County officials throw a wrench into second annual Music Summit before it starts.
Thursday, May 1, 2008
The ads keep appearing in papers from San Luis Obispo to Sacramento. The burgeoning lineup of big-time touring groups continues to grow. Music fans go on gathering their camping gear.
Meanwhile, though, the Monterey Music Summit record has skipped.
Citing concerns that rapper-cum-reality TV star Snoop Dogg will attract an unsafe mix of fans to the second edition of the progressive music festival, representatives from Monterey County Parks and the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office, among others, summoned enough objections to have a few key players quietly questioning if the festival will take place at Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway May 30-June 1 (full disclosure: the Weekly is a sponsor of the event). E-mails exchanged in the aftermath of an April 23 pre-event meeting (and obtained by the Weekly) illustrate a serious disconnect that invokes everything from gang violence to racism to freedom of speech.
“I honestly do not believe that anything that we are proposing is unusual or something that you should object to,” Summit promoter Joe Fletcher wrote in an e-mail to Lavonne Chin, special events manager for Monterey County Parks, following the meeting. He went on to hit on the 6-foot-3 1/2-inch sticking point, an aging rapper nicknamed after a canine comic strip character.
“I think if we took Snoop Dogg off [the questions] would all go away,” Fletcher says.
In his e-mail Fletcher went on to point out arguments why Snoop Dogg and his fans don’t present the type of security risk the public staff envision – “Snoop Dogg is a mainstream artist who does over 150 dates per year and has been embraced by every major venue, university and the mainstream media.”
Fletcher acknowledges that recent gang violence in Salinas understandably has local police and sheriff deputies on alert. But he maintains the hippie-laden environment and a $69 Saturday gate fee are two of many indicators that officials are a little out of tune with the tenor of the event. And for a longtime promoter who has booked everyone from Eminem and 50 Cent to B.B. King and Tori Amos, there was a more ominous element to the correspondence.
“Here’s the thing: We’ve done a thousand concerts in the past 20 years, internationally, at universities, in the South,” Fletcher says, “and never had a venue try to tell us who the artists should be.”
The reply from Chin dated April 24 came as a shock to Fletcher, who had already made deposits in the amount of at least $20,000 and made commitments to 30-plus musical acts: “At this point, you do not have an agreement with the county to hold an event on county property, in a facility where we focus on family-oriented activities, and, as the contract itself specifically indicates, the county is under no obligation to allow the event to go forward.”
Citing a “major misunderstanding, she continued, “this is not a matter of censorship. This is only a matter of having potential contractors abiding by reasonable rules of conduct and behavior.” (Chin did not return the Weekly’s calls seeking further comment.)
Fletcher says he encounters this sort of response every time he books a hip hop show, adding that county officials suggested substituting a country act (presumably they hadn’t seen Snoop’s much-ballyhooed appearance at the Country Music Television awards in April).
“Every time I have promoted a hip hop concert,” Fletcher wrote, “we go through the local police getting worked up and I sincerely believe that this is racist.”
A day later, Cmdr. Jerry Teeter of the Special Operations Division of the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office e-mailed Fletcher the sheriff’s office “requirements” for the event:
1) No firearms of any kind will be allowed inside the park. No exceptions. The only people authorized to carry a firearm inside the park during this event will be Monterey County sheriff’s deputies, Monterey County park rangers and on-duty members of the California Highway Patrol. Holders of concealed-weapons permits and peace officers from other jurisdictions will not be authorized to carry a firearm.
2) All spectators will enter the venue through metal detectors. These locations will be manned and monitored by security personnel.
3) Snoop Dogg and his entourage must submit to a search of their vehicles and persons upon entry into the park facility.
4) Deputies will be positioned in the backstage area of the venue, as a security presence and to monitor the activities occurring.
Reached at his office, Teeter refused to confirm or deny his presence at the meeting and directed calls to the parks office. Monterey County Parks Director John Pinio also declined to comment. “We’re still in discussion with promoter, and while in negotiations we are not at liberty to discuss them,” he said, adding, “There is no final agreement at this point.”
Fletcher says that county parks representatives contacted him Wednesday, April 30, to indicate a desire to turn Snoop’s presence into a positive by pairing a donation from the festival to the Monterey County Joint Gang Task Force and have Snoop Dogg speak out against gangs while in town.
Still, Fletcher says the public servants have also raised other concerns that he finds troubling, or at least confusing.
“The fact that they you are objecting to us having any political activities is very disturbing,” he wrote after the meeting, pointing out that groups like Surfrider, Tibetan monks and the Big Sur Land Trust aren’t “really dangerous and subversive.
“These are all organizations trying to improve our community.”
Fletcher says county supervisors will have final say on the concert agreement and might consider the event as early as the May 6 meeting. And with three of the five board members up for reelection (the Music Summit will take place just days before the June primary), Fletcher says politics will undoubtedly play a role in supervisors’ decision.
“Everything is a go, we were told, the event’s gonna happen and is moving forward as such,” Fletcher says. “We’ve got a contract and deposit, we’re set to go, [it’s] only a question of, ‘Does the board of supes want to raise a red flag?’ If that happens, we’ll have a major public presence there.”
District 5 Supervisor Dave Potter says he recognizes the tricky ground upon which the county treads, referencing the violent riot that broke out at a 1969 Rolling Stones concert at the Altamont Speedway.
“That’s the delicate line we’re walking: We’re not interested in getting into the censorship market,” he says. “But we also aren’t in the Altamont market, unintentionally starting some sort of violence. [Snoop’s] reputation isn’t exactly pristine. That made our officials go, ‘Wait a minute. What type of public event would this look like?’ ”
It will likely look similar to scenes at the Santa Barbara Bowl, Salt Lake City and the state fair in Tampa, three of the 30-plus venues where Snoop is scheduled to appear this summer (though the summit’s commitment to an eclectic range of groups and 100 percent carbon neutral operation should differentiate it), and a lot more like the life depicted in Hollywood movies like Starsky & Hutch (in which Snoop has starred) or on E! Channel’s “Snoop Dogg’s Father Hood” than any of Snoop’s videos with Death Row Records. If it’s the recent marijuana possession that has police alarmed, that wasn’t an issue with Willie Nelson, who has appeared in Monterey twice in the past year.
“I’d be shocked if a bad-ass kid from Salinas even listens to Snoop,” Fletcher says. “We’ve been getting calls from high school girls. They’ll probably be there with their dads.”
While the concert’s status remains up in the air – at press time parks chief Pinios insisted there wasn’t a deal in place while Fletcher felt there was – at least one thing seems certain: that Snoop Dogg could safely substitute a place other than his native Long Beach to complete the opening line of arguably one of his most famous songs, “Gin and Juice.” It goes like this: “There’s so much drama in the…”