Local officials mulling THING preparations

Posted 5/1/19

With 5,000 people expected to attend each day of the inaugural THING music festival at Fort Worden this summer, local officials are planning to avoid a repeat of last summer’s problems with a rock ‘n roll show at the site.

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Local officials mulling THING preparations

Posted

With 5,000 people expected to attend each day of the inaugural THING music festival at Fort Worden this summer, local officials are planning to avoid a repeat of last summer’s problems with a rock ‘n roll show at the site.

The complaints surrounding the Modest Mouse concert last August at Fort Worden hover over the planning. Neighbors accustomed to Fort Worden as a buffer against development and other modern intrusions expressed outrage that the Public Development Authority (PDA) was hosting rock ‘n roll shows that they could hear from their homes.

Fort Worden PDA executive director Dave Robison and concert promoter Seattle Theatre Group are working closely with the city and police to plan for traffic flow to and from the event, to mitigate the effect on surrounding neighborhoods and streets, and ensure pedestrian and cyclist safety.

THING, which opens in 116 days, is being billed as a “multi-disciplinary event” by STG’s Chief Programming Officer Adam Zacks. Zacks was founder of the Sasquatch! Festival at the Gorge Amphitheater, which concluded its 16-year run in 2018.

“This is designed to be low-key and fit in with the vibe of the community,” said Zacks. The festival tickets promise pop music, comedy, film, dance, food, podcasts, visual arts and a mentalist.

While Sasquatch! drew about 30,000 people to the Gorge in Central Washington, many of whom camped out in the wildlands nearby, THING has been planned to be smaller and less stressful on the community, Zacks said.

“Sasquatch was not a crazy event, either, but there was a party element to it that I don’t think is going to exist with this, at least not in the same way. If people are imagining 30,000 people like at Sasquatch, that is just not what it is.”

THING is open to all ages and will feature multiple beer gardens with valid ID required for entry. Kids 13 and under can attend events free.

Zacks said the annual Wooden Boat Festival proves Port Townsend is capable of hosting thousands of visitors each day. “That is a different event with different hours,” he said. “I get that, but it proves the town can handle a certain level of event.”

Zacks believes there is already a solid plan in place.

“We are going to keep revisiting it and reviewing it and looking for holes in the plan between now and the event,” he said.

STG has been in active communication with local officials since 2018 as how to best coordinate the influx of visitors to the town, Zacks said.

Port Townsend Police Chief Michael Evans said his department is still working on it, coordinating with STG, Fort Worden Public Development Authority and the city of Port Townsend to develop a plan to best address the situation.

“There will be an onsite presence of police and medical (personnel),” Zacks said.

Noise concerns

After a Modest Mouse concert last August at Fort Worden, the PDA received a letter signed by 31 Port Townsend residents who expressed their collective “dismay at the extreme volume” of the concert.

David Thielk last year noted issues from “intense traffic” through neighborhoods, significant emissions from the additional traffic coming into Port Townsend and significant noise for “an extended period of time” for residents, their animals and wildlife.

Zacks said such comments were weighed before THING was announced to the public.

“We take that kind of feedback seriously and don’t brush it off.”

At the same time, there is only so much that can be done to mitigate sound because sound travels, especially over water, Zacks said.

“I think we have to accept some degree of, well, we can’t make everybody happy. All we can do is be honorable people and do our best and hear out the local community with an open mind.”

Zacks said the types of bands booked for the event were chosen to reduce the impact of sound on neighbors.

“There is really nothing even close to as loud as Modest Mouse,” whose 2018 concert served as a trial run of sorts for the Fort Worden venue, he said.

“We were testing out the site to prove some of our theories. It was so successful we added a second night. It was everything we hoped it would be, so then we went all guns ablazing on THING right away.”

Robison said the PDA learned valuable lessons from the Modest Mouse concert.

“Amplified music will begin at 1 p.m. and end at 10 p.m. each day of the event and be closely monitored to manage an appropriate decibel level during performances.”

Neighbors said the promoter did turn down the volume on the second night, significantly reducing the impact.

Traffic flow

Zacks said efforts have been made to reduce traffic in the areas immediately around Fort Worden, with off-site parking being negotiated with property owners and a shuttle service available to ferry passengers coming to the event.

“As far as traffic and parking, we have secured several satellite lots and worked with local transit to make sure there are shuttles going at all hours to get people from the satellite lots to the site.”

STG is also in talks with Memorial Field officials to potentially use the field for additional parking during the event, Zacks said.

Event parking at Fort Worden will be very limited. Locals are encouraged to walk, bike or take a shuttle from designated parking areas to the Fort for the event.

Parking outside of the Lifelong Learning Center campus will require a Discover Pass. Event parking in the neighborhoods adjacent to Fort Worden is prohibited and will be strictly enforced.

Lodging

Visitors from out of town attending the festival will need a place to stay. Zacks said studies have been made to ensure there are enough hotel rooms available, as well as places to camp for the weekend.

“We have turned the Jefferson County fairgrounds into a campground,” he said. “There was already a small campground there, but we are utilizing the whole property.”

There is also camping and housing available at Fort Worden, Zacks said.

Fort Worden is equipped to handle such a high-level of foot traffic and demand on bathroom facilities, Robison said, accommodating more than 2 million guests annually.

The Fort Worden Lifelong Learning Center spans 95 acres and includes 73 historic buildings, 450 guest beds in 40 overnight facilities, plus 80 campsites, four performing arts venues, four food and beverage outlets, and more than 58,000 square feet of conference and meeting space.

The McCurdy Pavilion and Littlefield Green supported Modest Mouse, which drew just under 5,000 guests over two days.

Add to that capacity the Parade Grounds, which holds more than 3,000 during Fourth of July celebrations, plus the 280-seat Wheeler Theater and other performances venues.

In addition to Fort Worden’s on-site restroom facilities, additional portable restrooms will be available near all performances venues, including restrooms compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Additional food vendors will also be staged in one or more outdoor food court areas to augment the Fort’s on-site eateries.

THING will feature three primary stages including a decommissioned zeppelin hangar, the Wheeler Theatre, and the Parade Grounds overlooking Puget Sound.

Lineup announced

The full programming for THING was announced April 22.

Music acts include Violent Femmes, hip-hop pioneers De La Soul, Mexico’s Café Tacvba, Seattle’s The Black Tones, and a joint appearance by Calexico and Iron & Wine.

Actor and musician John Reilly will have his roots group in tow as they tap into the spirit of the old west.

Also on the schedule is Napoleon Dynamite Live!, featuring a conversation with Jon Heder and other members of the cast, as well as a screening of the classic movie.

Speaking engagements with stage, film, and television actress Natasha Lyonne of “Orange is the New Black” fame and writer, comedian, and activist Lindy West will take place, as well as a comedy set from comedian Todd Barry.

Podcast offerings include live tapings of Seattle radio star Luke Burbank’s “Too Beautiful To Live” with Andrew Walsh, “The Tobolowsky Files” with Stephen Tobolowsky, and “Bunny Ears” with former child star Macaulay Culkin.

A live reading of the 1982 film An Officer and a Gentleman, which was filmed on location at Fort Worden, will also take place, and the U.K.’s Architects of Air will display their Luminarium, a monumental inflatable sculpture of color, air and light.

Tickets went on sale at 10 a.m. April 26 at thingnw.org, with over 5,000 sold already, according to event organizers.

“The initial response was even better than I had hoped,” Zacks said. “If the festival is successful, it may become an annual event,” he added. “The proof is in the pudding.”

Comments

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John Conley

This event will be awful for those of us who live nearby. Who asked us about this, before it was planned? Answer: no one. Fort Worden is a great resource, able to host hundreds of folks in comfort. 5,000? No way.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019