Wordstock is Portland’s festival of books and Portland, being a very book-friendly city, loves Wordstock. It’s been on hiatus for two or so years because it wasn’t really making enough money, but it’s back, sponsored by Literary Arts and hosted at the Portland Art Museum. Previously it was at the Convention Center. Wordstock has been listed in my calendar since they announced the date in the spring. I was very much looking forward to the festival. Sadly, my excitement was not enough to carry me through the many problems I encountered.
Tickets were $15.00 and I bought mine in September. Following the instructions in an email I recieved, I arrived at the venue more than an hour early. I found the line to check in stretched around the block. This was the pre-sale line. Wanting to skip that line, I decided to purchase another ticket inside, where the line was five people long.
I had some time to kill, so after planning my day, I decided to find all the venues so I could move quickly from one to the other. The map in my Wordstock guide was not very clear and I ended up wandering through a modern art gallery until I hit a dead end. On the way I saw a sign that indicated that this would be a pop-up thing at some point in the day. What were these pop-up things?
The pop-up events were not listed in my schedule. There was just one poster listing the many pop-up events. Both times I went by, this is how many people were crowded around it.
I waited in line for my first event, then was told where I was waiting was not the line and moved myself into the actual line. This was a good panel, where David Leviathan appeared to be texting during the panel, but was actually purchasing his book via phone, because he was going to grab one from the sales floor, but couldn’t actually get to the sales floor. This is when alarm bells should have started going off.
Exiting my first session, I joined the line to get into the next session. It had started to rain (and it was a cold, hard rain) and there were too many people trying to get in and out of the same doors. Several people cut in line, saying “I’m not buying tickets” and then ignoring us when we said we weren’t buying tickets either. Nothing was done about any line cutters.
I eventually made it inside to the inside line for Wendell Pierce, but when the presentation started, I was still standing outside.
Though they had crowd control in the venue itself there were people pressed into all of these bays listening.
This guy had apparently been out with Mr. Pierce drinking the night before. He took several poor quality photos with his phone. I wished I could have given him my camera so he could have had some good ones.
My next session was in the same building, so I figured that I would be able to make it. I again encountered a very long line. I again encountered line cutters. I was told that I probably wasn’t going to make it into the venue. Frustrated, I took a break at this desk, thinking maybe I would go upstairs for a while to see what the book market looked like. But the line to go upstairs was just as crowded as the line to go into the room I wasn’t going to get into. I was frustrated and angry and I came to the conclusion that I could be this frustrated and angry for the rest of the day, or I could go home.
I chose going home. On my way to the Max stop, I caught this picture of the line for another venue. It was 15 minutes into the presentation and the line was still a block and a half long.
I heard later that they sold 4000 presale tickets, plus the tickets sold day-of. All four stages together couldn’t hold 4000 people, not to mention they didn’t have crowd control for that many people. The news coverage I read was mostly laudatory and the only thing I could think was that the reporters didn’t have to wait in any lines. Perhaps next year I should go with a press pass.
I’ve rarely been so disappointed. Which I guess means I’m lucky overall, but doesn’t take away the sting of missing out on a bunch of sessions I was looking forward to.