ATLANTA –The first Mystic South conference may be remembered as a time when Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists came together to put their collective best foot forward. It may be remembered as the year when the hotel lost all running water, and its staff had to go far beyond the normal call of duty to keep the environment safe and comfortable for guests. It may even be remembered as the conference with the free ice cream.
The conference ran July 21-23, and attendance topped out at about 250 people. That was confirmed by Star Bustamonte, the self-described “chief bottle-washer and lightning bug herder” for the conference, which was her way of saying that she was in charge.
According to hotel management, water was shut off by 9:00 the morning of July 22 because the pipe leading from the water main had unexpectedly broken. Water is not only needed for cooking, washing, and waste removal, it is also required to run the hotel’s air conditioning.
“The system that they use to cool the hotel is a water-cooled system,” explained Bustamonte,”so when they lost the water they also lost the air conditioning. If you ever wanted to go to the sauna that’s right at the gates of hell, it’s been not quite that bad but it’s close.”
Bustamonte recalled that she got a steady stream of information as problems developed. “Somewhere between 9 and 10 a.m. [our hotel representative] came to us and said, there were some water problems and the water was going to be turned off so they could figure out what it was so they could fix it and it wouldn’t be more than a couple of hours.”
About an hour after that she came back and said now the whole hotel is going to be completely without water and then a little bit after that they realized it was actually the water main,” continued Bustamonte. “Which meant that it was on the city to find it and fix it. They weren’t sure what that was going to mean.”
Nashville resident Lori Newbury was a volunteer at the convention. “It was about 10:15 we looked at each other and said, why’s it so humid in here? That’s when we noticed the air was out,” she said. A veteran of many conventions, she said that this particular problem was a first for her.By 2 p.m., the temperature inside the hotel had risen to 80 degrees in places, but it was even hotter outside. Hotel staff members were completely forthcoming about the issue. Wild Hunt editor Heather Greene is the Mystic South hotel liaison, and she was updated hourly by her contact as the day unfolded.
From nearly the beginning, the hotel management was forthcoming with Greene about all the ways the situation could unfold, including the possibility of a full shutdown. They brought in Gatorade, bottled water, ice cream, port-a-potties, and offered to waive room charges for that night.
That afternoon, Bustamonte praised efforts made by hotel employees. “I want to be clear that the hotel has gone out of their way to make sure that we’ve been accommodated for the conference.”
“I mean they put fans in the rooms, they’ve been giving out free water, they brought in port-a-potties but it doesn’t look like they’re going to need them because they’re going to be coming back online. In a terrible situation they’ve done really well.”
Oreon Millard, who traveled to the conference from Tennessee, was impressed by the efforts made to provide for guests’ comfort, observing that “they have poor staff flushing the toilets with buckets.”
As it turned out the porta potties were in fact needed as the water woes continued into the late afternoon and dinner hour.Despite the hotel’s concerted efforts to provide for the guests, it wasn’t enough to satisfy everyone.
In addition to the Mystic South conference, the Crowne Plaza Ravinia was hosting four large family reunions, another smaller corporate gathering, and other individual guests. At least two of those reunions each had more guests at the hotel than Mystic South; Bustamonte said one was twice as large. The hotel was filled to capacity.
In the late afternoon, Dunwoody police had to be called when one hotel guest, who was not a Mystic South attendee, pounded on the manager’s office door demanding staff members come out; the individual was described as “irate.”
“Most people have been okay [but] there’s been a lot of complaining,” said Mystic South volunteer Caterina O’Sullivan. “A lot of guests were out on bus tours and when they came back that’s when problems started.”
“Our group has really handled this well. Pagans are used to these conditions from camping. People are used to the heat.”
Newbury said, “After watching a lot of complaints from other guests,I’m really happy to say the Pagans have sort of persevered.”
Bustamonte was pleased with how conference guests bore up under the difficult conditions. “Mystic South and all of its attendees have been pretty good and calm, this has become sort of like five-star glamping.”The first fix for the broken pipe was itself a bust, and plumbers had to wait for parts to be delivered to give it another shot. That time they were successful, and both air conditioning and water were up and running again by 8 p.m. that night.
Guests went scrambling to their rooms for showers and rest. Then, Mystic South closed out the day on schedule with a ritual offered by local priestess Lady Magdalena and a Tuatha Dea concert.
By early morning, however, Mystic South’s hotel representative advised organizers that another pipe needed to be repaired, and that closing down the hotel would be required. However, the general manager agreed to hold off on the shutdown long enough for Mystic South to conclude its programming, timing the process to coordinate with the conference’s scheduled 4:00 p.m. end.
The final ritual was performed by John Beckett, Cynthia Talbot, Heather Campbell, and Jason and Ari Mankey. Beckett, who wrote the ritual script, sat down Saturday afternoon to pen some poignant additions:
“Yesterday we saw people doing what had to be done,” he said. “We moved some presentations, we gathered around the fans, we put up with the heat. The hotel brought in port-a-potties and bottled water and ice cream.”
Referencing the role of hospitality in the ancient world and much of modern Paganism, he noted, “we never forgot who we are and why we’re here. All the presentations went on. All the rituals went on. All those wonderful hallway conversations went on. This has been an awesome conference and I’m so glad I was here. . . . Things like yesterday are going to keep happening. And when they do, remember yesterday, and how we all responded. Do what must be done. Take care of each other. And never, ever forget who you are, and why you’re here, and what’s really important.”
Despite a situation that was covered by local news reporters, Bustamonte gave the conference high marks. “For a first year event I think it’s gone really, really well. I won’t say there haven’t been a few misfires and some things that could have gone better, but overall, I have to plug the staff, which is all volunteer, nobody gets paid have done an extraordinary job.”
She singled out Greene for liaising with hotel employees and managing technology, Marla Roberson for coordinating workshops, Ryan Denison for his efforts developing the academic track, and vendor coordinator Gypsey Teague.
“We couldn’t have done it without these people, she said.
The few Mystic South Guests who intended to stay over Sunday night were provided with complimentary rooms at other hotels. The Crowne Plaza Ravinia was shut down behind them as they departed, with high hopes that the problem would be fixed for good.
Bustamonte said that, after a short rest, the organizers will be planning for Mystic South 2018. The group thanked all the attendees, performers, vendors, presenters, and the hotel for persevering and for making the conference “a memorable, inspirational, and successful event.”
[Editor’s note: Columnist Nathan Hall, who was in attendance at the hotel, contributed to the writing of this article.]