Party Planning: Behind the Curtains of Organizing a Beer Festival
It’s a cool Thursday night in downtown Pleasanton. We are sitting street-side in McKay’s Beer Garden patio, with most of the space to ourselves as much of the action is taking place at the rear of the building. There are two reasons I find myself here tonight. The first and main reason happens to be the person I’m sharing a table with: a certain Jon Sylvester, event director and one of the founders behind the upcoming Livermore Valley Craft Beer Festival. The second reason I’m here is because it’s a good excuse to come back to McKay’s, which I have not visited in a while.
As Jon sips on a Bare Bottle’s Kiwi Not Included IPA, and I partake of my Free Kitten Lager, a Jasmine rice lager courtesy of Berryessa Brewing, I turn on my fancy Zoom H5 recorder… only to find out I put the wrong SIM card in. Resorting to ye ol’ phone recorder (and thanking the darkness to hide my embarrassment), I lean in to talk with Jon.
Jon, along with his partners at the Livermore Valley Craft Beer Foundation, are putting together the finishing touches on their fourth annual event, happening this May. As with their past three events, guests should expect great craft beer, fun live music, and some good memories.
What started out over four years ago as a “Hey, you know what would be great…” idea over some beers amongst friends quickly grew wings, and within six months of conception (and a very special thanks to the local Shriners group) their first festival was underway. Jon and company haven’t looked back since.
One constant throughout each event is their association with the local chapter of the Shriners: Since the first Livermore Valley Craft Beer Festival was held in 2015, they have raised over 100,000 dollars for the local chapter’s transportation fund. For Jon, it’s this giving-forward aspect of the festival that makes it worth his time — the Foundation volunteers their talents and time (the breweries who will be present at the event also donate their time and beer as well).
Their involvement with the Shriners was one of happenstance: As their first event got underway in 2015, the fledgling group needed a venue, and startup cash to help cover expenses. The Shriners assisted with both, loaning out their spacious Shrine Event Center in Livermore and providing some financial oversight to get the festival going. As they look to host their fourth Festival this year, the relationship has only deepened.
Working with the local group, the impact of these donations can be witnessed first-hand.
“I was talking to the Shriner guys there in Livermore,” said Jon. “He told us about a story where the proceeds from our second year’s festival funded a kid to fly Medevac from the Philippines to Sacramento. The kid had hot water spilled on him and was burnt over a huge percentage of his body. They paid to fly that kid which, expensive as it is, in Medevac, so full staff, all the way from the Philippines to Sacramento. And that kid lived.”
Currently, the Livermore Valley Craft Beer Foundation consists of president Mike Pitsker, who oversees overall directional leadership; vice president Joe Sundberg, in charge of vendor management, secretary Scott MacGill, who also handles marketing and graphics, treasurer Dave Fleser, and Jon, who serves as executive director and event director.
Why do Jon and the team keep going with the Foundation, putting in all the extra hours, and juggling all of the logistics that come with organizing these types of events?
“If it was $500, I would do it too. It’s about the heart. What keeps us going is when the people come out and turnout to support what we’re doing, and we have that money to give,” adds Jon. “I’m super proud of the team that we’ve put together and to see everybody just pick it up and just kill it, just do a great job, put everything in place, and catch the vision that we’ve pitched as a leading team and run with it.” — By Everard Strong
Livermore Valley Craft Beer Festival
Saturday, May 12 • 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Tickets at www.lvcbf.com