As the BeachLife Festival Returns to Redondo Beach, Its Founder Announces Plans to Open a Music Venue
Allen Sanford discusses his plans to launch the California Surf Club and what lies ahead for BeachLife and its Americana-focused spinoff.
BeachLife returns to Redondo Beach, Calif. this weekend for the fourth time, bringing a multi-genre assortment of artists including the Black Keys, Pixies, No Doubt, John Fogerty and the Black Crowes. The beachfront festival — the only one of its kind in Los Angeles County — was created by Allen Sanford, a longtime South Bay restaurant operator and club owner who spent years planning the surfer-focused music showcase.
That investment has definitely paid off. BeachLife is staging its fourth festival this year and has expanded into Americana with its pioneering BeachLife Ranch festival, the next edition of which is slated to take place in Redondo Beach in September. Sanford also recently leased land near King Harbor in Redondo Beach and plans to convert the space into a music venue that he will eventually incorporate into BeachLife and operate year-round.
Billboard recently caught up with Sanford to hear about his vision for live music in the South Bay and what lies ahead for the restaurateur and venue operator.
How big is your team at BeachLife?
There are about 16 folks who work full-time on our festivals, which is very good for business strategy early on. It’s why we started the second festival and why we are doing the California Surf Club.
Tell me about your plans for the California Surf Club.
We’re opening a 15,000-square-foot venue right on the beach. I liken it to Stubbs (a popular Austin, Tex. venue) on the beach type of thing. It’s located inside Redondo Beach’s King Harbor and is the only club of its kind on the water in California. It will include a 50-seat restaurant, themed as a high-end fish-house/chop house. It will open in May 2024 for next year’s BeachLife festival. It’s a huge undertaking.
Will you book it yourself or bring on a talent buyer?
We do everything in-house, so we’ll be booking shows at capacities that run anywhere from 300 people to 2,000 people. It will be open every day, year-round and host bands from all genres. It’s very serendipitous.
It’s difficult to be an indie promoter in Los Angeles where Live Nation and AEG are headquartered. How does that affect your business?
Booking can be a challenge — AEG and Coachella have radius clauses that can block out an artist for an entire year. If I wanted to book an artist in September that was playing Coachella the following April, I wouldn’t be able to do it. So we’ve learned to book around it and book shows with a different strategy. I try to book shows that someone would want to attend with their dad or even their grandparents. We spend a lot of time thinking about how we can build this festival out of community. One example is our Speakeasy stage, which is managed by Jim Lindberg from Pennywise. We’re not going to book a punk band to play the festival, but we do book acoustic sets on the Speakeasy stage with artists like Jonny Two Bags with Social Distortion and Zander Schloss from Circle Jerks. It’s become a very important staple for this festival.
What was the business decision behind launching the Ranch?
I grew up in the Santa Ynez Valley in the summer times, you know, listening to country bands and later Americana and I thought the genres were a good match for the BeachLife brand. Americana is the surfer’s version of country, and so we’re just continuing to kind of make our own Americana event. This year’s event will be much more country-driven with a really cool mixture of folk and country artists.
BeachLife is known for its VIP experience add-ons. What have been your most successful VIP programs?
Since launching, we’ve offered an onstage VIP offering where patrons can enjoy a multi-course meal while sitting on stage with the artists. From the top down, the side stage experience has been a complete success and we’re now curating it with excellent wines and Michelin-starred chefs. When I started this festival, the first thing I thought of was how I used to go to these festivals and stand in some parking lot and I’d say, “Man, I would love to sit on the side of the stage nice four-star dinner and hang out, just watch it from the side.” And so, that came from just a very simple vision, and it’s been really successful.
What type of improvements are you adding to the site?
We’re adding more shade. We’re adding more seating. You know, we get smarter and more efficient as the years go by. It’s really incumbent on us to provide value to these people buying tickets. I think it’s a great value. And I’m there if anybody has feedback.
Earlier this year, you sold Saint Rocke, the Hermosa Beach club that helped launch you into the music business. Why did you decide to sell?
Because I really wanted to focus my efforts on Beach Life. I feel like I have an opportunity to do something and a split focus would hurt the growth of Beach Life. The other thing is, COVID was really rough on people like me as far as, you know, restaurants and live venues and Saint Rocke kind of represented to me he negativity of COVID, of losing businesses. And so it’s just kind of a spiritual time to move on.
It’s hard to run a club and do anything else.
Being in the club business is unbelievable. The new owner, Danny Grant, also owns the Michikawa and is a great person. She’s very respectful of the legacy of Saint Rocke. It’s going to live on. And I couldn’t be happier for her.
Were you able to receive government aid?
Yeah, it was essential to survive. It softened the blow, but there’s also a spiritual side of that too. You take a man’s livelihood away from him and you can’t swing the bat. It was just as difficult mentally as it was financially, just focused on surviving. That’s not usually who I am.
You’ve long been a pioneer in the livestreaming space. Coming out of the pandemic, do you think livestreaming peaked in popularity or is there more room to grow?
I spent 10 years building my own company online and you could not find a more passionate advocate of livestreaming than me. It took a pandemic to make livestreaming popular, but I just don’t think at the end of the day that livestreaming holds a candle to the live experience. I think the community and being together with people is something you just can’t replace with digital.