I’m back from the first day of the Expo at the Third USA Science and Engineering Festival. It’s a massive event, held (for the second time) at the Washington D.C. Convention Center. I can easily see it meeting, if not exceeding, half a million attendees over the three days (Friday was just for students).
My issue is with the Festival’s inability to manage its crowds. I expected, perhaps unrealistically, that the Festival would have learned from the overflow crowds in 2012 for Bill Nye and MythBusters Jamie and Adam. It did not.
The stakes were raised for this Festival in terms of big name guests. Bill Nye was back, and joining him during Saturday were Mike Rowe and They Might Be Giant (for two sets). While there were more seats on the stage where these people appeared, once again it wasn’t enough. Arguably, it was worse than in 2012, as people were effectively stuck in aisles in between performers, and the paths around nearby exhibits were choked with overflow from the Bell Stage.Thankfully, the problem seemed to be limited to the main event stage and the immediate surroundings. It was much easier to navigate the Festival once you were past the throng. I did not check the Curie stage today, but will be able to tomorrow. The Einstein stage also lacked for seats when I went to see the second appearance by Bill Nye today. However, the overflow did not impinge on the ability to visit other exhibits, nor did it freeze people in place for lack of room.
I can’t quite figure out what went wrong. Was there so much staff turnover that there weren’t people staffing this year’s event that remembered the problems from 2012? I have a hard time believing that once again event organizers could not realistically predict the crowds that science and technology stars like Bill Nye, Mike Rowe and They Might Be Giants would draw. Maybe this could be better managed if one of the halls is dedicated to performance spaces. It could make transitions between acts a bit easier, and allow for more effective crowd management.
Please don’t misunderstand. I enjoy going to the Festival. But this kind of thing gets me frustrated. And I saw several young children that were at least as frustrated as I was. Some drawbacks of big festivals (long lines, questionable concessions) are hard to avoid, but large crowds don’t have to be.