Music festival financial service AWOP is supposed to solve queues, but it's causing chaos all of its own, writes Chris Schulz.

My year started down at Silo Park, where Tom Scott ripped through a fiery set, Ladi6 serenaded my daughter to sleep, and a huge fireworks display lit up the Sky Tower at midnight.

It was at New Year's festival Wondergarden that I first saw it: the tent staffed by people who demanded I spend money so I that I could spend my money.

The queues for it stretched across the festival site and into the playground. I slunk over and joined them, paid a $4 fee for a temporary credit card, and went and enjoyed the food trucks and bars dotted around Wondergarden's sunny site.


I loved the festival, but at the end of the night, I was left with a bad taste in my mouth. I had to get back in that queue and return my card so I could get my unspent money refunded.

They passed me $14 in cold, hard coins.

A young fan enjoys Wondergarden at Silo Park.
A young fan enjoys Wondergarden at Silo Park.

Four days later, I spent my afternoon cooling down in Mount Maunganui's huge swells before making my way to New Zealand's biggest music festival, Bay Dreams, just down the road.

I had to go: the line-up was a rap fan's dream, including Joey Bada$$, Sheck Wes and last year's biggest artist Cardi B. She's shaping up to be this year's biggest too.

I also got to the see a surprise set from Scribe, who bellowed, "I'm fresh out of prison, what's good?" to kick things off. Two songs later, he threw an orange prison jumpsuit into the crowd. Worth the entry price alone.

But there it was again, ready to ruin my day: the tent with the bright orange signage that demanded I spend money before I could spend any money.

This time, credit cards had been replaced by a colourful wrist band. They wanted $5 for that, and another $4 to load money onto it.

Having learnt my lesson at Wondergarden, I said no. Instead of queuing at that tent, I went and watched music, chatted to fans, caught up with friends, and enjoyed myself.

Food? That could wait till later. Maybe I'm a cheapskate, but I felt like I was giving something that didn't work a silent one-finger salute.

Crowds soak up the sights and sounds of Bay Dreams in Mount Maunganui.
Crowds soak up the sights and sounds of Bay Dreams in Mount Maunganui.

Then came Marlon Williams on Saturday night. What a venue. What a singer. What a night. As soon as he arrived and launched into Come To Me, his soaring voice combining with a swelling orchestra, I felt a lump in my throat that stayed there for the whole show.

An hour earlier, there was a different kind of lump in my throat. Yep, there it was again, the tent containing AWOP, the "cashless system" that's been having a very busy summer at events ranging from Rhythm & Vines and Northern Bass to Taste and Beervana.

Once again, I don't like it, so I refused to use it.

But a lot of people did. How did they get on?

his service is designed to speed up transactions and solve queues. "When you're running a bar with cash or with Eftpos, it's a very slow way to transact," he says. "You end up spending more time messing around and trying to actually do the transaction than serving the drinks."

He says they're trying to let you see more of the event you're there to attend. But it's not working. At the three events I've seen that used AWOP this year, the worst queues at two of them were for AWOP. At Marlon Williams, the worst queues were at the bar, and AWOP has taken responsibility for that too.

"We try hard to make your event experiences as seamless as possible and hoped to speed up the bar for you so you got to spend more time at the event," an email sent to punters the day after reportedly said. "We understand this was a big change and as a gesture of our apology we will refund your $3 top up fee with your refund."

Three bucks? Big woop. At this point, it has to be asked, what is the point of AWOP? It seems entirely pointless, as useless as a leaf blower. Firstly, when I arrive at a music event, the first thing I want to do isn't math. Maybe I'll have two beers, maybe I'll have six. I don't know how much I'll spend, but I sure as hell don't want to be charged for the right to do so, or face lengthy queues every time I run out of credit.

Secondly, we already have a cashless system. It's called payWave. I use it all the time. So does everyone else. At Laneway this year, blessedly an entirely AWOP-free zone, I rocked around using my actual credit card for drinks and food, and the only queues I faced were around 6pm, which were totally expected at the festival's peak.

It worked great, every single time. So why don't we all tell AWOP to wop off and just use that instead?