The first-ever FairWell Festival took over the Deschutes County Fairgrounds over the weekend with some eye-popping attendance numbers. Organizers report more than 60,000 people took part in the three-day event.
Fairgrounds Director Geoff Hinds said the collaboration between the grounds and the organizers was crucial to manage the flow of pedestrian and vehicle traffic.
“The opportunity to be involved in the first one is a huge learning experience,” he said. “With 30,000 people exiting the fairgrounds almost at one time, it was an impact we hadn’t seen before and had to make some adjustments on the fly to try to improve the expediency of getting people out.”
Hinds admitted the experience wasn’t perfect, but he was proud of the event his facility and team hosted.
“Overall, 60,000 -plus people coming, having a tremendous experience with the visitation numbers that we’re looking at,” he said. “It’s well over a $20 million economic impact just from this weekend alone.”
Local restaurants said they felt that impact firsthand. Emmanuel Medina works at Xalisco Latin Cuisine, his father owns the restaurant, located around the corner from the fairgrounds entrance. He says the increased traffic led to a hectic weekend.
“It gets tough, but we try to do as much as we can and try to get the food out,” he said. “It’s hard, but it’s worth it.”
Medina added that many festival-goers streamed in for food or just a bathroom.
“It was insanely packed. Cars everywhere and cars parked, parked on the sidewalk or the side road,” he said. “A lot of people trying to use the restroom, that’s what we had to put a sign up.”
“It was a different experience that we have not experienced in central Oregon, something new, but very cool.”
The fairgrounds had previously never held a music festival of this size and Hinds says this past weekend proves Central Oregon can support this festival and others of its size. He says his team is at the table, if FairWell wants to return.
“I believe they had a fantastic first year experience,” Hinds said of FairWell. “We’re certainly open to having that conversation and that’s the decision they need to make.”
The fairgrounds are now finishing clean-up and are resetting the facility for the Deschutes County Fair and Rodeo next week.