Something mysterious occurs at 4 p.m. at the Outdoor Retailer trade shows: Professional, occasionally too-serious facades magically dissolve in a mixture of suds and laughs. That’s when the Salt Palace catering army can be seen wheeling out kegs and food supplies to booths hither and yon. The reason? Any excuse to celebrate, from 40-year anniversaries (or five or 10) to product launches to birthdays to no reason other than beer and a low-key networking opportunity. Look beyond the floor too: The parties and events start early and go late… very, very late in some cases.
Despite the easy going-ness of quaffing Polygamy Porter (“Why have just one?”) and gaining entry to the hottest parties (“Dude, my boss’s sister’s dog who hangs out in her cubicle can like totally hook you up with a ticket to get into that gig.”), it’s no secret that the party scene is as vital to trade show business as an outsole is to a trail shoe. This is where the rubber meets the dirt (and, incidentally, where many dirty rumors take flight!). Relationships are built (and some are irreparably tarnished), networking takes place, and off-the-record comments shared – sometimes unintentionally. In essence, social lubricants provide the fodder vital to business smoothly flowing forward.
And let’s be honest, there’s a faction of people that sees the show as one colossal, all-you-can-eat-and-drink party. One industry professional commented that the paddling and climbing areas were actually pretty empty most of the day while “sponsored athletes” and buddies would be out playing. Magically at about 4 p.m., the booths filled up – gee, whiz, just in time for free beer. What a coincidence.
So, with a belch, a giggle, and a raised glass, here is a summary of a selection of this Summer Market’s happiest hours, after-hour gatherings, media events, rockin’ shindigs and other festive gatherings seen by the editors of SNEWS® in collaboration with its colleagues at Backpacker. Now if you’ll excuse us, we need to visit the medicine cabinet … Where was that Rolaid’s bottle?
Even before the show kicked off (this year, in a switch, on Friday), parties were happening. For a select group of media, it was a well-fed evening as Probar’s founder, chief recipe concocter and vegan chef Art Eggertsen whipped up a multi-course vegan dinner that was to die for with views off the host’s deck in Park City that were the same. No, this ain’t your momma’s vegan fare and the tiramisu for dessert. Oh yum!
In another treat-me-right media event, Verde PR hosted an afternoon/evening event for its clients to be seen by journalists, who also were treated to foot and back massages before they played pin-the-tail-on-the-sardine or something like that. Sardine? A Verde client includes BELA-Olhao sardines and most media were willing to belly up to the sardine bar for a nibble. Hmmm, most said, not as fishy or salty as expected. No word on whether breath mints were available.
And, to top the pre-show events, came the about 3rd annual event by Basecamp Public Relation, Pale Morning PR, and Denny Ink called the “Worst PR Event Ever Party.” Why? The goal is to have it in a horrible location with nothing free and no schwag. Members of the media and others who dared attend searched to find this year’s location called the Hookah Bar on Main Street. The event promises nothing and it delivered in true fashion. One media member explained, “They didn’t pay for anything, the directions were lousy, and it was in a part of town where all the derelicts hang out. It was lame.” Another said it was “truly bad” and “snarky.” Then again, that was exactly the point at an event touted as “anti-PR”, and the evening quickly spiraled downward as freelance writers worked hard to sponge off attendees who actually had expense accounts. Nope, no massages or delectables to be had.
On-floor, progressive eats and drinks
It seems to be come more of a contest with each show as to who can pop the best happy hour entertainment, serve the best drinks and snacks or, for that matter who can start the earliest. Work? Who needs to work? Hedonistic? You bet. Someone could eat and drink their way around the show and never get a lick of work done.
As a memorable – and much appreciated – alternative to tapped kegs and wet bars, several companies served up wonderful gluttony in other forms throughout the show. Apparel innovator Isis passed out birthday cake on Saturday afternoon in honor of its 10th birthday. Terramar spooned out Italian ice to epicurean passers-by, including root beer, lemon and mango flavors. Right across from a smoothie station, we wondered why folks would walk past (it was conveniently across the aisle from the SNEWS booth). Running giant New Balance introduced show-goers to the sinfully good world of afternoon chocolate fondue or s’mores (depending on how you built it), in addition to waffles in the morning that wafts yummy scents throughout the area. It’s a good thing their shoes help us burn off calories. Polartec continued its proud history of passing out ice cream in the afternoon.
If you were walking down the main aisle on Sunday, you were also treated to belly dancers at the the ExOfficio booth to show off (literally -- see photo to right) the inspiration – the historical trade route, the Silk Road -- for its spring/summer 2009 collection introduced at the show. A much nicer treat compared to sunburned paddlers imbibing in free beer.
Aside from the sweets, beer just about everywhere and Ojai’s traditional margaritas, Mammut challenged the very definition of “moderation.” That Switzerland-based company hosted a self-serve scotch bar during the show’s final hours on Saturday. One visitor – nameless and laughing far too loudly – sampled three fine scotches before heading out to dinner. One magazine editor who took the time to taste-test called it “very dangerous, but very tasty” and admitted to being “primed” for her evening get-together.
Industry rocks out
Despite enough beer pre-show-closing, approximately 3,500 show-goers managed to find their way over to the patio area in front of the Energy Solutions Arena for the Industry Party on Friday night. A robust and loud crowd played badminton and hob-knobbed while listening to the free-flowing tunes of Rusted Root. The crowd was apparently thirsty, too: “We went through 30 kegs and 30 cases of wine within two hours,” reported an organizer. The wine being Redwood Creek, of course, a primary sponsor of the evening festivities. Note to all attendees: While it’s advisable to hydrate in Salt Lake City’s high-desert environment, alcoholic beverages are not to be substituted for water. As a side note, Redwood Creek also used the party event to announce the grant winners of Redwood Creek’s “Greater Outdoors Project.” A total of $60,000 was doled out, with $50,000 going to the Southeast Wisconsin Chapter of Trout Unlimited to improve fish habitat and reseed riparian zones along Camp Creek near Madison, Wis., and a promise the non-profit would be featured in an upcoming national ad campaign. The runner’s up prize of $10,000 went to Friends of the Cheat to help them purchase a key section of Big Sandy Gorge in West Virginia.
More about “rockin’ out but in a different way: The annual Montrail-sponsored “Wobble” trail run was Sunday morning that despite a 6:30 a.m. start attracted nearly 200 runners (some of whom likely had no sleep). Leave it to the outdoor industry to party hardy then get up and go run at sunrise, at altitude and uphill. Wrote Backpacker in its show blog: “There's always a surprise competition on the course. In past years, Montrail has given awards for the bloodiest, muddiest, and nakedest competitor.” Just getting up is wacky enough, editors and attendees reported, but this year wacky weather accompanied the troop with winds gusting strong enough to throw 200-plus pound runners off-balance and toss lighter-weight types over the edge without a friend’s arm to hang onto. Then, to add insult to injury, the course went UP, UP, UP and more UP for the first half of the race that left even the elite walking until a rocky, steep descent that matched the up but in reverse.
Friday night, JanSport kicked off the party schedule in funky style with its annual Shake-and-Bake bash, another unforgettable installment of the California-based pack company’s long-standing record of bringing top-notch musical talent to Salt Lake City. This show, George Clinton prowled the stage, much to the squealing delight of a jam-packed Port ‘o Call bar crowd. According to sources, the evening also included a “tall, half-naked guy in fake fur pimp gear with a long, fake plastic nose” and some impromptu dirty dancing. Ticket sales from the event helped to benefit Big City Mountaineers, a non-profit dedicated to enhancing the lives of under-resourced teens through transformative outdoor experiences. One happily embedded journalist at the party described it the next morning as “truly a funkadelic experience, one that's still ringing in my ears this morning.”
Many media members (why does the media get to have all the fun, you ask) met with Backbone Media at Mikado Restaurant on Saturday night. Said one attendee, “It got ugly.” Sake bombs appeared from nowhere and seemingly never stopped. Even the restaurant’s owner joined in – while also reminding everybody that the popular sushi joint will be re-named – appropriately – the Drunken Fish.
On Saturday night, National Geographic Adventure hosted evening cocktails and a dinner party at the Metropolitan Restaurant, a chic eatery next door to Squatters – contrasts do exist in Salt Lake, yes? Bill McKibben, renowned environmentalist and author, followed up on his highly attended Conservation Alliance Breakfast earlier in the day, by speaking for roughly 20 minutes about “The Power of Community” – that is, the ability and necessity of joining forces to produce extraordinary results for the good of the world. About the current state of environmental affairs, McKibben said, “I am not optimistic … I am not pessimistic … I am excited about the direction our efforts are headed.”
At the same time as the Nat’l Geo Adventure dinner, The North Face threw a party that blended past, present, and future. To commemorate its 40th Anniversary, the company sought an historic setting, dressing up the Salt Lake City Library roof deck in nostalgia, pomp, pop, and circumstance. Outside the event – as far as some hopeful crashers would ever get – techno music blasted from a slanted circular DJ booth that resembled a flying saucer that had crash-landed into the sidewalk. Women with figure-hugging skirts and knee-high boots bopped and gyrated about – although the rain dampened spirits for a bit but we’re guessing there was enough waterproof, breathable to go around. Inside, company President Steve Rendle delivered a moving speech that paid homage to the efforts of employees past and present. The North Face athletes, including outdoor statesman Greg Child, delivered humorous talks about overcoming adversity. Said party-attendee and Backpacker Magazine Editor-in-Chief Jon Dorn, “You really got a sense of the importance and reach of this company when you saw so many faces from other companies that started with TNF. It's like this one company has germinated half the industry.” To get a real sense of that history, download the 10-part series of SNEWS® Live podcasts including interviews with Hap Klopp, Sally McCoy, Jack Gilbert, Steve Rendle, Mark Erickson, Missy Park and more by going to www.snewnet.com/podcasts.
Long live polyester!
And in what is becoming the trend at Summer Market, to fully overload one night with quality parties, the OIWC held its first ever “Polly-Esther” party, harking back to a series of poly parties begun by SNEWS founder Bob Woodward. Click here to read a June SNEWS story on the parties of yore in Las Vegas. This year’s come-back party, emcee’d by SNEWS execs Michael Hodgson and Therese Iknoian, had the floor bouncing with the beat. We’ll bring you a separate story about the party, with photos, in the coming days.
Are we bored yet?
The official parties aside, this year’s show had several impromptu gatherings as well, and Bambara, the restaurant and bar situated on the first floor of the Hotel Monaco, became the de facto Ground Zero for such soirees. On Sunday evening a casual, pass-the-word party gathered and a spontaneous wall-sit competition erupted in an adjacent hallway. Yeah, you’d think all were likely bored but we hear the event was loud and fun. And to think nobody even was treating for the beverages – unheard of among a gathering of media folk. Backpacker associate editor Shannon Davis won the men’s wall-sitting sit-off, lasting a full five minutes we hear, while the women’s winner was Kristin Hostetter, Backpacker’s gear editor, lasting about three minutes – apparently, the Backpacker crew are wall-sitting pros. But, wall-sit aside, the bar became a Who’s Who for the industry, with folks from Backpacker, Mountain Gazette, Rock & Ice, The North Face, Sierra Designs, and Teva mixing, noshing, and making merry.
And what would the show be without some wacky merry-making memories?