Monterey Live--roll The Dice
The Monterey Live music festival makes its debut this Saturday. Will it fly or will it flop?
Thursday, June 17, 1999
This was virtually a second home to Dizzy Gillespie. Jimi Hendrix burned a guitar here. It''s where Billie Holliday made one of her final appearances.
Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Otis Redding, Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, The Who, B.B. King, Etta James, John Lee Hooker, Ornette Coleman and Dave Brubek have all came through the gates and taken the stage at the Monterey County Fairgrounds. If there was a national register for historic music sites, the fairgrounds would have to be one of the venues in contention for inclusion.
The Monterey Jazz Festival is internationally legendary for the quality of musicians that it has presented throughout its long history. The Monterey Bay Blues Festival, which already has an established international reputation, continues to grow in stature with each passing year. And the Monterey Reggaefest has dropped into a nice, predictable groove.
On the other hand, there have been some festivals--like the Monterey Pop Festival revival in 1989--that were such total disasters that they were never repeated. Others--like the World Music Festival and the Rock ''n'' Art Festival, both in 1997--had promoters who claimed enough artistic success and who showed enough stubborn determination that they overcame their anemic box offices, altered their programs and returned the next year.
So, if history is any measure, the future of this weekend''s Monterey Live music festival is anything but certain.
One of the festival''s strengths is probably its eclectic rock lineup, a lineup that ranges from blues rock to techno punk and back to trailer-trash psychobilly (see "Hot Flashes," next page). It''s a lineup that''s been carefully plotted to appeal to a broad swath of concertgoers; it''s also a lineup that can be promoted on a variety of radio stations (locally, the festival boasts sponsorship from three stations--KCDU, KMBY and KPIG--owned by the New Wave Broadcasting corporation).
Matt Heimbold, who was responsible for the bookings at the now-dead Doc''s Nightclub, has been the front man and booking guru for Monterey Live.
"We think we might have a chance because I hedged my bets," says Heimbold. "After booking Doc''s so intensely we had a feel for what might work on the Peninsula. I had a belief that we had to make it an eclectic festival, across the whole gamut of rock music, so we might bring in enough people to say ''we''ll go see that act.''"
"One can hope that [the lineup] has a synergistic effect, that the Motels will get an older audience, that Dave Wakeling will draw someone a little younger, and The Uninvited will get the real young audiences that haven''t been able to see them in a nightclub setting," says Dan Miller, former booking agent for McGarrett''s and a sometimes music promoter. "Because they cross all boundaries they''ll get a wide range of audiences. It''s better than pigeonholing."
Miller himself considered booking a rock concert last summer but eventually backed off when he couldn''t get a strong enough lineup to play on the only viable, available dates at the fairgrounds.
There are perhaps two important elements in building a successful festival, according to Miller, Heimbold and others. The first is to start with reasonable expectations; few things look worse than a much ballyhooed extravaganza that attracts no more than a handful of concertgoers. Even when artistic goals are fulfilled, concertgoers are left with the impression that they attended a dying festival.
In short, it''s better--both financially and reputation-wise--to draw a large crowd to a small event, than vice versa.
"We considered doing a two-day festival with acts like Beck, Smash Mouth and Lucinda Williams," says Heimbold. "but that might have been too grand for our first year. This way we give Monterey and Monterey Live a chance to warm up. We do hope that we grow to be a valuable event to the community and to the music community. We aspire to becoming as valuable to the community as the Blues Festival. I think we can draw people from all over the country if we take our baby steps first."
The second key to success is to attract an audience that includes people from outside the immediate area. The Central Coast audience is too limited in size to be reliable; to be successful, a promoter must draw a very high percentage of the potential local audience. If, however, a promoter is able to effectively reach out to the San Jose and Bay Area market, s/he can be successful with a much lower percentage.
"For anybody to be succcessful they definitely have to reach outside the area," says Miller. "The numbers just really aren''t here. It''s fine to advertise in [local publications] but, having watched the blues and jazz festivals over the years, it obviously doesn''t matter how many season tickets they''ve sold, you still see advertising at least on a weekly basis [in the Bay Area]."
To that end, Monterey Live has been promoting itself in alternative weekly newspapers in the Bay Area, San Jose and Santa Cruz for the last four weeks.
Heimbold has also bolstered the festival''s chances for success by securing a list of sponsorships that reads (in part) like an alcoholic''s vision of heaven: Budweiser, Captain Morgan''s Rum, Skyy Vodka, Crown Royal and Jagermeister have all signed on as sponsors, as have New Wave Broadcasting, Coast Weekly, San Francisco Weekly, Trucksis Enterprises, SunStar Media and Music Unlimited.
Although it''s way too early to predict the festival''s fate, the relatively conservative approach taken by Heimbold, et al, seems to bode well for the future. Could it be as groundbreaking as the Monterey International Pop Festival? Almost assuredly not; the conservative approach almost guarantees a conservative outcome.
But it''s important to remember that the Monterey International Pop only had one shot. It left behind so many bad debts and so much bad blood that it didn''t make it to a second year. Maybe a nice, conservative rock festival that learns to walk before it runs is exactly what''s needed.