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Behind the Scenes: Outdoor Festival Season

Last weekend, I set up my Cat Art Booth at the 89th Annual Apple Blossom Festival’s “Weekend In the Park”. It was my second time attending this festival in Winchester, Virginia. Last year, the weather was humid and sunny. This year… eh, not so much. :P

It rained all week leading up to the festival. It rained all day on Friday, when I drove up to the festival grounds at Jim Burnett park to set-up my booth.
I even wrote a cheesy poem in an attempt to brighten my spirits:

“Setting up in the rain
Is a bit of a pain
For vendors attending a show,
With the mud and the damp
Permeating the camp…
But it beats setting up in the snow!” ~ Me

Booth-location-AppleBlossomFestival2016

At least I managed to snag a close (temporary) parking spot to unload my car, the silver Ford in the background. All of my booth stuff is lying on the damp grass, waiting for me to begin setting it up…. (yes, it was raining in this picture).

Despite my determination to remain cheerful ~ prompting one person to remark, “You ought to set up your tent in the Park of Optimism!” ~ the rain continued all day on Saturday, the first day of the show. There was also a biting cold wind blowing relentlessly, and the temperature remained in the 50s.

Nevertheless, the crowds came, they saw, and they purchased from all of us. Perhaps our customers took pity on us, huddled inside our tents, shivering, and peering at them with hopeful expressions. Haha! I was surprised that my artwork sold well even in the rain. I was very grateful to everybody who ventured out in such dreary weather to support us!

Sunday started out with steady rain-showers as well, along with threats of an afternoon storm. However, by mid-day, Mother Nature must have decided “Enough is enough!” and She graced the park with sun and beautiful spring weather for the remainder of the day. Everyone was relieved that we weren’t forced to pack up our tents in a thunderstorm! :D

I was very pleased with the festival and my sales for the weekend.  I enjoyed meeting new people, and was happy to see returning customers who wanted to add more cat art to their collections. :)

Cat Art Booth Apple Blossom Festival

I know that I have blogged about my experiences with outdoor festivals in the past. You can read these links for a laugh at my expense…. ;)

I forgot my tent at my very first show, and wound up suffering from sunburn and heat exhaustion.

At my third outdoor show, at the Farmer’s Market, my tent and merchandise nearly blew into a nearby lake.

Even last year, after many festivals under my belt, I attended that disappointing Monarch Madness Festival. The event itself was interesting and informative, but cats dressed in fancy clothes felt out of place at a butterfly festival. Live and learn, right?!

You might think I would forego outdoor shows, considering all the hassles of setting up a booth, and exposing my artwork to the elements (especially wind and rain!). It seems like I am taking a huge risk, and perhaps I am.

At last year’s Spring Festival in Mt. Airy, a freak storm blew up just as our first day was ending. As I scrambled to zipper the polyester side walls shut (which I’d left open because the weather was really warm), and lower my tent legs to the ground, I watched with horror as my neighbors’ tents went sailing across the field! In total, 22 vendors lost their tents, and nearly all their merchandise was damaged and/or utterly destroyed.

Craft Show Tent Disasters

Pictures taken at the Mt. Airy Festival, May 2015.

My tent survived, even though it is an EZ-Up brand (like many of these featured above). I noticed a few things that I did differently than my unfortunate neighbors:

I weighed down my legs with something heavier than gallons of water.  Veteran vendors would recommend commercial weights or PVC pipes filled with concrete ~ so take their advice, as I do intend to make a set of those someday!  I have been using (4) 50lb bags of river pebbles as weights, one tied to each leg, and resting on the metal plates provided with my tent. I hide the bags behind my tables and wrap them in my decorative fabric curtains. For now, these bags of rocks (which can be purchased at Lowe’s or Home Depot) serve a dual purpose: when my outdoor season is over, I dump the pebbles into my garden path. :)

I also stake the tent into the ground whenever possible. I’ve read online that some shows forbid the use of stakes, but I haven’t encountered that attitude at shows in my area; most of them encourage staking.

Lowering my tent legs overnight really helped to minimize its profile, letting the wind pass overhead. I noticed a few other vendors lowering their tents, and it made perfect sense! I also never raise my tent all the way up, so my side walls and fabric panels are usually dragging a few inches on the ground, which creates a nice seal to keep out the wind, even if it looks a bit unprofessional to have drapes hanging in the mud. Oh well.

hanging-art-in-booth

Many artists refuse to do outdoor shows, for obvious reasons, and I can sympathize with their concerns. I have the same concerns, after all, as I’m selling prints and paintings, too!

Although I try to minimize the risks involved as much as possible, I know ~ as every vendor knows ~ when filling out applications to outdoor events, I can’t predict what will happen… especially with regards to the weather.  We use our judgement, learn from our many mistakes (and the mistakes of others), and we simply do our best. Most importantly, we try to maintain a cheerful attitude! ;)

This was my tent on Sunday morning…. with the rain still making everything soggy. My banner shifted when I lowered the walls.

My tent after the storm

I arrived two hours early in order to set everything up again. I needed to re-hang the drapes and artwork on the walls, put up the table displays, and unpack merchandise from the plastic totes (hidden under the tarp). I had taken the expensive items home with me overnight to keep them safe.

Inside tent morning after storm

Obviously, it’s a lot of work! Indoor shows, especially those with 24-hour security and pipe & drape walls provided, are much more convenient. So why even bother with outdoor shows? LOL

I’m sure every vendor will have a different answer, but I personally enjoy being outside in the fresh air and sunshine… you know, when the sun is actually shining!? I am not the type of person who enjoys being cooped up under an industrial ceiling and florescent lights. It affects my mood negatively.  I usually spend the week before a show, printing and prepping indoors like a hermit, and by the week’s end, I am restless to get outside, stretch my muscles, and smell nature.

When the weather is nice, people love to be outdoors ~ listening to bands playing, sampling hot cobbler and cider doughnuts, and walking through the white-tented aisles of the city park, admiring and buying artisan handcrafts. These community festivals are yearly traditions, and destination events for locals and tourists alike. The fact that the Apple Blossom Festival celebrated its 89th year in 2016 says it all!

Of course, there are mainly indoor events that draw huge crowds as well. Most of my fantasy artist friends would say that DragonCon, in Atlanta, GA, is the highlight of their year. I am still trying to discover my “niche” in the world of selling art, having dipped my paws into several genres of shows… and so far, the hometown festivals love me best! ;)

There is a certain je n’sais quoi about the atmosphere of a festival like Apple Blossom, or the Apple Butter Festival in Berkeley Springs WV. I guess it is the camaraderie among vendors who suffer through the elements together. Haha! Despite an occasional grouchy seller who didn’t fare well, and wants the world to know they “won’t be back next year!” … most artists rally around one another, and are helpful with suggestions and encouragement.

Although I might get more encouragement than most, as I’m still viewed as a newbie, with my EZ-Up canopy and bags of rocks. I also tend to receive many offers of assistance from gentlemen, who must see me as a poor helpless female struggling with my tent’s legs. ;)

I decline those offers as politely as possible.  I’m sure that I must look awkward setting up solo, but I really do prefer it that way.

My booth is a work in progress, just like my artwork! Looking back, I can see and appreciate the journey.


Cat-Art-Booth_AppleBlossom2016

My next outdoor show is this Saturday ~ May 7th, in downtown Westminster, MD.  It is the 25th annual Flower & Jazz Festival, and my booth (#58) is located on E. Main Street near the corner of Longwell Ave. It is a one-day event, 10am-4pm, and there are plenty of activities, jazz bands, and vendors to check out!

Tara Fly

About Tara Fly

A Crazy Cat Lady ... who divides her time between painting portraits of cats dressed in period costumes, watching BBC mini-series, growing weeds and wildflowers, and baking pumpkin pies seasoned with cat hair. Would you like some fur-flavoured coffee?

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