Bucktown: Highlights, lowdowns and WTFs

The key phrase for Bucktown seems to be “Close, but no cigar”. The 100% volunteer run show is a sort of neighborhood arts organization, whose profits go to benefit arts programs in the area. Which is awesome. And it’s been this way since the 80s. Which is also awesome. The awesome might stop there, though.

Highlights: The enormous staff of volunteers was extremely present and helpful. These guys were swarming all over me like friendly ants, offering help with absolutely everything. There was never a point in the day when I didn’t see a Greenshirt wandering by. All these shows have volunteers and all volunteers tend to be super nice and willing, but I’ve never seen this many of them. So A for enthusiasm on that score.

Food at this show was both a blessing and a curse. It was nothing but food trucks for the most part. Which is awesome because you can get much more variety that way, and a better quality food. Food trucks are enormously difficult to keep in business in this city, so the ones that exist tend to be top notch. However, they are also redonk expensive. $10 for an (admittedly freakin’ delicious) alligator sausage is absurd, and who ever heard of a $4 taco? But overall I was very happy to have the kind of quality selection that the food trucks offered. Often at shows you have nothing to choose from but burgers, burgers and some burgers, or byol. Which, I don’t mind packing a lunch, but due to space issues I prefer to have to bring as little from home as I can get away with.

Lowdowns: I had heard load in at this show described as “gross”. Understatement of the month. The downpour didn’t help, but that’s nobody’s fault. HOWEVER, having 200 vendors loading in, food trucks jockeying for position, stages being set up, fencing being delivered and assembled and porta potties being offloaded and filled all at the same ignorant ass hour of the morning in a residential neighborhood is craptacular to a fine degree. The storm was, at that point, just icing. When I asked, the lack of Friday setup was blamed on zoning, but I don’t buy it. You can get anything blocked off in this city for enough cashola and at $350 for a spot and only volunteers (that is, people not getting paid) running this rodeo, nobody gets to tell me they don’t have any. If Glenwood can do it with $100 a head, then nobody has any excuse. Not to mention that I think if you asked the neighbors, most of whom seemed to be pushing double strollers, they’d really rather all the noise happened at a decent hour. Note to self: buy galoshes and a proper raincoat. I managed to get through 22 years doing outdoor shows without either one. Maybe I’m just getting old.

Alas, load in wasn’t the only con on this show’s balance sheet. I was placed in an experimental row of booths that had formerly been the food truck area. It was a funny little cul de sac that you had to be standing in front of to notice was there, that was weirdly blocked off by the barriers they had set up in awkward fashion to corral the food area. Stated mission was to keep beer drinking restricted to the area of the food and stage, though why anyone would want to do that is beyond me. People like to wander and shop with their beer. People drinking beer shop more. Everybody wins. The logic of restricting the beer baffled me. The layout logic of my row also baffled me. It baffled the crowd too, obviously, as very little of it found my row of shops. At least one of the other vendors was so completely pissed off about it that he spent the weekend berating every Greenshirt he could grab, and trying to enlist the rest of the row to, I dunno, revolt I guess. My attitude was a more relaxed one. I had a Greenshirt actually thank me for having such a great attitude about it. I guess they were getting it from more than the one pissed off guy. But while I refuse to shoot the messenger, neither did I have the compassion of the Buddha about the whole thing. I thought it was all piss poorly organized from top to bottom. Because of this layout, I have no clue as to whether the crowd was good or not, so little of it came my way. What I did see however was not my demographic. I need child free professionals with expendable incomes or empty nesters finally enjoying their money for optimal profits, and what I saw was a lot of double strollers and pregnant women. Couples with small children don’t make self indulgent purchases they can’t justify. A fancier car than you strictly need can be written off with the excuse that you need a car, but art isn’t so easy. Which is not a judgement, it’s just a fact. It’s one of the reasons I do so poorly in the suburbs. From what I gleaned talking to other vendors, the profile of Bucktown had changed a lot in the last few years, going from the kind of hipster/nightlife area that best suits the kind of thing I sell to a gentrified family neighborhood. I wish I’d known that earlier, but the game of Musical Shows is never not an expensive gamble.

And an expensive gamble this turned out to be. While Sunday pretty well made up for a lot of Saturday’s crowd woes, considering the higher cost of doing this show, it wasn’t terribly impressive. The shop total, while not as good, was close to Glenwood’s which is nice, but the nut was over 3x Glenwood’s, which makes for a much lower overall profit.

WTFs: In the park section of the layout, a booth had been marked with a huge ass tree smack in the center of it. Did they send drunk squirrels with spray paint cans to do the layout, I wonder? Wait, no. I’m pretty sure the answer is yes.

The aforementioned beer restriction. According to one Greenshirt, having beer everywhere is no more expensive permit-wise than having beer in just one place. From my limited wanderings I’d have to say there was a crowd both days, but they were staying where the beer was. The stage area was packed all day, both days. Gee, funny how that works. If I had one piece of advice for these guys, it would be to Free the Beer. Which even the artists weren’t allowed to remove from the beer area. And there were volunteers stationed at all exit points to enforce this. I did anyway, because I am a rule disrespecting jerk and also a ninja. Sorry man. If I’ve been on my feet for that many hours in wet boots making that little money, I’m going to enjoy my beer in the comfort of my own booth. Attempt to stop me at your peril.

Lastly, potties. They were not pumped after Saturday. This created a condition so revolting on Sunday that people were leaving the show. All fine and good for patrons, but what about the artists and food vendors who have nowhere to go to pee? Props to the Greenshirts for handling the situation as best they could with spray bottles of bleach and constant monitoring of the banks of porta johns to keep them as usable as possible, but there wasn’t anything they could do about the actual pile of shit rising from the murky depths almost to the seat. They said the company had simply failed to show up to clean them, but given the other issues I saw with organization, I wonder if someone didn’t just forget to schedule the pumping of the pots.

Final verdict? Hard to call. I’ll have to think very carefully about this one. I heard a wide range of opinions from a wide range of artists. Everything from “Yes this show is great you just need a better spot” to “This show was great but the demographic has changed too much and these people are just here to look”. Saturday was pathetic, but Sunday was alright. Not fantastic, but alright. Pain in the Ass factor is very high though, and it ain’t a cheap show to do. Most shows send out their applications to artists from the previous year, and I’ll have to see if a booth request is part of it. I definitely don’t want to do it again if they put me in the same backwater, but might consider it if I’m on the main drag. This is going to be one of those situations where I might have to do it again and see what happens. Current profit to expense ratio says it wasn’t a particularly worthwhile show, but Saturday and Sunday’s crowds were like two different neighborhoods. I don’t know what’s up with that, but provided I can secure a better location, it might bear investigation.

Next up, Lakeview!

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