Updated: Turbulence Hits Blue Water Festival

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Updated March 27:

Barring any other unforeseen complications, the Blue Water Music Festival should open Saturday and Sunday, March 28 and 29, on the grounds of the Sawdust Art Festival in Laguna Canyon, but without the top headlining acts promised, promoters say.

Festival goers enjoying last year’s Blue Water Music Festival.
Festival goers enjoying last year’s Blue Water Music Festival.

Only intervention by the city’s mayor this week halted the event’s cancellation altogether by assuring event promoters they still had a chance of obtaining a required city permit, even with just days to spare, according to city officials and event advisers.

The permit was issued Thursday by Development Director Greg Pfost, festival advisor Steve Kawaratani said.

Festival goers who paid $55 a ticket anticipating promised headliners Smash Mouth, Brett Dennen and Allen Stone will have to be satisfied instead with more than a score of other bands, what local promoter and organizer Rick Conkey described as “local legends and regional stars.”

Last week, the festival was plunged into jeopardy when its largest sponsor pulled his support as well as the top acts due to what was described as inadequate planning.

“I didn’t think they were ready,” said Ivan Spiers, owner of Mozambique restaurant in Laguna Beach, who secured the headliners for the festival. “We got into it a little late,” he said.

Instead, the restaurant itself will present the pop act Smash Mouth on Saturday, March 28, and make room on its calendar in the future for the other name performers as well, Spiers said. “I’m want to make sure bands are paid,” he said.

Groups White Buffalo, Rebel Rockers and Bushwalla will go on to perform next weekend underwritten by Spiers himself, which he described as his gift to the festival.

And despite what looks like a false start with Blue Water’s second festival, Spiers is prepared to remain involved because he supports the festival’s mission to spotlight musical artists in a town known for visual arts. “We’re going to start in April and start planning properly next year,” Spiers said.

That’s also on the mind of city officials. The temporary use permit the festival requires rests in the hands of Pfost, the city’s top planning administrator. He has the authority to issue what’s known as a director’s permit, which circumvents the need for a public hearing if impact on neighbors has been addressed, standard protocol for any planning application.

In this instance, besides requiring a third-party monitor sound levels to comply with the city’s noise ordinance while the show is underway, Pfost said he was considering setting another condition: requiring future Blue Water permits be submitted 90 days in advance. “The mayor did talk to all parties and he was able to get some resolution,” Pfost said. “It was kind of awkward.”

“There were bumps in the road,” said Mayor Bob Whalen, in remarks to the City Council on Tuesday, outlining his efforts “trying to make sure it’s going forward.”

“It has to go through,” agreed Council member Steve Dicterow, who described with surprise seeing Blue Water posters out of town.

Marketing on bus stops and freeway billboards, which last year’s event lacked, has provided more momentum and ticket sales, Conkey said.

That momentum was slowed by Pfost’s requirement that festival organizers satisfy noise complaints raised after last year’s first-time event. Loud bands disrupted a wedding reception at the event center Seven Degrees, adjacent to the Sawdust Festival grounds and owned by Dora Wexel and Mark Orgill.

“We understand the arts can be an occasional annoyance,” Jay Grant, president of the Sawdust Festival, told the council, citing traffic congestion. “But we stand together as a community,” Grant said, saying in a later interview that the art festival, too, monitors sound for every musical act to avoid violating noise rules throughout the summer and consults with Seven Degrees on scheduling to avoid event conflicts.

“We work hard to be good neighbors,” he said. “It’s a delicate balance, but we need to be able to use our grounds.”

Talks with Wexel over noise enforcement, the possibility of relocating a Blue Water stage and hosting two after parties took longer than expected and were only finalized on March 6, said Conkey advisor Kawaratani. Wexel declined to comment on the negotiations.

That down-to-the wire planning ultimately unnerved Spiers, who pulled out and canceled the after party, which meant there was no longer an agreement with Seven Degrees, Kawaratani said. “Everyone was working earnestly in good faith. There is no bad guy. We ran out of time,” he said, in explaining why organizers appealed to Whalen for help.

For his part, Conkey said, “we don’t intend to waste this opportunity.”



Dora Wexell’s name was misspelled in the article “Turbulence Hits Blue Water Festival” in the March 20 edition. In addition, she was incorrectly described as a co-owner of Seven-Degrees, an event center.

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