been stopped from bringing my own food to an outdoor festival. Indoor festivals can be trickier, but I've still never had a problem.
  • If you are going to a food festival where free samples will be offered, do not eat before. The old tip of "eat a little so you won't be too hungry" is a joke in my professional opinion (as a social psychologist). The problem with food samples at a festival is NOT eating unhealthful foods (though they usually are). IMO, the problem is with over-eating because one wishes to try all the samples. If you're going to over eat, you're going to over eat. You're not going to stop eating simply because you're not hungry. Most of us are opportunistic eaters. I keep this problem at bay with a few tricks. 
    • I have a rule about what foods I eat. I only eat foods that are really good for me, or taste really fantastic. When I sample foods, I take just a big enough bite so I know what it tastes like. Enjoyment from eating a particular food drops off after the second bite, so it's not like I'm really enjoying that 3rd, 4th, or 5th bite. If you've been to food event with me, you'll notice I'll end up with a plate of food with only one bite missing.
    • If you don't like it, you can discretely spit it out. Don't waste stomach space and calories on food you don't like. 
    • If you do come home with a plethora of food, get rid of it quickly. I came home with a gigantic box of chocolates from the Austin Chocolate Festival this year, and it left the house as quickly as it came, in someone else's stomach.
  • Exercise on a regular basis regardless of whether or not you are a festival junkie.
Rules, Regulations, & Tidbits:

  • Make sure that you check all the rules and regulations of the venue. Some common rules are no backpacks, no strollers, no dogs, no gigantic cameras, no outside drinks (especially alcohol). Many festivals will check your bags. Make sure that you abide by the rules to prevent getting the boot. 
  • If the event is free and open to the public, be assured that food will run out and parking will be a pain.  Get there early to get in on the fun, or else go hungry, thirsty, and park five miles away.
  • Bring a festival partner.  You may need someone to drive you home, or you might need someone to help you tag team the long lines.  At Taste of Austin, my sister would stand in the longest lines while I got food from vendors with no lines.  By the time I had my hands, bags, and mouth full, she was already at the front of the long time.  I'm efficient all the time, not just when I drive.
  • Use websites like Yelp, Do512, Facebook, and other local event bloggers to find unofficial events and specials that are going on along with the festival.  I follow AustinEavesdropper & This is Life in Austin. 
What to Pack:
  • If the event is dog friendly, make sure you bring some water for your puppy and clean up supplies in case he/she needs to make a potty.  Check the weather, and leave Fido at home if the festival is in direct sun or over 80 degrees.  Make sure your puppy is also well-behaved and read these guidelines. 
  • If the event is outside, wear sunblock.  It doesn't matter if it isn't sunny, wear sunblock.  Skin cancer isn't fun.  If it is rainy, bring a poncho or umbrella and carry a ziploc bag for your cell phone.  Water logged cell phones don't work.  
  • Ladies, pack light.  You don't need 30 lbs of make up with you.  Sunblock, sunglasses, and lip gloss is all you really need. After five hours of walking, your tiny purse is going to feel like a cinder block. 
  • If you bring your children, make sure they are under control Kids should not be allowed to run amok grabbing food off of tables and playing chase in crowded areas.  
What to Wear: 
  • Dress for the weather.  If it is going to be 60 degrees outside, leave that cute little black dress at home unless you want to suffer from hypothermia.  
  • If the event is going to be 100 degrees, wear shorts because heat stroke isn't cool.  No pun intending.  The EMS isn't going to care about how fashionable you look when they are trying to save your life. 
  • No high heels, unless you want to break your ankle or suffer from blisters.  Remember, it's a festival, not a fashion show.  Save high heels for the run way.  Wear something comfortable.
Getting to know the vendors: 
  • Don't be afraid to bring your own business cards if you make a connection with a vendor you like.  If you see a musician, food vendor, or artist that you'd might like to see again, give them your card.  
  • On the other hand, only take promotional items from vendors you like.  If you'll never buy their products, please don't grab the expensive promotional fliers and brochures.  You'll just throw it away anyways.  It's a lose-lose situation. 
  • If you stay late, you might be able to get donations from the vendors.  They don't want to take home all their extra products.  I had vending space at the Eukanuba Reliant Dog Shows for many years, and at the very end, I would get massive amounts of dog and cat food donations as I was trying to load my equipment.  I took those donations to local rescue groups and animal shelters. At food events, you might go home with boxes of sandwiches, tacos, burritos, or pizzas.  I'd freeze it, and feed myself for a month. 
Searching for Deals: 
  • Local restaurants and hotels might run deals during large festivals.  For SXSW 2009, many local restaurants offered dishes at half off.  Check those out here. Yes, indeed.  
    • Uchi (I've visited again and had a wonderful time since my last post) was running deals so good that I ate there twice during SXSW and once during ACL.  The average price per diner across these three visits was a mere $20.  I'm very happy to see that Uchi had my favorite roll at half off.  Shag me, baby!
  • For very large festivals like SXSW, someone somewhere on the internet will take time to sort through all the event and activities into an easy to use spreadsheet.  Check out this spreadsheet from SXSW 2009.  Thank you to who ever made this wonderful guide. 
  • Book your hotel ASAP, especially for SXSW. You can always cancel, but once they are booked, you'll be sleeping on the sidewalks or in a hotel lobby.
*This guide was previously intended for a website I had many moons ago: 


  1. Another awesome post! :-)

    I like to stay in shape by lifting large hunks o' metal. Then putting them down and lifting them up again. By doing that I require many more calories than normal to support muscle mass. Therefore I can consume more goodies at food and wine festivals with no guilt. ;-)

    BTW, I'll be at the EPCOT food and wine fest next week. Lemmee know if you want me to bring you anything back from Disney World. I'll still be in touch via facebook and cell/text while I'm there.

  2. Oh, oh! John's younger brother interned there as an engineer. I'll ask what to hit up. Bring me back photos please. :o) Photo of Ryan getting a piggy back ride from Mickey would be fun.