With Coachella Wrapped, Goldenvoice Heads West to Long Beach for Summer Festival Season

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Miguel performs at Smokin' Grooves Festival at The Queen Mary on June 16, 2018 in Long Beach, Calif.

The LA promoter is betting on smaller, genre-specific festivals on a site near the popular Queen Mary.

Planning to attend a music festival in Southern California this summer? Bring a towel and some sun block, because the region's live music scene has shifted back to the coastal waters of LA and Orange County.

In the OC, John Reese's SGE Entertainment has a half-dozen festivals planned from Dana Point to Huntington Beach, while LA's South Bay prepares to host BeachLife, the largest music festival west of the 405 freeway in more than a decade. 

But it's Long Beach, the blue-collar beach town of half-a-million residents in South LA that has become SoCal's unofficial festival capital this summer. Since inking a deal with Urban Commons in late 2017, Southern California's biggest promoter Goldevoice has hosted eight festivals at an event space near the Queen Mary with five days of music over three festivals still to come his year, and more likely to soon be announced now that Coachella has wrapped. 

Two of Goldenvoice's newest festival proprieties -- YG and Snoop Dogg's Once Upon a Time in the LBC, and Just Like Heaven with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Phoenix and MGMT (which is the same weekend as BeachLife) -- sold out in less than 24 hours, with organizers adding a second duplicate date for each event.

"This year we are holding second days for most of the festivals," said Paul Billings, svp at Goldevoice, noting that events like the 2018 Smokin Grooves festival with Erykah Badu, Miguel and The Roots sold out in less than a day.

The Long Beach festivals are smaller than most modern festivals with a capacity of 15,000, and are often built around one or two similar headliners, as opposed to large multi-genre, multi-stage events like the long-running FYF festival, which Goldenvoice put on hold in 2018. While album cycles and industry buzz often shape the lineups of major fests like Lollapalooza and Governor's Ball, the Long Beach series is driven more by fan bases and artists who have a history of strong sales in the region. Billings compared the festivals lineup to a streaming service's recommendation engine, where a fan who likes a band like MGMT probably also likes Beach House or Passion Pit (all three are playing Just Like Heaven).

"If you're into one of the headliners, you're freaking out about the rest of the lineup saying, 'I must go to this,'" Billings said, adding the smaller capacity of the venue and the quick sellouts "create a lot of hype around the events that blow up on social media."

Another difference from the big festivals is that the names and brands created around the festivals are fluid. Some festivals like the Latinx-themed Tropicalia Festival return each year, although the 2017 event was held in July while the 2018 version was in November. Other festivals are one-year concepts depending on artist availability. The first year Dale Fuego festival Aug. 10 with reggaton trap stars like Ozuna and Anitta could return next year due to the exploding popularity of Latin music, or it could return in 2020 with the same concept but a different name based on the headliner.

Tickets for Dale Fuego are selling for $125, while Just Like Heaven prices varied from $99 to $170 depending on when they were purchased, with VIP tickets running $225-$270. That's comparable with a three-day ticket to Coachella which is $429 plus fees, but a little more digestable for fans who only want to attend a one-day event.

"It's a very accessible and there's only two stages so people can run back and forth pretty easily," Billings said, adding that most attendees usually live less than an hour away. "They don't necessarily need to get a hotel, they can usually just drive home."

If they do need a room, Long Beach has dozens of hotels in the waterfront area and a bustling restaurant and nightclub scene on Pine Avenue and down the coast in the popular Belmont Shore neighborhood, home to thousands of college students from Cal State Long Beach.

Once a thriving entertainment destination hope to two of regions most well known records stores -- VIP Records and Fingerprints,— Long Beach's live music scene mostly disappeared after the Forum in nearby Inglewood reopened in 2014 and the Long Beach Arena stop hosting concerts to become an extension of the convention center. The three-year-old Music Tastes Good Festival and ComplexCon were high marks for the city's percolating music scene, which gave birth to Sublime, War, Warren G, Nate Dogg and was an important launching pad for indie acts like Cold War Kids, Matt Costa and Young the Giant. Billings grew up in Long Beach, while Goldenvoice's Paul Tollett used to stage punk shows at the now defunct Fender's Ballroom in the late 80s. 

In 2016, real estate developer Urban Commons acquired the 66-year master lease to the Queen Mary, a massive cruise liner that shuttled passengers from New York to England and France from 1936 to 1967 and was used to transport soldiers during World War II. Today, the ship is a hotel and serves as one of the region's most popular tourist attractions, with major events taking place on a large waterfront grass field in the shadow of the massive cruiseliner that's bigger than the Titantic.

"We've all been a bit surprised at its success," said Billings, who enlists Goldenvoice's Jeff Shuman, former booker of the Observatory in Santa Ana, to handle talent buying for most of the Long Beach festivals, while Goldenvoice & AEG Presents' head of Latin talent Niria Leon booked and created Dale Fuego. 

"We do heavy marketing on the onsales and cast a wide net to let everybody know what's happening," Billings said, noting that all seven festivals in 2018 were sellouts, including Smokers Club Festival in April headlined by Wiz Khalifa and Kid Cudi and the Smoke Me Out y Los Reyes Del Corrido festival with regional Mexican artists like Roberto TapiaLos Hijos de Barron and Legado 7. Billings said Goldevoice is considering a punk concept for Long Beach, and is working to further improve the experience for fans. 

"I think you'll see in some upcoming shows that we're going to incorporate more of Long Beach into our festivals," with local restaurants and the city's fast growing craft beer scene playing a larger role. "As we've gotten more traction, we've gotten more people involved and more local businesses wanting to be part of something that celebrates Long Beach and gets people excited to make the drive down."