What was supposed to be Cherry Weekend’s triumphant return to DC after a two-year delay due to the ongoing global pandemic turned out to be a fiasco that upset hundreds of revelers and demanded refunds.
20 popular DJs were scheduled to play eight events during the four-day circuit party produced by the Cherry Fund which raises money for HIV and AIDS as well as mental health services. Partygoers from across the country traveled to Washington DC to catch the dance party after years of planning and found what some compared to the infamous Fyre Festival.
The problems for this weekend’s events began when the sold-out EVOLUTION event, scheduled for early Saturday morning, was abruptly canceled just hours before doors opened.
On Friday morning, DC’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulatory Administration (ABRA) officially denied an after-hours permit for decades, the venue, according to a person familiar with Cherry DC’s planning who asked to remain anonymous. due to continued work with the organization.
the lawyer contacted an ABRA spokesperson but did not hear back.
Problems for the all-volunteer organization were compounded on Saturday night when the main event, FLAWLESS, was oversold and the venue refused to allow people in after reaching its capacity of 1,200.
Ticket prices for Cherry Weekend ranged from $25 for a single event to $369 for a VIP weekend pass.
Adult film actor Derek Bolt, who lives in DC, said he planned to attend FLAWLESS like he did before in 2019, and spent $62 on a pass, but he didn’t. never got there.
“I arrived at the venue a little before 11:30 p.m. in a large queue and was told I had to wait in a different line to turn my ticket into a wristband to queue to get in,” Bolt wrote. in a text to the lawyer.
“The line didn’t really seem to move for a while, and we started hearing rumors that the event was full. After a while the line started to narrow, but it was obvious that it was due to a combination of people leaving and the crowd pressing around the door. There were no real lines, and no dividers to keep the lines orderly. Security, apparently by Howard Theater, was extremely hostile, but also didn’t do anything to control the crowd. They sometimes sent the police (the LGBT Liaison Unit) to push the crowd out of the gate.”
In a published video On Facebook and Twitter, a DC Metropolitan Police officer from the LGBTQ Liaison Unit asks cold, upset partygoers waiting to be admitted to the venue to disperse.
“They’re at full capacity,” the officer said. “I’ll tell the person you bought tickets with…the vendors, the Cherry Fund.”
In an emailed statement, Metro PD spokeswoman Kristen Metzger said the lawyer that Howard Theater staff informed officers on site that the venue was packed, resulting in patrons queuing to be asked to leave.
the lawyer contacted The Howard for comment on its security procedures, but did not hear back by post.
“MPD’s LGBTQ Liaison members were already tending to the Cherry Fund event as part of their community engagement efforts over the weekend,” Metzger said. “While engaging patrons outside of the Howard Theater for this event, they were advised by the Howard Theater that the event was at capacity. To ensure the safety and security of all patrons, members of the MPD informed customers that the event was at capacity.”
She added: “I understand that customers who were waiting outside were finally admitted to the event.”
Luis Vargas traveled to DC from Chicago with the intention of attending Saturday night’s event, but never made it inside. The TV advertising strategist says he and a friend arrived at the Howard around 11:20 p.m. and discovered several long lines at the entrance which he described as disorganized.
He says staff implemented a “one-in, one-out” policy about ten minutes after he went in line, likely because the room was already almost full.
Bolt, 30, says that around 12:20 a.m. the queue had thinned to the point that he heard security personnel say that only people with VIP tickets would enter The Howard on a one-in-one basis. a.
“I called for my ride at the time because I had a standard ticket,” he wrote. “While I was waiting, they sent the police away and told them to disperse the crowd completely, saying the venue was closed.”
Bolt says when it was time to leave, security came back and formed a small queue for those who remained, regardless of ticket type, but he was on top.
“It was already too late in my mind, and the people hadn’t left anyway… I was also frozen from being out for over an hour,” he wrote.
As people grew restless, organizers posted a message on social media apologizing to patrons and blaming the venue for the problems. On her Instagram page, Cherry DC released a statement but blocked followers from commenting.
“We are extremely upset that our relationship with the Howard Theater has deteriorated with capacity restrictions,” they wrote. “We were given maximum capacity when we signed the contract and now the venue has decided not to fulfill its obligation to us.”
Some who got inside said they had a great time, including artists like CT Hedden.
“I think people are forgetting that this is the first time big weekend events have happened since the pandemic,” wrote Hedden, who hosted the event and is in its fourth year. as an interpreter. the lawyer in a message. “Problems arise, things happen. After 25 years of success [one hiccup alone] it’s nothing. Especially after being unable to produce events for the past two years. People need to relax. »
Video and photos from later that evening sent to the lawyer show what appears to be a completely overwhelmed locker room area, with dozens of people crammed into a tight space with no lines. Reports said the area was understaffed and some waited over an hour to collect their belongings, if at all – some abandoned their belongings altogether because of the wait.
On Sunday afternoon, organizers posted a message on Facebook, not responding to the call for refunds, but telling people how to retrieve their abandoned belongings.
“Dear Customers, for those of you who left personal items during last night’s locker room, these items can be picked up today at Ferocity at Soundcheck and tonight at Pose at Ultrabar,” they wrote. “We are sorry for another inconvenience we have caused you. Last night’s venue had management and staffing issues which proved difficult for you as a guest attending our weekend. We know that you are upset and frustrated, again we are sorry.”
Bolt says Cherry’s lack of communication and transparency are serious shortcomings that executives need to address.
“Cherry needs to be transparent about what went wrong and how they’re going to fix it if they plan to run the event again in the future,” he said. “There are many people who have traveled hundreds of miles and spent a lot of money to come to this event. Even if they get a refund for their ticket, they are still missing both a weekend and all their travel expenses. If Cherry wants to be able to bring in people from out of town again, they need to be able to credibly promise that they can count on the validity of their tickets.”
For his part, Vargas, 26, who says he spent around $600 on flights, accommodation and event tickets, tried to get Cherry DC’s refund questions answered through the band’s Instagram account and documented his interaction in a Twitter thread.
Vargas says he blames the blame for his ruined weekend on the organizers at Cherry Fund DC and criticizes the organization’s lack of communication and transparency.
“I personally think it was incompetence on Cherry’s part as an organization,” he said. “Their immediate response in our one-on-one conversation was to point fingers at the location for their ‘sudden’ capacity limitation.”
Angry customers flooded Cherry’s social media pages, demanding refunds and slamming the organization for the event’s perceived mishandling and lack of transparency.
It is currently unclear if the organization will issue refunds. Current ticket sales conditions state that all sales are final and no refunds will be made.
“If no refund, I am filing a fraudulent claim on all my tickets,” David Laylay wrote on Cherry DC’s Facebook page. “The first time and the last time I do Cherry, for sure!”
Bolt says he’s not waiting for Cherry to handle refunds. “I have already contacted my credit card company to dispute the ticket price,” he said. “I will not pay for a ticket for an event that I was unable to attend.”
Cherry Fund Chairman Allen Sexton said in a text message conversation with the lawyer that he was not ready to comment on this story.
“Cherry will release her statement once our weekend is over,” Sexton said in response to multiple questions regarding the weekend’s incidents.
According to the organization’s website, The Cherry Fund, which organizes Cherry Weekend, is an all-volunteer 501(c)3 run that raises money for nonprofits serving LGBTQ+ people. They have given over $1.3 million to various grants over 25 years.