The Orange County fest organized and founded by California surf-rock act The Growlers has never been a glowing paradigm of how a festival should operate. In fact, it’s usually a logistical mess. But in the past, the overcrowded, claustrophobic feel, the shuffling to get from one stage to the next without getting crushed beneath a swarm of teens, and the shoddy sound stages kind of seemed appropriate for the gritty nature of the festival.
The lineup consists mainly of artists who exemplify a punkish vibe, sound, or attitude, bolstering artists that exist within the indie bubble of surf-rock, psychedelia, and lo-fi. And the roster gets more and more competitive each year, incorporating acts within its ticket price that you would have to pay almost as much to see on their own. This year, Patti Smith, Bon Iver, Violent Femmes, and James Blake were some of the standouts, amassing an influx of concertgoers that the festival grounds simply couldn’t support.
Photo by Andy Sawyer
The event was initially set to take place at a new venue this year, which is perhaps what attracted fans to purchase tickets in the first place. In the past few years, The Observatory has not been a practical choice for the rapidly growing fest. But just a few weeks prior to day one of Beach Goth 2016, the organizers announced that the concert would be moving back to the dreaded Observatory. And so those who already purchased tickets were resigned to dealing with the claustrophobia and cattle herding, despite thinking they would be able to avoid it this year.
I missed the first day of the fest due to some un-pertinent personal reasons, but it seemed to unfold as smoothly as it could. And most importantly, everyone who was slated to perform did, and did so with their instruments in hand and their bands backing them. Unfortunately, I could not say the same for day two, which was dampened literally and figuratively by the rain and negligence of the festival organizers.
The rain was not in the forecast, in all fairness, but that still does not make it safe to keep electrical chords running across the ground under inches of water. When the rain began, it seemed as though the artists’ sets might commence according to schedule, but the growing disarray surrounding the festival grounds quickly proved that the organizers had not entertained even the faintest possibility of a rainy day.
Devendra Banhart audaciously committed to his entire set, even though the stage was already too massive for his folksy, lo-fi instrumentals. But he managed to amp it up to accommodate the conditions, though apologized that he could not stay for an encore.
She Wants Revenge, a band that hails from the Valley and can be regarded as a goth-rock take on Interpol, did their best to integrate the gloomy, gritty scene into their music, but frontman Justin Warfield was sans-guitar as he told the audience he was not willing to die for rock n’ roll. Grimes canceled her set due to damaged instruments, but apologized to her fans via Twitter stating:
There was literally a river of water to cross to get from one outdoor stage to the other, and while most fans were having fun with it and making the best of the rainy day chaos, others were tip-toeing around with completely soaked sneakers struggling to stay positive.
And on top of it all, it was impossible to move anywhere. It was a giant herd of cattle pushing and shoving each other slowly just to get from the food trucks to the stage. There was a line around the corner to get shelter and catch a glimpse of the indoor sets, which included Froth, Sebastian, and Wild Child.
The Growlers even started their set 40 minutes late due to electrical issues, and then acknowledged fans’ grievances by issuing a lengthy statement just a few days ago. “We saw it in your eyes. We hear you. We feel you. We want to sincerely thank you for supporting us – and each other – at this year’s festival.”
There was a celebratory moment when the rain ceased during Future Islands’ set, inspiring an impromptu dance party to emerge, which at the very least encouraged everyone to exhale and acknowledge that we’re all catching colds together.
Concertgoers are still urging The Growlers to refund them in some capacity, but if nothing else, hopefully this will finally encourage the organizers to sort out the logistical nightmares of previous fests. Will I give it another chance? Not likely. Well…maybe, if the lineup is too good to resist.
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