Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison didn't show up -- because they're dead. And you had to be dead not to come away from "Wetstock" invigorated in the art of hydronic heating.
Some 200 hydronic heating aficionados gathered in Marlboro, Mass., on Sat., Nov. 23, to discuss their craft and their business. Most were contractors, but included among them was a sprinkling of wholesalers, reps and manufacturers. But they were all "wetheads," to use the term coined by Wetstock's sponsor.
The brainstorming festival was conceived and organized -- if that's the right term -- by hydronic heating guru Dan Holohan. Attendees came from as far away as Seattle. Many of them had never met before, but most knew one another from "The Wall," the vigorous hydronic heating message board that is part of Holohan's Web site at www.heatinghelp.com. In fact, some said their main motive in attending was to put faces on friendships forged on The Wall.
Characterizing this event gives Roget's Thesaurus a workout. One could use the terms conference, convention, meeting, confab or so many other technically correct but still misleading synonyms. Holohan tends to describe it as a "Gathering of Wetheads," or the shorthand version "Wetstock." Like the fabled rock music festival at Woodstock, it featured the biggest names in the business, yet was more a cultural pilgrimage than anything to do with business. Also as with Woodstock, the audience was the star of the show.
They gathered in a big hotel room filled with 20 round tables marked by different subject matter encompassing technical, marketing, technician recruitment and training, and other broad topics. Discussions typically meandered around. Holohan encouraged people to move to different tables throughout the day, and that they did. Impromptu discussions frequently arose among people who encountered one another while moving from table to table.
A herd instinct came into play as well. For a large part of the afternoon a continuously morphing crowd of some 30-40 wetheads were gathered two standing rows deep around a table where an animated discussion took place over a wide ranging topic that dealt with sales, marketing and professionalism. Acoustics in the room were not good, and those of us who were eavesdropping from even the first standing row couldn't make out much of what was being said. Nonetheless, people hung around basking in the energy as much as the information.
"This was an event you wanted to last forever," said Paul Pollets. "There were serious -- and I do mean serious -- conversations on every possible aspect of hot water heating, steam or radiant."
"The information that was available for eight hours in that room was unbelievable," said Mike Kraft. "It was overwhelming and humbling."
"Wow, what a time! It was great to finally meet all the people I've gotten to know over the years through cyberspace, put faces to the names, and shake the hands of all the people that have helped me learn so much over the years," commented Mark Walnicki.
Admission to Wetstock cost a $100 registration fee, plus travel expenses. I spoke to scores of attendees and did not run across a single individual who didn't feel it money well spent. A couple of individuals wished aloud for a little more structure to the event, but everyone realized the experimental nature of this gathering and were happy to be there.
Hearts were opened as well as minds. A raffle and silent auction held at Wetstock generated more than $3,100 to Rachel's Table, a charity in nearby Worcester, Mass. that feeds needy people. Winner of the $1,000 raffle grand prize was Massachusetts wholesaler Bill Curry of Country Supply, who donated his entire prize to the charity.
Another Wetstock is being put together for the Chicago area in mid-March. Holohan and this magazine will provide details when available.