This one was impatiently awaited. The City had spent a few million renovating the Durham Athletic Park and all eyes were on the Beer Fest, as it’s known locally.

Although the Blues Fest had taken the renovated park for a trial spin, All About Beer Magazine’s World Beer Festival would really put it through its paces. Concerned individuals were tense about how the very expensive field would work with a really great beer festival. We’d already tried out the terraplas, the plastic field protectant, last year at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, and knew it would work.  However, this is a new field with new grass.  Could be different.

While so many people were fretting about the ability of the field to withstand a beer festival, hundreds of people were moblized to prepare the facility for the waiting beer lovers.

Our team member, Ola Nilbrink, had to rework the schedule to keep the time of the terraplas being on the ground to a bare minimum. The head groundskeeper, Josh, and Ola stayed pretty closely in touch. Watching the city crew lay the patchwork of the tiles down from the vantage point of our office across the street was thrilling, like a game of tetras. They were followed by a couple of other crews who whipped up over 50,000 square feet of tent, then dozens of tables and hundreds of chairs. Next, the pipe and draping were spread out throughout the tents, marking the “beer alleys.”  All in all, over 100 people spent two and a half days, working through the night, to get the site ready for the beer.

That’s when the Brew Crew steped in.  Led for the past six years by Keith Klemp, regular contributor to All About Beer Magazine, the Brew Crew, under the direction of Angela Campbell, the staff person in charge of beer recruitment, received the beer from brewers and wholesalers, sorted and stored it, then distributed it around the hall. Numbering over 30, this team keeps the booths stocked, looking good, and well served with beer, ice and water.

Funny, but the structure of the World Beer Festival revolves around moving liquid.  We bring about 55,000 gallons of liquid onto the field and spend considerable sums of time and money making sure it’s removed from the field safely. Think about that next time you’re at a beer festival. I seem to remember one entertaining scientist suggesting human beings were created by water to transport it across dry land. Well, that’s one way of looking at a beer festival, as well.

Next came the volunteers, under the stewardship of Matt Pennachi and Abul Brown. Over 300 are recruited to handle beer serving. They start showing up around 9 am and begin putting all the pieces together into a good presentation for our customers. They’re setting up booths, hanging signs, distributing tables and chairs, getting out glasses and programs.

About the same time the remainder of the All About Beer Magazine staff arrives and begins working their own areas. Editor Julie Johnson runs the educational seminars, always packed. Amy Dalton, head of sales, takes charge of the Brewers’ Hospitality booth. Managing Editor Greg Barbera, normally runs the VIP tent, but had to head out of town for the weekend. His place was taken by Mo Mercado, our newest sales team member. Circulation Guy, Patrick Morrison, takes charge of the merchandise booth, along with my daughter Anne, who has never missed a WBF. VP Steve and I rove, working where we’re needed. He ran the sign set up this year and I helped Ola with the entrance gates.

I have to admit, it’s a beautiful thing to watch; beginning with a gorgeous ball field on Wednesday morning, culminating with an extraordinary festival Saturday afternoon.  Months if not a full year had gone into getting all of the pieces in place at the right time, and protecting a venerable ballfield’s repair work, new coat of paint and new field. For hours in advance, people were lined up completely circumnavigating the block, watching the final preparations through the fences.

Line at front gate

Getting 4,000 people through the gates can be a challenge.  We had a few curve balls this year, which we hadn’t anticipated, making the afternoon session wait longer than the evening session.  Although the walkway had been reduced to half its former width, causing quite the bottleneck, we were able to reroute guests to other gates and eventually correct the problem.

Panorama of the tents

And thus it went, maybe the twentieth World Beer Festival since 1996.  Durham, Raleigh, Columbia, SC, and, soon, Richmond, VA.  A simple model designed to introduce consumers to the full breadth of beer and encourage them to go out and build the local beer community.  Looking around this town, it seems to be working.

Beer Fest Celebrants

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