Although Santa Barbara’s third West Beach Music & Arts Festival went smoothly despite numerous obstacles courtesy of the Santa Barbara City Council, it didn’t draw the crowd or buzz that came with last year’s spectacle.
The festival moved a few hundred yards east to Chase Palm Park from West Beach, capping attendance at 8,500 per day (compared to 14,000), and was cut to two days from three. Sunny skies greeted music fans as they walked along the palm-laden grassy field that boasted three different stages that appeased different music tastes. But the two-day experience that featured reggae headliners UB40 and Rebelution, along with a healthy mix of hip-hop, rock and electronica performances, nearly didn’t come to fruition.
“I couldn’t believe the s*** the (Pemberton) twins had to go through to put this together,” Jacob Hemphill, lead singer and guitarist for the reggae band Soja, said of the organizers, Josh and Jeremy Pemberton.
“I’m glad they got to pull it off one more time, but it seems like the Santa Barbara City Council doesn’t appreciate it.”
The Pembertons, event coordinators and founders of Twiin Productions, had to jump through plenty of municipal hoops to organize this year’s festival. The twins said the event could bring in more than $100,000 for the city, but don’t expect to turn much of a profit due to $200,000 of insurance and facility fees that the city demanded. Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation Executive Director Nancy Rapp said the revenue may be closer to $20,000 due to decreased ticket sales. But there were less than 15 calls to the police and the event went smoothly, although protocols for larger crowds weren’t tested, she said.
“We still have a moratorium on large events until city can put better policies in place, but the fact that this event went forward through the appeals process (is impressive),” Rapp said. “It was a good opportunity to look at the requirements and whether to make that a permanent process.”
Whether it will be the last festival, Rapp said, is yet to be decided, but there were issues at last year’s event the city didn’t take kindly to. The Pembertons addressed countless noise complaints, vandalism, underage drinking, unruly crowds, forged parking permits and obscenity-laced performances by revoking re-entry passes, enacting a four-drink maximum, enforcing cleaner lyrics and curbing sound.
Rebelution played to thousands of its home crowd who packed the outskirts of the main stage (Bob’s Stage) to watch the popular Cali-reggae band jam amidst an array of green plants and promotional banners. The group had been headlining large venues throughout the country, and the smoky, gyrating Santa Barbara crowd met the slow, melodic beats with smiling faces. Lead singer EricRachmany said conservative city council members opposed the festival because they didn’t want to see “a big ass party with kids acting crazy,” which wasn’t the case.
“I’ve seen a lot of festivals and this is not a crazy festival, it’s under control, and the bands for the most part have a positive message that is perfect for the youth,” he said, adding this show was “a little extra fun” because it felt like a homecoming.
Hemphill, of Soja, agreed. His band, which played the 2010 festival to a close with a more blues-infused reggae sound, featured a saxophone and trumpet that kept the crowd swaying. Hemphill said he didn’t know if the festival would return to Santa Barbara next year, but he’s “crossing his fingers” because keeping the music from the youth would deprive a necessary form of culture.
“People come to this because they need this stuff in their lives,” he said. “At the root of reggae music is good things, but you got to make sure the branches look like the roots.”
In order to maintain this form of culture, it’s everyone’s responsibility to respect that and act accordingly, Hemphill continued.
“Once the towns are tolerant, it’s the fan’s and artist’s responsibility to man up and respect that,” he said. “This year there have been two arrests that I heard of and that’s far less than last year. Hopefully the twins, fans and artists did a good job of showing the town we’re responsible enough to do this.”
The Pembertons’ hand picked each performer, which warranted Hemphill’s praise as “borderline the best festival in the country as far as lineup, the mix is perfect.” Part of the mix were, hip-hop groups like Zion I, rock bands like Still Time, electronic djs and bands like DJ Skeet Skeet and Pretty Lights.
“Kids listen to one radio station and get one-sided, you need more options, that’s what (West Beach) is,” Skeet Skeet said. “You play it for the kids who are jumping up and down and losing it, that’s what it’s all about.”
Moises Juarez, lead singer of reggae/rock band Tomorrows Bad Seeds, emphasized the ability of music to form adolescents’ character.
“You can change a youngster’s mind, be an influence and be someone to look up to,” said the Manhattan Beach native, whose band incited a moshpit with high-energy, punk reggae rock vibes. “Adults are set in their ways so when you get to perform to the kids, that’s what matters to me most.”
Juarez made a conscious effort to adhere to the more stringent rules.
“We have a couple curse words in a couple of our songs and we didn’t sing them today; I want to make it a family environment suitable for kids,” he said.
But not everyone followed the regulations. Hip-hop DJ Sabatage was escorted from the premises after one too many f-bombs and many marijuana smokers were kindly asked to refrain or had their contraband confiscated by police.
Police manning the event largely agreed that there were seldom, if any, citations and minimal disruptions.
“I’ve been to nearly every big event in the past three years around here and this is one of the most tame,” one Santa Barbara police officer said.
But most attendees didn’t take to the tamer atmosphere. One Santa Barbara resident said if someone lives near West Beach, they should expect some noise.
“(The venue) is all constricted, it makes it a lot worse,” said Rick Nevins, 48, of Santa Barbara. “It’s important to have a festival like this, but there needs to be a better atmosphere to draw bigger acts.”
But the mellow crowd and quieter accommodations might mean West Beach will be hearing the music in 2011.
Written by: Alex Kacik
Photos by: Kristen Costa