Music Fest Drums Up Support for Causes

Blue Water Music Festival organizer Rick Conkey
Blue Water Music Festival organizer Rick Conkey

The grounds of the Sawdust Art Festival will come to life for a weekend of live music March 29 and 30, a rare treat in a venue primarily dedicated to winter and summer visual art fairs where music is served up as a side dish.

The Blue Water Festival is the brainchild of local tennis pro and music promoter Rick Conkey.

Though he has staged music events under various banners such as Blue Water  Green Earth and Music Matters, Conkey describes this year’s festival as his most ambitious effort yet.

“Music and art can change the world,” he said. “The festival is a grassroots way to demonstrate our mission to make music for the benefit of the community and to turn arts funding on its head,” he said.

To void running afoul of sound restrictions on the Festival of Arts grounds that buffer surrounding hillside neighborhoods, Conkey shifted venues. “This year, we will be among rocks and trees with no noise issues anticipated.”

Blue Water may take place in a hippie haven, but it’s not envisioned as an erstwhile Woodstock either. In heeding his own vision, Conkey’s festival will mix music with civic inclusiveness.

Proceeds will benefit diverse local organizations including the Boys and Girls Club, Laguna Dance Festival, Transition Laguna, Wheels of Life and the Laguna Ocean Foundation, among others. Even the Laguna Beach Police Employees Association is a beneficiary.

Among more than 25 musical groups will be the American Reggae Hall of Fame, acts that include Cirque du Soleil artist Sasha Fedortchev and local chefs, who will have their own showcase featuring earth-friendly, sustainable recipes.

Conkey, 47, though he admits to sometimes feeling overwhelmed by his mission, remains an optimistic evangelist. “Sometimes I ask myself why I’m doing this, but we are launching a movement. We will show how the artists are key to fundraising for themselves and the community,” he said.

On that road since 2005, he stumbled over a few rocks, notably during the second Blue Water Music Festival held in 2007 at the Newport Dunes Resort, which left him nearly $50,000 in the hole. “We planned the festival the same weekend as the spring boat show, but were told that it would make no difference to our attendance and proceeds. But, we got hardly any media advance or coverage,” he recalled.

Perhaps beginner’s luck had a hand in the success of his first festival, staged at the Festival of Arts in 2005. “That festival came together in 60 days with no name bands,” he said.

Conkey said he obtained non-profit status for Blue Water Green Earth to allow him to pay band members as well as contribute to organizations and still defray the festival’s costs. Tickets options and prices can be found on

Half of the ticket proceeds will be earmarked for organizations of the concert goer’s choice. Artists will be paid out of remaining gate proceeds, said Conkey. “Some people have questioned why we pay the bands, but they have stepped up so many times during floods and fires and to help other artists in need that they need to be supported as well,” he said.

Locals also know Conkey as the promoter of the Music Matters shows at Laguna’s Cliff Restaurant and as host of a like named weekly radio show on FM radio station KX 93.5.

Station general manager Tyler Russel says Conkey was one of the station’s original volunteer programmers and has helped establish the town’s musical reputation.

“There is a lot of unsigned talent and Rick showcases the best of what we have,” he said. “It’s amazing how much talent resides in a population of only 24,000 and how much can be featured on radio and now on stage.”

Jason Feddy and his band are looking forward to the event. “The Laguna music scene is a small one with a big heart and strong work ethic,” he said.

From his viewpoint, the daytime show holds an added benefit for musicians. “On a Friday night, usually everyone is working. Here we can hang out with members of Honk, Salty Suites and the rest and listen and be inspired,” he said.

While details sometime escape Conkey, he’s a true believer and completely dedicated to the cause, Feddy pointed out. “Let’s just hope we won’t run out of trash bags again,” he quipped.


Participating to date:

Saturday: Adam Lasher; Barefoot Kindred; Members of Honk; Denny White; Jason Feddy Band; Jeff Crosby and the Refugees; Soul Deep (w/Chris Whynaught); Jenni Kiiholma Dance Ensemble; Missiles of October; Moonshine; O’Malley Jones & The Keep It Real; Robert Jon & The Wreck; Sasha Fedortchev; Salty Suites; Sasha Evans Band; Shaena Stabler; and Vinnie & The Hooligans.


Sunday: Aloha Radio; David Lindley and Wally Ingram; Common Sense (w/Nick “I”); The Higgs; Ken Garcia Band with Anesha & Ray;  Kevin Miso; James Clay Garrison & The Giant Peach;  Pato Banton;  Toulouse Englehardt; American Reggae Hall of Fame w/a Rebel Rockers & Redz Tribute; Soul Rebel Alliance with Frame of Mind & The Kalama Brothers; Trevor Green and World Anthem Band.


Organizations/causes to benefit: Boys and Girls Club;;, Glennwood Housing Foundation; Heartfelt Cardiac Projects; KX 93.5 Radio; Laguna Beach Schoolpower; Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce; Laguna College of Art & Design; Laguna Dance Festival; Laguna Ocean Foundation; Laguna Plein Air Painters Association; LB Exchange Club; Southern California Green Chamber, Protecting Unwanted Pets; Sawdust Festival; Sweet Relief; Transition Laguna; Wells of Life; Wheels 4 Life.


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