By Nick Eustis
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
Craft beer is an industry that has seen tremendous growth in America in the past ten years, with over $27 billion in sales in 2018. But when it comes to who reaps the rewards, one group overwhelmingly benefits. According to the Brewer’s Association, over 76 percent of those who work in the craft beer industry are white.
The lack of black representation in craft beer drove Day Bracey, Ed Bailey, and Mike Potter to found Fresh Fest in 2018, the nation’s first beer festival focused on black-owned breweries. The idea was a hit, with 1200 attendees in 2018, and over 3,000 attending the next year. The festival received national attention, even becoming the subject of a short documentary, called “A Fresh Perspective.”
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Day Bracey and his team to rethink Fresh Fest 2020, scheduled to take place August 8, and determine how to give people what they love about the festival safely.
“Some really love beer, some really just love black people and opportunity, some like the educational aspect of it, some just like the music, some people love the food,” said Bracey. “We wanted to incorporate all of that into it…at a high quality.”
Bracey and his team ultimately created Fresh Fest DigiFest, developing an app through which ticket holders can navigate the virtual festival. With their $10 ticket, attendees will get access to six YouTube channels which will broadcast content from musicians, artists, brewers and more throughout the day of the festival. The app contains the schedule for these events, as well as a directory of black-owned breweries nationwide, virtual taprooms so guests can interact with each other, and information on special beer collaborations.
“We have an app for the festival that makes everything make sense,” said Bracey. “We didn’t want to make it all about the beer, and we didn’t want it to be twelve hours of people talking over a Zoom call.”
Much of the festival will take place virtually, but Fresh Fest 2020 will also feature live performances from local musicians, including Brittney Chantele and Byron Nash, at venues throughout the Allentown neighborhood. Audience capacity will be capped and social distancing maintained.
“The only people that will be in person in Allentown are the acts,” said Bracey.
Bracey emphasized how important it was to him that the artists featured are properly compensated for their work, considering the substantial impact COVID-19 has had on live music.
“I think it’s important that artists get paid to work. I think it’s important that our sponsors and the people supporting this festival know they’re money and support is going to these artists in a very difficult time,” said Bracey.
This dramatic shift to a digital festival was a massive adjustment for Bracey, forcing him to think differently about how to organize.
“We went from event planners to TV producers,” said Bracey. “With this, we’re worried about how we can bring in professionals to film an event without anyone touching a virus. It’s different.”
Moving digital also necessitated a complete rethinking of the guest experience.
“We have to plan how they’ll move about a virtual space, and also how we relay the information needed to successfully navigate that virtual space,” said Bracey.
Having a digital beer festival also means figuring out a way for guests to enjoy beer from home. To that end, several black-owned breweries partnered to create special collaborative beers for the event. These collabs are sold in eight packs at select pickup locations in the greater Pittsburgh area, as well as online via the Tavour app.
“We’re hoping that people will get the beer, invite some people over and have these COVID-friendly gatherings,” said Bracey.
For tickets and more information: https://freshfestdigifest.com/tickets