Fyre Fest 2: Chaotic Cherry DC Circuit Party Leaves Attendees in Cold
Author: Christopher Wiggins
What was supposed to be the triumphant return of Cherry Weekend in DC after a two-year-long delay due to the ongoing global pandemic turned out to be a fiasco which left hundreds of partygoers upset and demanding refunds.
20 popular D.J.s were set to play eight events across the four-day-long circuit party produced by the Cherry Fund that raises money for HIV and AIDS as well as mental health services. Revelers from across the country traveled to Washington D.C. to attend the dance party after years of planning and found what some have likened to the infamous Fyre Festival.
Trouble for this weekend’s events started when the sold-out EVOLUTION event, scheduled for early Saturday morning, was abruptly canceled only hours before doors were supposed to open.
On Friday morning, D.C.’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) officially denied an after-hours permit for Decades, the venue, according to a person familiar with Cherry DC’s planning who asked to remain anonymous because of continued work with the organization.
The Advocate reached out to a spokesperson for ABRA but did not hear back.
Problems for the all-volunteer organization compounded on Saturday night, when the main event, FLAWLESS, was oversold, and the venue refused to allow people in after reaching its 1,200 person capacity.
Tickets for Cherry Weekend ranged in price from $25 for a single event to $369 for a VIP weekend pass.
Adult film actor Derek Bolt, who lives in D.C. says he planned to attend FLAWLESS as he had before in 2019, and spent $62 for a pass but he never made it in.
“I arrived to the venue at a little before 11:30 to a sizable line and was told I had to wait in a different line to turn my ticket into a wristband in order to wait in line to get in,” Bolt wrote in a text to The Advocate.
“The line didn’t really seem to be moving for a while, and we started hearing rumors that the event was full. After a while the line started to shrink, but it was apparent that it was due to some combination of people leaving and the crowd compressing around the door. There were no actual lines, and no dividers to keep the lines ordered. The security, apparently by Howard Theater, was extremely hostile, but also did nothing to control the crowd. They would occasionally send out the police (the LGBT liaison unit) to push the crowd back from the door.”
In a video posted to Facebook and Twitter, a Metropolitan DC Police Officer with the LGBTQ Liason Unit asks cold and upset partygoers standing in line waiting to be let into the venue to disperse.
“They’re at capacity,” the officer says. “I would take it up with whoever you purchased tickets through…the vendors, the Cherry Fund.”
In an email statement, Kristen Metzger, a spokesperson for Metro PD, told The Advocate that Howard Theater staff notified the officers on scene that the venue was packed, which resulted in patrons standing in line getting asked to leave.
The Advocate reached out to The Howard for comment on its security procedures but did not hear back by publication.
“MPD’s LGBTQ Liaison members were already staffing the Cherry Fund event as part of their community engagement efforts over the weekend,” Metzger said. “As they were engaging patrons outside the Howard Theater for this event, they were notified by Howard Theater that the event was at capacity. To ensure the security and safety of all patrons, MPD members notified patrons that the event was at capacity.”
She added, “It is my understanding that eventually patrons who were waiting outside were let into the event.”
Luis Vargas traveled to D.C. from Chicago with the focus of attending Saturday night’s event but also never made it inside. The television advertising strategist says that he and a friend arrived at The Howard around 11:20 p.m. and discovered several long lines to the entrance that he described as disorganized.
He says that staff implemented a “one-in, one-out” policy about ten minutes after he got into line, presumably because the venue had already neared capacity.
Bolt, 30, says that around 12:20 a.m., the line had dwindled to the point that he heard security staff say that only people with VIP tickets would get into The Howard on a one-in-one-out basis.
“I called for my ride at that point, as I had a standard ticket,” he wrote. “While I was waiting, they sent the police back out and had them completely disperse the crowd, saying the venue was closed.”
Bolt says that as he was leaving, security came back and formed a small queue for those who were left, regardless of ticket type, but that he was over it.
“It was already too late in my mind, and people hadn’t been leaving anyway… I was also frozen for being outside for more than an hour,” he wrote.
As people were becoming agitated, organizers posted a message on social media apologizing to patrons and blaming the venue for the problems. On its Instagram page, Cherry DC posted a statement but disabled followers from commenting.
“We are extremely upset that our relationship with The Howard Theatre has taken a turn for the worse with capacity restrictions,” they wrote. “We were given a maximum capacity at the time a contract was signed and now the venue has decided not to fulfill their obligation to us.”
Some who made it inside reported having a good time including performers like CT Hedden.
“I think people forget this is the first time any big weekend events have happened since the pandemic,” Hedden, who served as a host of the event and is doing their fourth year as a performer, wrote The Advocate in a message. “Issues arise, things happen. After 25 years of success [one hiccup alone] is nothing. Especially after not being able to produce events for the past two years. People need to relax.”
Video and photographs from later in the evening sent to The Advocate show what seems to be a completely overwhelmed coat check area, with dozens of people crammed into a tight space without lines. According to reports, the area was understaffed and some waited for over an hour to retrieve their belongings, if at all — some abandoned their possessions altogether because of the wait.
On Sunday afternoon, organizers posted a message on Facebook, not addressing the call for refunds but telling people how to get their abandoned belongings.
“Dear patrons, for those of you that left behind personal items at last nights coat check—those items can be picked up today at Ferocity at Soundcheck and tonight at Pose at Ultrabar,” they wrote. “We are sorry for yet another inconvenience we have caused you. Last night’s venue had management and staffing issues which has proven to be challenging for you as a patron attending our weekend. We know you are upset and frustrated, again we are sorry.”
Bolt says that Cherry’s lack of communication and transparency are serious shortcomings that leadership must address.
“Cherry needs to be transparent about what went wrong and how they’re going to fix it if they plan to have the event again in the future,” he said. “There are a lot of people who traveled hundreds of miles and spent a lot of money to come to this event. Even if they get a refund for their ticket, they still are out both a weekend of time and all of their travel expenses. If Cherry wants to be able to bring in people from out of town again, they need to be able to credibly promise that they can count on their tickets being valid.”
For his part, Vargas, 26, who says he spent about $600 on flights, lodging and event tickets tried to get answers to refund questions from Cherry DC through the group’s Instagram account and documented his interaction in a Twitter thread.
Vargas says he places the blame for his ruined weekend with the organizers of Cherry Fund DC and is critical of the organization’s lack of communication and transparency.
“I personally believe it was incompetence on the part of Cherry as an organization,” he said. “Their immediate response in our one-to-one conversation was to point fingers at the venue for their ‘sudden’ capacity limitation.”
Angry customers inundated Cherry’s social media pages, demanding refunds and denouncing the organization for the perceived mismanagement of the event and the lack of transparency.
It is currently unclear whether the organization will issue refunds. The current terms of ticket sales state that all sales are final and no refunds will be issued.
“If no refund, I am filing a fraudulent claim on all of my tickets,” wrote David Laylay on Cherry DC’s Facebook page. “First time, and last time doing Cherry for sure!”
Bolt says he’s not waiting for Cherry to address refunds. “I already contacted my credit card company to dispute the ticket charge,” he said. “I won’t pay for a ticket to an event I was not able to get into.”
Cherry Fund president Allen Sexton said in a text conversation with The Advocate that he was not ready to comment on this story.
“Cherry will release its statement once our weekend is complete,” Sexton said in response to multiple questions regarding the weekend’s incidents.
According to the organization’s website, The Cherry Fund, which organizes Cherry Weekend, is an all-volunteer run 501 (c) 3 that raises money for non-profit organizations that serve LGBTQ+ people. They have given over $1.3 million to various grants over 25 years.
Original Article on The Advocate
Author: Christopher Wiggins