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Young Guns - Blaze
Ballahpalooza combined Northwest paintball and hip hop music in Hillsboro, Oregon. The Northwestern US has produced a number of pro players for Ironmen, Avalanche, Lockout, Bob Long's Ironmen, and some top amateur teams including Naughty Dogs, Exile, Cartel and others. Seattle Washington and Portland Oregon have long been the sites of major tournaments in the Pan Am and GWS tournament series.
In the fall of 2001 Christian Hammer, and Jason "Muggzy" Mitchell both serving as captains of squads for team 24/7 started talking about things they could do to raise money for the team while increasing paintball's exposure in the area. Exile and Cartel had both been running tournaments that have done very well for their teams, and been great competition for area teams. When they talked about the concept with Richie Bristol, the captain of 24/7's other squad the idea for Ballahpalooza came together. Bristol produces raves and hip hop concerts, and the three realized they could do something that was new on the west coast. The trio formed Paintfeenz, to produce Ballahpalooza.
As the trio began working out the details of the event, they got in touch with Dan Bonebrake. Bonebrake is one of the promoters of the Pan Am circuit and well experienced with both tournament production and the network of paintball teams and businesses in the region.
"We've gone through so much to do this," says Paintfeenz' Christian Hammer. "Through the whole thing Dan [Bonebrake] really encouraged us. That was a great help."
Putting together a tournament for the first time is no small task, but adding a music festival to that makes an even greater undertaking. In this case many roadblocks popped up along the way. "I've been involved in running a lot of businesses," Hammer said. "And if you want to succeed you need to not freak out when there is a problem. You look at it and figure out a way around it or just bust right on through it."
The early steps were raising capital. That came from sponsors and investors. Paintfeenz put together a sponsorship presentation that was more than simply asking for products or dollars. It outlined the demographics of paintball players - how old they typically are, how many there are playing in the US, and the fact that since they can afford to play paintball they have disposable income. For many companies paintballers are an ideal target market. Paintfeenz made presentations to a number of companies including Carnival Cruises, Nike, Nextel and Jolly Rancher.
All of the companies were initially excited. Most had been approached about paintball event sponsorship before, but none had been given a complete marketing outline. Jolly Rancher was specifically interested in having bunkers made up to look like their candies. With a strong response Mitchell, Hammer and Bristol thought things were looking good. As with any business venture these sponsors did their due diligence, that is they investigated their potential investment. Jolly Rancher, Nike and Nextel came back to Paintfeenz with a "no" answer. All three cited their research of internet message forums filled with "smack" and players degrading each other, each other's teams and paintball tournaments as evidence that the sport was too fractured and unprofessional for them to risk associating their names with. According to Hammer, "They said there's not enough self policing - it looks negative."
Fortunately Carnival Cruises stayed aboard, providing seven day cruises for the amateur winners, five day cruises for the rookie and novice winners, and three day cruises for the rookie, young guns and women's winners. That alone made for a unique prize package. RockStar energy drink also came aboard as a sponsor, supplying their high fructose energy drink to teams at the field and the referees.
One of the first bands secured by contract for the music side of things was Everclear, promising a good lineup of modern rock acts. With holes in the budget left by unobtained sponsors, Paintfeenz looked for investors willing to take a risk on an event that would at best break even, but lay the groundwork for profit in the following years (as is typically the case with both paintball tournaments and music festivals).
The first investor found was very excited about the concept, and signed contracts. Unfortunately, on April third, two days before he was to deliver the first check to Paintfeenz, his life was unexpectedly cut short by a heart attack. "We had the contracts, but we just didn't feel right bothering his widow about the money," said Hammer, so the search for funding continued. In the meantime deposit deadlines came and went for band contracts. This included the deposit for Everclear, and they ended up passing on Ballahpalooza for a larger event.
By this time online promotion and flyers inserted in paint sold in in the area had already begun, so it was too late for Paintfeenz to bail out. "We just had to figure a way around it," Hammer said. A second investor was found who put up more of the money needed to get the event moving forward, but ended up becoming too tied up in other things to follow through. "The third time was a charm," Christian said. "Muggzy's mom came on board as our third investor to carry us through, and she was better than we could have imagined. Obviously she wants to see a return on her money, so she's willing to lend a hand and help make sure things go well. This really has been a surprise. Job layoffs in the northwest hit several of us, so we're putting our all into this even financing things on credit cards."
Scheduling the festival turned out to be more difficult than expected. On days that key bands were available the fairgrounds weren't. One ideal date had to be passed on because the fairgrounds were booked with two weddings and an Amish furniture show. The final date was tight for paintballers because it was the week after the Diablo International Amateur Open and the week before the NPPL Atlantic City Open.
"It actually turned out to be ideal," said Christian. "We ended up being the same weekend as the Rose Festival airshow. We're right across the street, and the parking for the airshow is here at the fairgrounds. For about the same price as going to the airshow people can come to Ballahpalooza and hear music, watch paintball, still see most of the airshow and come to the beer garden." Even the beer garden had its pitfalls. The Airshow decided to drop their beer garden for 2002 so Paintfeenz saw this as an ace in the hole. Barely a week before the event the caterer that would be bringing and serving the beer called up, explaining that even though they had contracted to work the event they were pulling out. It seems they thought it was a ping pong tournament, and were concerned that their insurance would not cover them. Fortunately a new caterer was found which could provide beer on site. Colored wrist bands needed to enter the fields were used to ensure that competitors in the paintball tournament were not served beer until they were done playing for the day.
With a publicity budget being less than anticipated, the number of teams signing up (and thus entry fees) were fewer than expected as well. Paintfeenz made a choice to change the prize packages. This was something that drew some heavy criticism in online message forums. According to Hammer the prize packages are all of the same dollar value as originally advertised, they simply changed some of the paintguns in the second third and fourth place prize positions to consumer electronics that they were able to get at lower cost, thanks to support offered by a local distributor. "It's all the same value," said Hammer "and the first place prizes, the cruises weren't changed at all."
On the music side of things there were a number of Portland area bands willing to sign on. The Portland Music Project, a local cable access music show that is preparing to launch its own label featuring regional artists assisted. Their camera crews were on-scene shooting video for the official Ballahpalooza videotape as well as for their show. The headline act for the music stage was rapper Sir Mix-A-Lot, well known for his song Baby Got Back which recently appeared in the soundtrack for the film Charlie's Angels.
Even field set up proved troublesome. On the Wednesday before the tournament, the rented scissor lift needed to set up netting broke down. The rental company helped out by providing two on Thursday but the delay meant that work crews went on into the night setting up fields. A planned field in a rodeo arena for the women's division and the finals was canceled when a rodeo shortly before led to the arena floor being tilled into a dusty clod filled surface that would not have worked for paintball.
Fortunately for those attending Ballahpalooza the Paintfeenz crew didn't give up their vision despite every curveball thrown at them. The event came together and the teams showed up to play, the vendors set up displays and DJs started spinning their vinyl. Paintball Junkies even sponsored in indoor field. A roofed concrete slab (a wall less shed normally used for showing animals at the fair) was draped around the sides with netting set up a compact, spectator friendly field. Ballahpalooza visitors who had never played paintball before were ably to try their hand at the sport on this field. Muggzy's wife Ally Mitchell and several of her girl friends worked in the heat of the day hauling netting and poles into place for the field assembly when some of the planned work crews weren't available. "We couldn't have done this without her," Muggzy said.
All of the games were scheduled onto four concept fields, which were surrounded by netting in two ten foot sections stacked to make a twenty foot barrier. With the fields visible from the highway running between the fairgrounds and airport, Ballahpalooza grabbed attention from local motorists. Local radio station Live 95.5 produced live remotes from the festival, including a Friday morning first ever paintball game for some of the station's DJs.
Preliminary rounds progressed through the day on Friday. While the games started about a half hour behind schedule, things ran smoothly. Serving as referees were members of the Ironmen, Naughty Dogs, Cartel and 24/7. Meanwhile the sounds of jet aircraft, radial engine biplanes, pylon racers and helicopters split the skies every so often, as planes arrived for the airshow or practiced routines. The weather, which had been a concern with highs over one hundred and four degrees the weekend before it mellowed into the 80s with an overcast morning and clear sunny afternoon skies making for picture perfect paintball weather.
Through the afternoon the tournament staff not only caught up the half hour delay, but actually got an hour and a half ahead of the schedule. The young guns teams played not only their prelims but their semifinal rounds as well late Friday afternoon. The preliminary rounds sorted the fourteen teams down to four finalists - Blaze, Precision Chaos, Insane and Ghosts. Blaze and Precision Chaos won their first two games, but Chaos dropped their second while Blaze played the finals undefeated to take home the first place trophy. Precision Chaos placed second, Insane placed third and Ghosts placed fourth.
Many teams opted to camp in RV's on site and while Muggzy and Hammer cleaned up the staging areas and fields they received numerous compliments on a well run event. Many left in search of dinner planning to return for the music later. Amongst the refs Yosh Rau and Brian Ravenel were talked into taking the milk challenge - drinking a gallon of milk in an hour. Neither succeeded and both paid the gastrointestinal price later that night.
As the sun sank lower in the sky the music got louder and louder in the amphitheater. DJ Dig Dug from USC spun the vinyl on his turntables followed by DJ Flatline and Sapphire, a fire dancer. Flatline stayed on stage longer than expected as the headline act for the night, Sir Mix A Lot was delayed in his arrival. When he did take to the stage the crowd was ready and got into the show. Unfortunately with the late start his set ran late. After about 45 minutes on stage, shortly before 11:00 pm as he was about to sing Baby Got Back, local police arrived announcing that a neighbor had complained about the noise (yes, this was someone living next to an airport and fairgrounds that complained) and that at 11:00 pm the sound would have to be below 50 decibels. "How much will the ticket be," Mix A Lot asked.
"Time served," replied the officer who was confronting him on stage. Mix A Lot chose not to tangle with the law and the show was drawn to a close, with the audience heading indoors to the rave in the exhibition building where noise levels would not be an issue.
Saturday morning the players and refs were back at the field for the 9:00 start. Soon after, the sounds of aircraft filled the skies. They began with the small whine of .40 and .60 radio controlled model airplane engines. Almost concurrent with the start of the women's division games was the sound of an F-15 C Eagle taking off on full afterburner, a thunderous roar that could not be ignored.
Games progressed on Saturday morning as trouble free as they had on Friday. The referees and field staff more than kept pace with the tournament schedule.
Friday's prelims had sorted through all of the amateur, rookie and novice teams setting them up for Saturday's finals games (there were no semifinal rounds). For the novices, with nine teams competing in a single division this meant that just over half the teams would be eliminated in this step. The top four went to the finals ranked as follows: Bounty Hunters, Maxit, Podbitch.com Factory and FRA. G&C Electric didn't make it to the finals but they did bring their tasty trademark G&C Electric cookies to spread around the staging area on Saturday.
The rookies had two divisions in the prelims with a total of 18 teams competing. The top two teams from each division advanced to the finals. Ranked first was Infectious Groove which went through the prelims undefeated. They were followed by Perfect Cell, Breakout and Team Maxit.
Six amateur teams were competing, and the top four went on to the finals - this sent Phantom Force and Shadow Factory home while STP, Cartel, Naughty Dogs Silver and Exile basically got a fresh start on their points in the finals.
The rookie finals saw Breakout and Maxit winning the first round. Infectious Groove and Perfect Cell won the second round but Breakout did manage a first pull on the flag giving them important points. The third round games were won by Perfect Cell and Breakout, giving the first place position to Breakout. Perfect Cell took second, Team Maxit third and Infectious Groove in fourth.
FRA and Podbitch.com Factory won the first round of finals for the novice teams. The two won the second round as well, and when they faced each other in the final game FRA got the first pull on the flag but the hang and win went to Podbitch.com Factory. PodBitch.com Factory took home first place with players coming from Naughty Dogs, Naughty Dogs Silver and Landslide. FRA came in second, Bounty Hunters in third and Maxit in fourth. FRA draws their name from their captain's profession, he is a fugitive recovery agent.
In the Amateur finals STP and Naughty Dogs Silver won the first round games. Dogs dropped their second with STP and Cartel winning that round. In the last round Naughty Dogs and Cartel won. STP took first place winning the 7 day Carnival Cruises, Naughty Dogs Silver took second, Cartel placed third, and Exile finished in fourth place.
The last games of the women's division finals were played in the late afternoon with a Navy F/A 18 pulling a high angle low speed pass almost over the field itself and then making simulated bombing runs over the airstrip with massive pyrotechnic displays on the ground.
The end of the games was not the end of Ballahpalooza. As with the set-up a lot of the northwest paintball community pitched in to help out. Following the last games, it was time for the awards ceremony dinner. Prizes were awarded along with a pizza dinner for the players.
Ballahpalooza took many unexpected turns
from concept to completion. The actual event was different than the
initial idea, and smaller than planned both in terms of teams and spectators.
With good fields, a heavy ref to player ratio and top quality refs, the
tournament ran well. Paintfeenz showed that they could run a good
paintball event and with a track record behind them, and lessons learned
so they know what too look out for, Ballahpalooza 2003 will be an event
to watch for.
Stay tuned to WARPIG.com, the web site that originated on-scene tournament coverage for photos, scores and news from BallahPaloozah 2002.
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