Tuesday, June 14, 2011

12 Hour Days Are Not for the Unprepared

You're sweating in unmentionable places. Vapors of grilling meats and various foods-on-a-stick swirl in the humid air. A film of sunscreen is beginning to form on your skin, you need an ice cold beer, and you check the clock. It's only 2pm. It's the season for outdoor festivals, what we artists and vendors call a full-time job. I was a n00b to the outdoor craft show circuit as of a month ago and desperately wish I could have found a balls-out, no nonsense guide to surviving the process. Sure - many artisans have created their own blog entries detailing tips and tricks to success in selling in the sun, but for me they're always a little...cupcake. Unpleasantness and gritty realism is abandoned for cutesy anecdotes and obvious tips that, honestly, any person with a shred of common sense could have figured out on their own. "Really YummyDeliciousCrochet? You're telling me I need to drink water when I'm in the sun? Thank crafting Christ you bestowed this information on me." It's the Etsy disease - something about crafting makes certain people go soft in the head.

So I've compiled a list (in no specific order) of smart and realistic tips to survive the stressors of working an outdoor festival, based on my own experiences.

Don't Be A Dumbass. It's Hot Outside
You're gonna need sunblock. Today is not the day to work on the tan. Put that shit on your knees, shins, and feet as well. 

You're gonna need water. Exercise common sense and bring a huge ass bottle of your own from home. Do you realize how fucking annoying it is to have to stand in line with festival-goers just to score $5 tepid water? If you don't...you will - right around the time the fifth inebriated frat reject cracks a joke to you about a frozen chocolate banana. And don't gulp it. Sip it. Unless you like fragrant Port-a-Potties.

You're gonna be here awhile, and while I appreciate that you want to look cute, today is a waste of makeup. No one's going to buy your flouncy upcycled hats if you have a lunar landscape of melted mascara and bronzer forming on your face. Just get some big sunglasses and stop being a hoor.

Eat breakfast. Your mom is right.

Park the car as close as you can manage to the tent. Unload quickly. If you have to, re-park the car on a meter-free side street adjacent to the festival ground. Getting in and out of there is going to be an exercise in frustration and heatstroke, so make sure your car is AS CLOSE AS POSSIBLE.

Pack a Bag with Useful Crap
*Wet Wipes. It's filthy out there.
*A wind-up or battery-powered phone charger OR a second phone battery. Once that phone dies, say bye-bye to credit and debit card purchases, which are becoming the norm for your customers. I know, I know - you think Starbucks will let you plug it in. They won't.
*Snacks. Street-fest gyros, chocolate-covered cheesecake, and french fries all seem like happy-time-fun-food, but they should be called "Try Not To Touch Your Ass to the Port-a-Potty Seat While People Steal Your Merchandise". Practice some forethought and buy a damn box of Cheez-Its. 
*Alcohol (if you're a drinker - if you're not, I'm not sure how you found your way here). Liquor travels lighter than beer, and trust me - around 3pm you're going to need it. Don't forget a mixer.
*If you're the kind of person who might conceivably use a lighter, bring more than one.
*A cooler or insulated bag for your booze and/or food. If you can manage to get ice for it the day of the festival, all the better. Keep the ice in its plastic bag and you can munch on it and use it for drinks during the day.
*Galvanized wire and cutters/duct tape. I can't express how much I've required these things for a hundred little annoyances: my displays blow over in the wind; the tent walls are flapping too loudly; tablecloth and signage isn't secure; I need to quickly garrote the person who asks me, "Do you have any rings that are MORE SIMPLE?"
*Light scarf/jacket, a change of shirt, and a pair of real shoes and socks. One minute its beautiful and balmy, and the next everything you have worked so hard on is drenched in city rain, including you. That's not going to make the rest of your day pleasant, so plan for it.
*Deodorant. Hello.
*Burt's Bees Lip Balm. All that talking to strangers is going to chap your lips, so lube up! And it's minty, which is just delightful.

Drunk People Everywhere
Don't argue with drunk people at outdoor festivals. Just don't do it. There are going to be dozens and dozens of Cro-Magnon protohumanoids whose full-time gig it is to guzzle beer and bark at each other. The women aren't much better - instead of barking, they go, "WHOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" and take photos with cheap cameras. When they step to you or say something derpy about your art, just ignore the comment, and, if you can't, just pretend you're in on the joke until they stumble away. Suggest they go look at something you think was "awesome". Drunk assholes love "awesome" things. If all else fails, find security. They ARE there and it's their job to protect your investment. Don't let the scary lushes get you down. While you're out there making money and risking your ass and putting your art into the world, they're going to be throwing up in alleys and contracting STD's from strangers. You win.

It's probably okay to drink. Unless you're contracted with some puritanical, conservative group showcasing at the festival, having a few drinks throughout the day isn't something anyone cares about. Just don't overdo it. Not only can it make your customers uncomfortable, but it makes you smell bad, makes you sleepy, and makes you forgetful. Drink to relax if you want to, but don't drink to party. You're working today.

Bring a Friend. Hell - Bring Three Friends
This is a really, really, reaaaaaally important tip. You do not want to hang out alone, relatively sober, all day long at this thing. Bring someone you like and instruct them in the basic information about what you're selling. You're going to need someone to cover the tent when you pee or have a cigarette. If you're lucky like I am, you have friends who really support you and believe in your work, which makes them amazing salespeople. But make sure you make it worth their while. Cover all the expense of the festival for them if you're able (drinks, food, whatever), give them a ride, and at the very least, gift them something from your line. Friends who sit with you at shows are the best kinds of friends to have, so make sure you reward that love.

Nobody Likes a Bitch, So Get Out of the Damn Chair and Show Me Some Teeth
This really shouldn't be something that requires mentioning, but unfortunately, there are just some crafters/vendors in the world who think their handpainted clown resin bottlecap jewelry is going to sell itself. They sit at the back of the tent, read a book, and wait out the clock. And everyone who enters their space leaves empty-handed and thinks to themselves, "Wow. What an uncomfortable situation with that awkward hipster girl and her unwearable crap." I'll keep it brief:

Get out of the chair. Spend time in front of the booth, just chatting up people who walk by. Find something on which to compliment everyone who checks out your stuff. Smile. Be nice. Be funny. Talk about the gorgeous weather. Ask about the rest of the festival. Hell, complain lightheartedly about the festival. Above all things - ENGAGE THE PEOPLE. It's just more fun for everyone that way.

I promise if you take my advice, you're going to have a better day at the fest. There's no getting around it - outdoor shows are hard. fucking. work. But they're also the most fun of all the shows you're ever going to do, and just being smart about the situation is the best tip you can get. Have fun out there!


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