Like pretty much every other event producer and planner in the industry, Kate Levenstien, CEO of New York-based Cannonball Productions, had to rethink her in-person events when the pandemic took hold earlier this year.
That included her new event franchise, Seltzerland, which was conceptualized pre-COVID as a national touring hard seltzer festival set to take place in large indoor venues across the U.S., starting in April.
“We had 15 festivals planned and nine on sale in mid-March. Like everyone in the industry, we postponed all of the events and were trying to figure out how to best move forward,” Levenstien said. "My husband and I were golfing in April in upstate New York and a lightbulb went off when I was on the course. They are perfect venues, especially because they check all of the safety boxes.”
Fast forward to August, when a reimagined Seltzerland debuted at Chicago’s Cog Hill Golf Club. Since then, the festival has been held at the Phalen Park golf course in Minneapolis, the Colorado National Golf Club in Denver, the Westchase Golf Club in Tampa, and later this fall at the Papago Golf Course in Phoenix.
Back in May, many golf courses began opening up again as individual states started to loosen their restrictions, deeming golf to be a safe outdoor recreational activity when played by coronavirus-specific rules.
Embracing the outdoor venues, Levenstien explained that festivalgoers purchase tickets for a designated "tee time;" the time slots are spaced out every 10 minutes with roughly 10 to 20 attendees scheduled for each interval to avoid crowding. A color-coded wristband system allows the production company to keep track of each group. For example, red wristbands are used on the hour, orange at :10, yellow at :20, green at :30, blue at :40, and purple at :50.
The fairways are lined with the brands’ booths, allowing attendees to walk a one-way route. “It feels like a natural flow instead of forcing people into specific areas with barricades,” she said, adding that the courses offer plenty of space without lines or bottlenecking.
In terms of safety protocols, vendors and staff are required to wear protective gloves and regularly wash their hands. The public is also encouraged to wash their hands frequently, use hand sanitizer, and wear a face mask when not sampling. Restrooms are also regularly cleaned between uses.
In addition to switching up the venue spaces, Cannonball Productions also had to rejigger certain aspects of the event including the check-in process and on-site activities. For example, at check-in, attendees need to wear a mask, receive a temperature check, sign a waiver using a QR code and acknowledge the COVID policies, go through a security checkpoint, and then have their ticket scanned.
“Many of our pre-COVID activities were not going to work anymore [such as bubble ball pits and sparkle bar stations], so we had to rethink fun activities. One of our partners, Vizzy, created a tie-dye station, which has become a fan favorite and is a perfect solution,” Levenstien explained.
She said that one of the biggest challenges has been producing events in multiple markets—each with their own rules. “Every municipality, county, and state operate independently and have their own set of COVID policies," she said. "Special event departments and liquor boards are quickly adapting to new guidelines as they're updated.”
“My advice is to over-communicate and be transparent—that goes for everyone from the attendees and sponsors to the cities and venues,” she said about producing an event during this time. “Everyone understands that we're in the middle of a pandemic and we're all just doing our best, but at the end of the day safety comes first.”
Two ticketing options are available for Seltzerland: General admission and VIP, which includes access to premier time slots, a full-sized can of hard seltzer, a specialty cocktail, complimentary food, and free parking. The drink festival will make stops in Phoenix and Dallas later this year, with a 2021 tour slated to start in late January.
"We are proud that we've been able to prove there's a model for safe events to happen in person. Attendees are grateful and enthusiastic to attend and are very patient and understanding on-site. Local staff are thrilled to be working shifts again. Brands can sample their products, which has been nearly impossible this year,” Levenstien said. “Overall, it's been a success and we're excited to continue expanding next year."