I had arrived downtown at the buzzing fairgrounds on the windy banks of Lake Michigan. It had been a long drive from Nashville in a car filled to bursting and clanging with all manner of tools, supplies and leather accessories made by hand. All the hours spent at my workbench, late hours, early hours, marathon stretches in the fever of the deadline, for this, Milwaukee Irish Fest. I had never been a vendor at an event like this before. In fact, with the exception of one tiny last minute local affair a few weeks prior, I had never been a vendor at all. Had I forgotten something? Was I missing anything I would need? I was about to find out!
How did I come to be a vendor at all? The story goes back quite far. To touch only on what is most relevant, I am very familiar with this event having attended as a fan when I was a child living in Chicago, and having then made music here as a performer years later. Many of the people are friends and I feel at home in a very real way. I remember looking forward to shopping at the festival and specifically finding some quality purchases in the past. Earlier this year, some of my friends who work to help manage and organize the vendor side of the festival asked me if I would like a booth to sell my bracelets. What better place to jump in and give it a shot? So, I counted out the remaining days on my calendar and started listing out everything I could think of... I made a goal of how many items I would try and make per day and what inventory I would stock based on the materials I had in my workshop.
The carving and leather making was coming along very well and I was excited. However, I came to find out there is more to being a vendor than simply showing up with something to sell. I had miles to go on presentation, how to put together a booth, how to streamline the processes of checking out and much more. I figured I would prepare the best I could for this one event and then learn from my experience before trying to jump in headlong to a vendor tour. (Spoiler alert: jumping headlong into a vendor tour is exactly what ended up happening!)
The whole business side of things almost brought me down at a couple points. One of my biggest faults as an artist is that all I want to be is an artist doing art - and not having to worry about the business, the numbers, the legal requirements, etc. But when your business is a one woman show, it’s all on you to make it happen. I put on my big-girl pants and had to learn about LLC formation, sales tax, permits, insurance, business licenses and more. Having made those steps, I’m encouraged by the ways that BardCraft will now be able to grow - big plans ahead!!!
So! Months of preparation culminated in the windy, beautifully sunny morning of August 18th, the first official set up of the BardCraft vendor booth. Doubts and nerves were quickly whisked away by the hustle and bustle of the place. I got to meet the neighboring craftspeople who would be selling various handwoven textiles and handmade baskets. More than one vendor was from Donegal, Ireland. Two particularly entertaining older gentlemen were in the tent behind me and over the weekend they challenged my supposed ability to understand the Donegal accent. They even got me to take out my fiddle and play them a tune at one point.
Once things were set up, the festival was off and away in a flurry of faces, transactions and interactions that made the hours go quickly. Each day I was overwhelmed with gratitude and encouragement from supportive family and friends that stopped by to say hello or get a little something to wear on stage. By the end of the weekend, more than a dozen or so of the performers had gotten a little piece of BardCraft. This perhaps warmed by heart the most.
I also have to give a huge shoutout to my sister, Julie, who drove up with me and helped with set up, selling and restocking over the event. She was such a pro! And she totally took it easy on me when I was making stuff up on the spot trying to figure out how things worked!
At the close of the festival I was delighted by how much more room there was in my car, delighted by the feedback and interest I had encountered, and it felt so good to have been at Milwaukee Irish Fest once again. Even though I couldn’t be in the front row cheering on my favorite bands the whole time, I got to hear so much of the music that inspired and shaped me as a musician as it floated by on that lovely breeze. And if carving and selling leather accessories by the sunny lakeside, while being surrounded and immersed in the sounds and culture of Milwaukee Irish Fest isn’t a good time, I don’t know what is.