The SoCo music experience was on Saturday. I was really looking forward to it – Justice and MGMT were headlining the whole thing, and I really thought it would be fun. But the promos for it were fairly sparse – initially it was supposed to be at SPAC, but then it changed to the Altamont fair grounds.
We set up on meeting up with some friends there. When we pulled up, we noticed parking was $5. And I saw an empty lot nearby, so we went to park there because we saw other people doing it, and our friends wanted to tailgate a bit, and the fairgrounds prohibited tailgating in their lots. About 2 sips into their beers, the Altamont police showed up and said to pour ‘em out, and to move the car. Albany John went to ask why, and was told that we were in the ‘band/musicians only’ parking area. I don’t know why they’d have them park so far away if they have stuff to carry, but ok. Weird. And there were no signs or anything saying it was band parking, just some cars parked there. If we saw a sign, that would have helped. So we were bummed to pay $5 for parking when the event had been billed as a free music event. I don’t normally carry a lot of cash on me, and when I think free, I don’t really consider parking.
So we parked, and went to go in. The website (really hard to navigate, btw) said no outside food or drinks, except factory sealed water bottles. Albany John had gone out and bought some earlier so we wouldn’t have to pay for water. We went in as a group, and he was stopped by security, saying he couldn’t bring it in. He spoke with a manager, a woman who wasn’t very friendly, and said they were the wrong size and were too small. He said he didn’t see sizes listed on the website, just that water was allowed in. She wouldn’t budge on it, so he put it back in the car. This really gave me a bad impression at first. There are so many different ways to handle situations like that – like “I’m sorry, but our venue regulations are against it.” She didn’t give any reasoning, just saying they were too small. When he put them in the car, she started making fun of Albany John to another security guard.
And the kicker is – Albany John’s friend took one from the pack and he was let in with it. And we saw a lot of people with camelbacks, and other purportedly prohibited water containers.
We got in and walked around. It was a bit overcast, but not too crowded. And the stages looked cool too, and there were tons of tents.
I took one look at the prices posted at the alcohol-selling tents and decided I wasn’t going to drink. Well, that and I didn’t bring a whole lot of cash and didn’t want to blow it on 4 drinks (most drinks were $5).
But, I do have to give major appreciation for the designated driver station – you got a wristband and could get free non-alcoholic beverages for the entire event from the station. Albany John said he was glad that at least he didn’t have to pay $2 per bottle of water, since his was too small, and the girls at the designated driver station were surprised to hear it, and mentioned something about Altamont fair grounds only allowing certain sizes (why the person earlier couldn’t mention this, I will never know).
Musicians were good, and I was happily hydrated. We walked over to the bar tent, where they had Southern Comfort mixed drinks as well. They had beer and wine outside, but you couldn’t bring them in or take things out of the tent. It was kind of weird. They had a DJ playing some pretty good music, and people playing some kind of rock band game. They had security people at the front, and a metal fence/gate to separate entrance from exit; only it was in between two signs that said ‘Entrance’, so people were walking on both sides. The women were angrily telling people to enter and exit from one way, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. People weren’t bumrushing in or anything; they just saw two signs that said ‘entrance’. They should have just either moved the gate over more, or taken down one of the signs. Unfortunately this unfriendliness was kind of the trend from a lot of the staff. They had an ‘exit’ sign which said you couldn’t take drinks out, but it was dark and smaller font and hard to see. One of our friends didn’t see it and we walked to go out and one of the security people grabbed her by the arm and yelled about how you can’t leave with drinks and to get back in. We went back in, and evidently they’d done the same thing to other people there. And I want to repeat – no one was trying to sprint out with a ton of drinks, it’s just that nothing was explicitly said, so no one knew. I think this could have been alleviated by putting large signs up by the bar and around the tent and having more personable staff.
Ok, so things weren’t looking so good. I was beginning to think we were in some freak unfriendly zone. I just don’t get why a company would want so many people that are ultimately representing their company to give a negative impression to the public. The staff really was pressuring people to go on camera, including our group. I declined every time, but our friends went on once or twice. They signed release forms and noticed they said you should be 24 (or some age older than some of them were) to be on it, and the staff said just to fake the year. Now, I know this isn’t that big of a deal, but it felt kind of smarmy. I mean, you’re a huge alcohol company; have signs up telling people to drink responsibly, and then encourage people to falsify their dates of birth? And I know it’s not that big of a deal, and it was a 21+ free concert, but something about the whole thing really made my sketchiness alert go off.
But the rest of the evening went pretty smoothly. Ran into people we knew, and even one person who was working the VIP area. The VIP area was to the side of the stage, and kind of hard to see the actual stage from. We actually got in later on in the night, and it was nice to dance there because the crowd in front of the stage was huge, and sometimes it’s just nice to dance around and have a lot of space. You also got 3 free drink tickets on your wristband, which Albany John and I gave to our friends and other people in the VIP area since we were designated drivers.
I really went to see Justice, and they were the last group to perform. I was finally having a great time – smile plastered on my face, dancing around without bumping in to people, when I felt a big hand on my shoulder. It was one of the staff, and he asks, “Do you want to go on stage?”
“Yes, please!” I emphatically answered.
So my wonderful, wonderful new favorite person proceeded to give us black all-access wristbands, and we were on stage, mere feet away from Justice! We got the rear view, and it was neat to see them duck behind the turntables and other behind the scenes stuff. It was mostly other staff up there, drinking, kind of ending the night. It wasn’t packed at all or anything.
We left a bit early to avoid traffic (not my idea at all… I protested, for serious), and as we were walking out of the gate to our car, one of the staff members with a camera ran over with a microphone and asked if I’d go on camera to say how much I liked it. I said thanks, but no thanks, I’d really prefer not to be on camera. At that he said “Come on, it’s to show Southern Comfort feedback so they bring it back again next year. You got in for free. Just go on camera.”
I still said no, and then he shoots back with “Yeah, well don’t blame us if this doesn’t come back again next year. It won’t be our fault!”
My jaw was on the floor at his rude comment. There was no reason at all for it. I was put off and a bit out of my element at the earlier brushes with the gruff staff, but this almost made me start crying in the parking lot. I wanted and expected to go to a fun, free event and hang out with friends, thrown by a southern liquor company. I know the brushes with the staff weren’t big, but these little things really add up to bother me. Kind of like when you go out to eat, and the waiter ignores you at first, and then the food isn’t very good, and when you ask to get it fixed, you get an eye roll from the waiter, and the food isn’t really fixed anyway, and he acts like you should kiss his butt for waiting on you because you’re a ‘problem’. Or like if you go on a date, and it’s not really going anywhere, and you’re kind of making forced small talk outside of the restaurant after dinner, and when he asks if you want to go back to his place because he’s hoping you’ll put out, and you say it’s a bit soon for you to do that, and he starts shouting about how he just bought you dinner.
Even if it is a free event, I don’t want to feel like I am an inconvenience, or that I owe them in some way. A lot of the staff I encountered seemed bothered, like they’d rather not be there and were borderline pissed to have to deal with people and anyone asking questions. It’s like they were anticipating a bunch of drunk assholes, so they treated everyone that way.
Customer service is huge to me. In any field where you are dealing with the public, you should behave professionally. I realize SoCo did not employ every person, but it feels like everyone got the same briefing. Or maybe they were not instructed at all. All I know is it felt very tense and hostile at points, making the day less enjoyable overall. Were I involved, I would actively encourage staff to maintain a positive demeanor.
While I highly enjoyed Justice and other musicians play music, the interactions with Southern Comfort’s staff soured what could have been a great day (especially the last interaction with the camera people. At that point I was thinking “Ok, so they weren’t the nicest people in the world, but seeing Justice is putting me in a great mood. I hope there’s another one next year.”). I would not attend again if there is another event. It’s just that last camera guy really got to me. I don’t want to go to an event where the staff is going to hassle me and be mean to me when I don’t do something they want. I know most people yield to the “Aww, c’mon, go on camera”, but it’s just not something I am comfortable with. There were a handful (literally, 5) of people that I found really nice, but at such a large event with so much staff, you need more than 5 nice people.