Fest Practices with J. Wakefield Brewing | Covid Edition

Our third installment of Fest Practices with... - COVID Edition recaps the conversation we had with Maria Cabré, Operations Manager at Miami, Florida’s J. Wakefield Brewing (JWB).

If you’ve read the first two interviews we’ve done “post-” COVID-19, you’ll notice a consistent thread: both, and now this one, are from Florida. Cabré shares that JWB approached their fifth annual, iconic Wake Fest Invitational last month with forethought. And, despite the still-lingering effects of a global pandemic, they pulled it off to an understandably appreciative crowd who relished in nearly 50 of the country’s hottest trending breweries.

Editor’s note: This series is not political nor is it meant to shame anyone for participating or attending. Interviewees have been gracious enough to share their experiences as we’re all figuring this out together so that we can learn from each other. Constructive feedback, legitimate questions, and support in the comments are welcome. Be kind, be respectful. Them’s the rules.


COLDBREAK: First, make us jealous for not being there and give us the quick overview of Wake Fest.

MARIA CABRÉ: We hosted it at MAPS Backlot in Wynwood, FL.  It's usually in mid-February, but while things were still uncertain at that time we opted to push it back to April. In doing so, we split this year's event into two sessions with a limit of 200 ticketholders per session. In contrast, max capacity for that venue is well over 1,000. And, while we normally would boast about 120 guest breweries, we invited only 45 this year, plus five food vendors.


During the planning stage, what were your biggest apprehensions about whether to throw the event? How did they play out during the event?

Of course, there’s the natural fear of public backlash, but we knew we did everything we could to make sure people were safe. Attendees were SO happy to be back at a beer festival—you could just feel it in the air. No one complained. It was great. It could've been a PR nightmare, but we took great care in implementing precautions like giving away masks at the entrance, checking everyone's PCR/antibody/vaccine cards, etc.


What were the biggest challenges or most frustrating inconveniences that you had to 1) address and 2) overcome to pull off an event with COVID still in the picture?

We tried to be as safe as possible, so we made sure everyone had one of three of the following: a negative PCR within 72 hours, a positive antibody test within four weeks, or a vaccination card. Further, we made everyone sign COVID liability waivers, just in case.

In addition, we also had hand sanitizing stations, bottled water for individual consumption, roamed the venue handing out JWB branded masks.  Lastly, we used plastic cups to pour into, giving new cups with each service. 


How did you communicate to the public about your safety precautions? What did you share with them, and how did it play out during the event?

We posted all over social media and we included it online adjacent to ticketing information.


Enforcing policies can be difficult, especially with intoxicated or confrontational attendees. How was your experience managing your state or event's regulations? Do you have any advice for how other events should approach noncompliant guests?

We didn't enforce masks to be worn all the time—our state lifted all restrictions, but we did offer separate areas, spaced six feet apart, for when people wanted to sit with their groups.

However, we did require our guest breweries and vendors to wear masks. And, those attendees who opted to wear their own masks did so without ridicule.


How should festivals approach the countless transactions between bartenders and attendees touching the same glassware, exchanging drink tickets, using Porta-Johns, etc.?

Ensure you’re sanitizing your bathrooms regularly on the hour, if not more frequently. Find a creative way to eliminate drink tickets and the constant exchange of glassware.


How effective was social distancing during the event?

Fairly effective. Unfortunately, since this was a drinking event it becomes somewhat difficult to control at every step. However, the consensus we saw during have heard since supports that our guests felt safe.


What’s one thing you wish someone would’ve told you before throwing your own event or participating in one during COVID?

To just worry about what you can control as a small business. We’re creating a festival experience for adults who can make their own decisions about what they should or should not do. Ultimately, we can only control our event and the efforts we made to consider everyone’s safety.


While COVID is a notorious moving target, what changes do you foresee making in terms of how you will activate at future festivals/events? 

Not sure yet, but we’ll take the appropriate steps as things continue to evolve.


What tools/resources would help you be successful in participating in future events and/or educating attendee expectations re. COVID?

Constant updates from the CDC and WHO. 


Other events have begun to show themselves, and your input can help influence other best practices for the rest of the industry. If you’re hip to share some pro tips based on your experience, too, drop us a line, let’s talk! Be safe, cheers! 

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