Founders Fest 2009

This is really late. I’m publishing it without further review to get some content going.

A downtown street festival celebrating beer sounds like a great idea, no? That’s the inspiration for Founder’s Fest, the 2009 edition of which was the second in a series. The concept is good: people, music, beer. The implementation, however, left a little bit too be desired.

Venue
Founders closed a block of Grandville St. directly in front of their tap house, and had the parking lot in front of their building open as well. The Tap House was not open, which was an unwise choice. There was a large tent near the entrance with row of tables and foldout chairs, and at the opposite end of the block a mobile stage was set up for the bands to perform. About halfway between, there were a beer tent and food tents from three restaurants. On this sunny day, being able to step inside of Founder’s would have been a welcome opportunity for all involved, especially with the garage door-style front to the building, the entire thing could have been left open, so festivalgoers could meander in and out. The setup, with the seating tent very far off to one side, was highly counterintuitive.

Price
Make no mistake about it, this was not a cheap event. There was a $15 charge to enter, along with beers priced at $4, $6, and $12 for a 14-ounce cup. What it boiled down to was $15 for the right to spend more on each beer than you would at a normal day at Founders. Sure, the cover was to offset the costs of closing the street, etc., but much of that seemed so unnecessary to me. If the tap house had been open to the public (even with the garage doors open), there would have been much more space, and closing the street may not have even been necessary. The food, from area restaurants, was also more expensive than one would expect.

Food
The Cottage Bar, Sami’s Gyro, and Maggie’s Kitchen were the food options. The options were good enough, with the American, Greek, and Mexican cuisine, respectively. I went with a gyro from Sami’s and (as mentioned above), it was more expensive than it typically is if you order one in the restaurant. The setup was also subpar here, as there were no defined lines for people to wait in, and the tents seemed to be situated right in the way of an area most people wanted to walk through.

Beer
The beer selections were… lacking. On top of costing more than they typically do, there were fewer options available than one would see simply walking into Founders on an average night. The distribution was done by purchasing $2 tickets, which you exchanged 2-3 of for a beer (or half beer, for the rotating taps). The tent was set up as a free-for all, which was actually pretty cool, not to mention the multi-taps – which were on the sides of Airstream-style trailers.. When I first arrive, I though that the taking of tickets might be done a little… inconsistently, and they wouldn’t really care to make sure that every beer was paid for in full (a la the winter beer festival from the Michigan Brewer’s Guild). This was not the case, meaning that it was just really expensive beer.

Music
The local bands that played were standard-to-good examples of a local music scene, though I had never heard of any of them. There were some eclectic jams – but I guess that worked out fine for much of the clientele of the Fest. As bands were tearing down or setting up for their sets, a hippie drum band, which seemed to be composed mainly of Founders employees, played on the front porch of the building. It made the whole thing feel rather Ann Arboreal – and that’s not a good thing. Hippie drum circles suck.

Overview
This event is great in theory, but the planners need to pay a keener attention to the details of making sure it’s set up to operate more smoothly in future years. The physical layout and pricing options were the most egregious parts. Like many bars, the problem was primarily that the purveyors weren’t thinking about the setup through the eyes of the consumer, and therefore set it up illogically in certain aspects. As someone who was not a planner, but rather a customer going through the motions of the whole thing, it was easier to see what could be improved upon in future years.

Elsewhere: MLive previews the event.