Untappd’s inaugural beer festival had all the makings of a perfect event. It would be held in Center City in the heart of Charlotte at Bank of America Stadium, with Panthers owner David Tepper getting props for stepping up the stadium’s event planning. It was one of the most talked about festivals of the spring.
Thanks to the popularity of the Untappd app, attendees traveled from all over the country and even the world — six different countries, one beer vendor told CharlotteFive — to attend Saturday’s beer festival. Breweries, 176 from Charlotte and otherwise, would be pouring beer to reportedly 12,500 attendees.
So how did it go from being one of the season’s most anticipated events to one of the most complained-about ones? Attendees cited admission lines that wrapped around the building with few people checking IDs, long beer lines, broken cups and a lack of refunds when weather delays led to beer not being served outside for an hour and a half of the rain-or-shine event. Some patrons said they were turned away due to the storm without ever making it into the event, being told there would be no re-entry and no refunds (later, re-entry was granted, but many had left).
Complaints were coming in so fast via Twitter that the topic was trending across the United States, according to The Charlotte Observer.
Sunny start to the afternoon
The event started with thousands of people standing in line wrapped around the stadium.
Leading up to Saturday, there was seemingly only one small glitch: the weather. Our local meteorologists had given plenty of warning about strong afternoon thunderstorms heading our way around 5 p.m.
Nevertheless, the sun was still shining when the VIP gates opened at 3 p.m. The first sign of a hiccup appeared when the promised “signature souvenir glasses” turned out to be thin, plastic cups that broke with the slightest amount of pressure. Most beer festivals include glass souvenir sample cups. “I broke my cup right away,” attendee Alyson Miller said. “I had my cup for two seconds and it cracked.”
Additionally, some attendees who paid extra for early access — $65 or $200 — told CharlotteFive the beer tents didn’t have beer when they arrived at 3 p.m.
One vendor, Keith Sparr, posted on our Instagram page that his tent for Big Boss had been set up early. “No excuse for the staff to not have everyone’s kegs to their tents on time,” he said.
For tents who had received their kegs, the beer began flowing. The lines were still short, as general access had not yet opened. Vendors took their time, explaining their craft beer to aficionados who had paid for the upgraded tickets. Homemade pretzel necklaces served as palate cleansers and sobriety keepers.
Untappd local badge liaison Ray Boyette said bringing the festival to Charlotte was a huge step for North Carolina. It resulted in the collaboration of two of North Carolina’s great beer cities, Charlotte and Wilmington, where Untappd is headquartered. “This is their Super Bowl,” said his girlfriend, Kristin Mason.
Access delayed to ticket holders
At 4 p.m., the gates were to open for all ticket holders — general admission tickets were $50. Some ticket holders reported delays on gaining entry and some were turned away based on bag size. Others said they never did get through the line, eventually giving up and forfeiting their entry fees.
Once inside the stadium, the lines for each beer vendor criss-crossed haphazardly, with people meandering through, looking for the shortest and easiest way to sample a cold one.
The wind picked up, offering a temporary reprieve from the sun. Shortly after, phones everywhere started pinging with severe weather announcements.
Lightning streaked behind the high-definition video boards. Then over the P.A., an announcement to seek shelter confirmed to the crowd that Mother Nature always gets her way.
By 4:45, the crowd was being corralled into the concourse as thunder and lightning boomed. Venders were told to stop serving beer. The rain began slowly and then turned into a steady downpour.
The crowd was so heavy that not everyone was able to make it inside quickly, with some in the crowd expressing worry about safety during the storm. Some attendees were still waiting outside the stadium, trying to get into the event, and they said they were turned away, being told the event was canceled and they would be unable to seek shelter at BOA Stadium.
For those who did make it inside, they found themselves without a drop (of alcohol) to drink. “So that’s why they call it Untappd — there’s no beer,” said attendee David Spears.
He and his wife had arrived at 4 p.m. and stood in lines to get just two samplings of beer before being sent indoors. “Why didn’t they just put the beer in the concourse? They knew all day it was going to rain,” he said.
People began marking themselves “Safe from Untapped Beer Festival” on Facebook. Other local beer festivals began trolling Untappd on social media.
Several started calling it the Fyre Festival of Charlotte, a reference to the infamous failed luxury music festival created by Billy McFarland and recently documented on Netflix and Hulu. While Fyre was outright fraud by the legal definition, Untapped was being called out for having poor planning and event execution.
Some ticket holders asked about refunds and said they were denied. People waited out the storm by sitting along walls and in small circles. Card tricks were played. Hot dogs, popcorn, pretzels and bottles of water were sold by the stadium’s regular vendors.
A lot of attendees gave up and left, with some posting on social media about which breweries they’d be heading to instead.
By 6 p.m., the storm was over. People were allowed to go back outside, but not yet inside the stadium.
The infamous cups
Some vendors outside of the stadium started passing out beer again, but with one problem: the now-infamous “signature souvenir” cups were gone, either broken or tossed during the hour and 15 minute no-beer break.
Ramekins, reportedly the ones used for nacho cheese at the stadium, were handed out instead. Some guests had small punch-sized cups with Panthers written across them. Others lucked out with red Solo cups. One girl managed to score an actual souvenir plastic cup, given to her by someone from the Jimmy John’s tent, with Jimmy John’s logos displayed.
At one point, Untappd volunteers temporarily stopped handing out cups at all. “Vendors have not yet been given the all-clear to start serving beer again, so we were told to stop handing out cups,” a volunteer with a stack of red Solos told CharlotteFive.
Would-be beer drinkers walked away from the volunteer tent empty handed, wondering aloud why they’d bought tickets to a festival in which they couldn’t get beer. Attendees crowded the Jimmy John’s tent for free sandwiches. Jimmy John’s team members started throwing them out into the crowd.
Festival officially reopens
By 6:30, however, cups began being handed out again, and the stadium doors were reopened. The sun even threatened to peek out from the clouds.
Untappd was extended by an hour, and re-entry was allowed for those who had left. Even with wet grass and another slight drizzle near the end, the crowd eventually picked back up where it had left off.
A few people said they didn’t mind the weather delay at all. “It was lightning. It was fine. I’m pretty accommodating when it comes to weather. I don’t want to get electrocuted. We got to go to the bathroom, and we got a break from the heat — we weren’t hot and sweaty,” Megan Van Fleet said.
Nicole Pugliese said she and her friends had initially been frustrated by the festival. “We got here right at 4. I was drunk by 4:26, then I wasn’t anymore,” she said. They considered leaving during the storm delay, but she said they were glad to have waited it out. “Now I’m fine again. You have to make the most of it — it is what it is,” she said.
Given that the rest of the crowd was drinking, dancing and frolicking by that point, it seems that those who who did stay did exactly that: made the most of it.
Untappd released a statement on Sunday afternoon that included in part: “If you were turned away from entering the event during the weather delay due to stadium policy, we are deeply sorry and are working on a solution.” The entire statement is embedded below:
Did you attend the Untappd Beer Festival? What did you think? Let us know in the comments.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to add the statement from Untappd.