Striking a Chord for Good Works

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Music lovers enjoyed the Sawdust Festival re-imagined during the first day of the two-day Blue Water Music Festival, where open spaces allowed audiences to migrate between three stages.

Whenever a crises strikes, the Laguna Beach community’s support for its own surfaces quickly, for flood-stricken neighbors in 2010 or a recent family’s struggle with cancer. The generous bent of passionate residents fuels 225 nonprofits based in or in service to a town of 24,000 people, all of them hungry for support.

In a twist on the typical charity benefit, a music festival this weekend offers the community a chance to turn out and collectively back local charities absent the aftermath of a disaster or a looming capital-campaign deadline.

The Blue Water Music Festival taking place Saturday and Sunday on the Sawdust Festival grounds offers up performances by more than a score of top-notch local and So Cal bands that benefits a slew of local arts groups and charities as well as musicians.

Most organizations, ranging from the Laguna Dance Festival to the Boys and Girls Club to Wheels for Life and Wells of Life, embraced the concept. “We are just trying to be good neighbors,” said Cynthia Fung, a spokeswoman for the Sawdust Festival, which permitted event organizer Rick Conkey use of the venue without charge.

The event’s unique revenue sharing model evenly splits ticket proceeds between Blue Water and a charity or band designated by a ticket buyer. For example, anyone buying a general admission ticket of $35 may designate $27.50 to a charity of their choice by filling in a referral code. There are added perks for VIP pass holders on the event’s website, which also lists causes and artists and their referral codes.

While the Blue Water Music Fest aims to give back to the community, Conkey, a one-man show reliant on volunteer help, is placing a bet on the organizations themselves to help buoy festival attendance and a potential windfall of donations from ticket buyers.

The consensus marketing effort by organizations relies mostly in deployment of social media, though at one critic noted the omission of the town’s tourist base in boosting the festival’s cause.

“Rick reached out to us since we embrace community affairs and causes that are creative, and music goes especially well with art,” said Rosemary Swimm, president of the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association, which informed its members about the festival through Twitter, Facebook and distributed flyers via e-mail blasts.

“We are functioning as a bridge so we can all share this huge community event,” said LPAPA’s social media director Toni Kellenberg, adding that the group will dispatch plein air painters to future festivals.

The Dance Festival added the event to its Facebook page, but not on its “constant contact page” as not to confuse it with ads for dance events, explained board president Joy Dittberner.

While all the nonprofit recipients are locally based, some embrace broader missions.  Wheels for Life, for example, founded by professional cyclist and local resident Hans Rey, fundraises to provide bikes to children and adults in developing countries. Wells of Life, begun by former realtor Nick Jordan, supports clean drinking water in Uganda villages. While both organizations pledged to spread the word to supporters via social media, a Wells representative will be on the festival grounds, said staffer Christine Barone.

The Laguna College of Art and Design, also on Conkey’s recipient list, alerted students through e-mail blasts. “Word spreads fast around here,” said LCAD president Jonathan Burke. “I except a lot of students and their friends there this weekend.”

Transition Laguna, a group advocating sustainability in Laguna Beach and environs plans to set up a table at the festival. The organization promoted the festival this past Wednesday with a blast to its 16,000-subscriber e-mail list.

Members of the Boys and Girls Club’s TLC branch in Bluebird Park could benefit from proceeds from this weekend’s music festival.
Members of the Boys and Girls Club’s TLC branch in Bluebird Park could benefit from proceeds from this weekend’s music festival.

Pam Estes, director of the Boys and Girls Club, said posters in the lobby alert parents, caregivers and kids of the upcoming event. “We get 300 kids through our Canyon and Bluebird Park branches,” she said.

However, Rob Max, executive director of Laguna Beach-based Sweet Relief, an organization that aids musicians with health or financial crises, cautions against over reliance on social media. “We are on Rick’s list and put the word out but, an even more effective approach would be to get people out there and sell hard tickets at hotels, art galleries, music stores, where ever there’s a crowd,” he said. “Selling tickets is a challenging experience,” he added.

He advises keeping admission prices low to attract a crowd and rely on secondary donations of goods and services to raise funds. Even so, the cause is good, and supporting music certainly is, Max said.

With 30 bands spread over two days and a complicated recipient list for ticket buyers to master, Conkey concedes this year’s Blue Water fest is his most ambitious undertaking yet, but also a dream about to be realized.

“I’ve always wanted to make the world better and music and art can do that,” he said. “The festival demonstrates our mission to make music for the benefit of the community, which in turn reaches out to the rest of the world.”

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