On Sat, May 30th 2009 I played my first big festival gig with the BTB. Well, it was SUPPOSED to be big. It had all the potential to be tremendous. We were playing a festival with Reel Big Fish, Eve 6, Lifehouse, The Donnas, Alien Ant Farm and nearly 70 other acts over a 2 day period. Hundreds of vendors were also booked to sell their eco-green wares at this event making it the largest green festival in California. The vendors and bands were led to believe that attendance would be close to 25,000 indie music fans.
Try 3 to 500 over the course of 2 days. Yep. We played to maybe 30 people on the Sonicbids stage…It was slightly pathetic…I mean, If I want to play for 30 people and get lied to and mistreated, I can always accept a gig at The Roxy or The Joint.
The bands and Vendors were told that there would be upwards of 25,000 indie music fans to attend premier music fest in Malibu – it was technically in Agoura, but the location wasn’t an issue for me, Paramount Ranch is a beautiful place…the real issue is that the gated space that that they had could only legally accommodate maybe 4 or 5 thousand people.
When I pulled up to the gig with my lovely umbrella wielding partner in crime, there were only say, 150 cars in the parking lot. This was the moment that I had a sinking feeling that something was wrong. It was a pleasant enough event. A beautiful setting and there was free food in the all access band greenroom/barn area and even free beer (but it was crap beer, if you wanted the good stuff you had to pay $7) The vendors had some cool stuff, all eco friendly goods but even early on the first day of the event, there was grumbling about how under-attended the event seemed to be.
After exploring the lay of the land with Erin, who was accidentally on purpose piercing unsuspecting concert goers with her umbrella, the band and I landed at the Sonic bids stage and began to tune up for our set figuring we would play for maybe 5 people tops.
To my surprise about 30 or so people gathered in front of the dirt lot in front of the stage and we had a small gathering of about 4 or 5 kids who were pressed directly up against the stage watching us set up. When we kicked into the set, people began to dance, there was a good feeling out there in the hills of Agoura and as I was rocking out, I gazed into the California sky and caught the sight of a soaring hawk cutting through the blue…It was a great moment.
We had the crowd (such as it was) in the palm of our hands and I began to think that Bufest was alright, despite the lack of attendance. After a short but sweet set, I spent some time at the merch table and signed CD’s and talked to some folks who caught our set. As the next band was setting up, Erin and I took off for a walk thru the outskirts of Paramount Ranch and found a nice oak tree to climb. We sat in the tree chilling out as the sun set and I realized that I was living a very blessed version of the California experience. When the reggae bass grooves of Pato Bantan’s band began to reach our ears from afar, Erin and I decided to cut out early…She’s not a fan of reggae music and after spending over 10 years in Santa Cruz, I could appreciate her disdain for the repetitive nature of the genre.
The following day I was offered a ride to the Fest for day 2. I ended up going back just to enjoy the landscape and possibly see a few bands and network. I brought a handful of my new CD’s and some business cards and filled my flask with Bushmills. I wasn’t about to pay for overpriced beer again.
It was again, not terribly crowded. As I walked around I could actually fell the vendors seething with anger. There was a tangible taste of mutiny in the air. I met these really cool people from Oregon who told me that they were charged over a grand for vendor space…and that the organizers were pulling the old, “don’t tell any of the other vendors what we are charging you, because we are giving you such a great deal…” line. Apparently they would suss out who could afford what and charge people a lot or very little depending on their ability to pay…other vendors paid only $500 for space. By the middle of day 2 over half of the vendors had packed up and left and there was talk of class action litigation against the organizers of Bufest.
It was barely promoted…there were radio spots a couple of days prior to the event…and ZERO promo in the papers. Another factor may have been that the show was the weekend AFTER memorial day weekend. With the economy the way it is, if people had a nut to spend, they spent it over memorial day weekend. Which just left the bands who were playing and their rag tag gaggle of fans (most of which were getting in for free with passes and such) to wander about the grounds, bypassing the hucksters who were hawking their products/art/clothing as most band members have zero money to spend on items of luxury. Most of the musicians i know squander their meager earnings from music on gas, food and guitar strings.
A good number of the big name acts pulled out of performing. Eve 6 and Lifehouse were missing from the rouster. Alien Ant Farm, The Donnas and even local KCRW darling Mieko pulled out of the lineup. Bands like The Miggs were performing in front of 5 to 7 people.
Not sure what the situation was for most of the other groups, but my band did not get paid to play the show. The event organizers told us that because of “The Economy” they were running a very tight budget and that they could not afford to pay a local band. I figured that if there were gonna be 25,000 people there…heck even 5,000 people, that we would be playing to a good size crowd and that we would be able to sell out of CD’s. Which is why I took the time to set up a crew of a couple of female fans armed with with baskets filled with BTB CD’s to wander around the crowd. Brilliant marketing I thought…but instead of 25,000 there was like 30 people…maybe.
I did manage to sell enough product to pay the guys in my band, but for me personally it was a wash…again. Thanks Bufest…the little festival that couldn’t.