Crowd control causes issues at San Francisco’s Portola fest

The inaugural Portola Music Festival gathered thousands of San Franciscan electronic music fans on its first of two days this weekend, and while the party is a surefire bash, there are a few pro tips to know ahead of your visit so that your stay on Pier 80 is put to the fullest. 

Four stages scattered about a blacktop foundation (with a few inline train tracks to keep watch for), and while the grounds themselves were massive, you can still expect at times to feel like cattle herding as you maneuver from set to set. 

Similar to other music festivals where you’re a cog in a human glob, the tighter quarters at Portola at least offer gorgeous skyline views in a fun landscape. Pier 80 is a relic of San Francisco’s freight history, and there are iconic Bay Area cranes to view from its underbelly as well as a navy vessel docked off the side of the harbor. 

The industrial maritime aesthetic provides a unique ambiance for dancing and revelry, but there are still a few pointers that only a Portola veteran, who’s technically attended every single date so far, could share. 

Here are a few tips for best achieving a blossoming Portola.

Concertgoers dance at the Crane Tent during Fatboy Slim's performance at Portola Music Festival on Saturday. 

Concertgoers dance at the Crane Tent during Fatboy Slim’s performance at Portola Music Festival on Saturday. 

Charles Russo/SFGATE

Crowd control was an issue

Perhaps the largest stage of the festival, the Warehouse is a long, spacious steel cavern that comes alive in the evening during invigorating light shows. 

It’s also cumbersome to get into (and out) of the Warehouse. General admission requires dwellers to snake through a gated maze before entering. This led to chaos, such as when the hotly hyped London producer Fred Again stepped up to the decks on Saturday afternoon. Thousands of fans were waiting outside to enter, and their frustration inspired a full rush over the fences and up the walls. Like a scene out of a zombie movie, fans crawled over the barriers and hoisted one another up so they could get into the venue.

KPIX anchor Sara Donchey posted a video reportedly showing some in the crowd being crushed, although could not confirm any injuries.

Goldenvoice could not be reached for comment at the time of publication, but given the outcry on social media, expect additional security Sunday outside the space. 

To best avoid this mess, arrive earlier for sets inside the Warehouse. Give yourself enough time to get in and settled. And on the back end, the exits out of the Warehouse are few, which leads to a staggering departure. The Warehouse might be the only disco club where you could wait longer to get out of the venue than you did to get in. 

Plan for no phone service

Either it’s an oversight due to this being the festival’s first year or there’s a cellular black hole hovering above the south Dogpatch, but cell phone reception is extremely spotty. It’s difficult to send or receive texts, and there is no Wi-Fi available. Perhaps this is an unintended homage to the early days of 1990s renegade raves where communication was mum and connecting with friends was left to chance. Or Mercury is in the microwave or whatever. Let’s embrace spontaneity. 

At Portola, do not rely on using your phone to connect with friends once inside the festival. Instead, to find the people you’ll likely lose in the horde, establish a meetup spot somewhere that’s central but not confusing (“let’s meet near the port-a-potties” won’t cut it) and choose a designated area within each stage to reunite if separated. 

The silver lining for this digital delay is that once you leave the festival grounds, your phone will begin to buzz with belated correspondences that trigger memories and moments from throughout the day.

Charli XCX performs on the Warehouse Stage at Portola Music Festival on Saturday.

Charli XCX performs on the Warehouse Stage at Portola Music Festival on Saturday.

Charles Russo/SFGATE

BYO food

There are vendors selling a variety of festival grub lining the perimeters, but their wait lines were disastrous. Having to hold still for an hour just to load up on pricey fries or tacos as you hear a booming act off in the distance is no way to properly Portola. The VIP area wasn’t much better. A tiny taco stand efficiently cranked out orders like an episode of “The Bear,” but the wait for street tacos was still 30 minutes.

Beat the lines by packing snacks. You’ll need fuel for the long day, and the most effective way to ensure you’re nourished and not missing out is to pack a bar, a sandwich and snacks.

Layer up (duh)

Pier 80 may jettison into the bay and is located on some of the more eastward land in San Francisco, but it does not exclude the area from brisk evenings and chilly wind. 

During the day, the sun was out and the conditions justified tank tops and shorts. But by 7 p.m., the fog bank was visible way off in the distance by Sutro Tower and with it came our city’s iconic summer chill. The crowd under the tents and in the warehouse stag will protect you from the cold, but shivers abound once you step outside.

Even though it’s September and technically our delayed seasonal summer, pack layers. Always. 

Homeward bound

Arriving at Portola is easy with a Muni Metro train line taking you a block away from the entrance. But that’s because thousands of people are not arriving at the same time.

At the end of the night, it’s the wild west for finding your way out of the Dogpatch. Shuttles drop off at the designated Cow Palace parking lot and Balboa BART station, but if it’s not too late, give a taxi or black car service a call to schedule a ride somewhere near the venue (but not too close — plot the pickup at least five blocks away to give ample room).

And if you’re taking the Muni home, walk south a few blocks to catch the train before it arrives at the venue’s Marin Street stop so that you can board easily and perhaps find a chair. 

It’s been a long day on the Portola grounds and your feet — unless protected by orthopedically sound shoes — will need that blessed respite.

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