Music Fest Wins New Fans

Fans enjoy the sun and the grooves during the Blue Water music festival’s final day. Photo by Darnell Bledsoe
Fans enjoy the sun and the grooves during the Blue Water music festival’s final day.
Photo by Darnell Bledsoe

Organizer and promoter Rick Conkey agreed to some unusual concessions in setting up last month’s Blue Water Green Earth Music Festival.

Besides hiring police for security, keeping an ambulance on standby, he agreed to pull the plug on amplified music for 30 minutes Saturday evening due to a wedding scheduled at a neighboring venue, Seven Degrees.

Cirque du Soleil performer Sasha Fedortchev and a group of dancers kept the audience entertained, but not quite soundless. It was enough to create friction between Conkey and Seven Degrees executive director Dora Wexell, who deemed overall noise excessive during the two-day concert series on the grounds of the Sawdust Art Festival.

“This is just no place for a rock concert,” she said, suggesting that such concerts be held in unpopulated parts of the canyon. “I appreciate what they are trying to do but they need to do it someplace else. I have two very unhappy clients now to whom I will have to make amends.”

Asked about the steady stream of performances in summer at the Sawdust, Wexell said she has tried unsuccessfully for four years to negotiate a satisfactory solution with festival board members.

“The concert stirred things up for me, realizing again how difficult it is to come to agreements,” said Wexell, unhappy that sound from nearby events becomes an issue for potential clients.

To try to head off conflict, Conkey said, “we went back and forth with officers who took decibel readings and they found we were in compliance on both days.

While the Sawdust grounds have emptied again, returning to a pre-summer lull, the festival’s relaxed vibe and diverse acts made a lasting impression among fans.

While staged at lightning speed for a large event, Conkey said few glitches developed  aside from the scheduling conflict with the wedding, lower than hoped for attendance and his business model, awarding half the gate proceeds to local nonprofits or musicians.

Even so, enthusiasm ran high, high enough for Conkey to plan an encore next year.

The best grossing charity was Protecting Unwanted Pets, which received five referrals. Among musicians, Shaena Stabler’s band topped the charts with seven referrals.

“I think that people did not quite understood the system but we are sticking with it, making a greater effort to help people utilize it next time,” Conkey said.

Some city officials who attended are also fans. “It’s amazing these people are not really famous,” said City Council member Toni Iseman, who attended on Saturday, April 29, and took in O’Malley Jones & The Wanted, Jeff Crosby and the Refugees, Soul Deep with Chris Whynaught and Sasha Evans.

Arts Commissioner Lisa Mansour concurred saying that she’d go to the Sawdust Festival grounds for anything but Blue Water made for a fun date with her husband. “I hope that the Blue Water music festival will become a yearly tradition just like the Sawdust itself and that the community rallies behind it,” she said.

Altogether Conkey spent close to $25,000 on infrastructure, lighting, equipment and stages, with still and video photographers all volunteering their services.

“We did not break even, but we are still assessing final figures,” he said. “We could have easily used 300 more people, but that will not be a problem next year.”

Both days drew roughly 800 people and total receipts totaled close to $23,000, said Conkey, who spent $3,600 on promotion including posters, fliers, banners and a concert website.

The terms of a temporary use permit set festival hours at 11 a.m. to  8 p.m., required Laguna police officers as security and noise levels to be kept at 70 decibels. Bands were limited to no more than nine members, and punk rock, heavy metal and “demonstrative acts” forbidden. Also regulated were chefs’ demonstrations, materials containing food and drink and trash disposal.

Conkey hired four police officers and, in anticipation of crowds up to 3,500, added portable bathrooms, kept a Doctor’s Ambulance at the ready and paid for shuttle service between the grounds and a Laguna Canyon parking lot. Police security alone cost $55.91 per hour, according to the use permit.

Sawdust Festival board vice president Michael Thorstensen thinks the Blue Water festival should be repeated despite the sound complaints, which the board wrestles with every summer. “We take everyone into consideration, our neighbors and also exhibiting artists who have to talk with people and sell their work,” he said. “But, we also work closely with musicians. After all they are artists, too.”

Conkey says concert-goers and community leaders have already approached him suggestions for improvements next year that include lower ticket prices, timelier promotion, and pursuing corporate sponsors to underwrite a top act.

“It seems obvious that the town wants to acknowledge its music scene and help us do it in a way that will make everyone proud,” he said.


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