Pig races have their place, a chili cook-off is fine, and who could fail to love an ugly-dog contest? But what was it that brought a crowd of 50,000 to BeachFest in Long Beach last year?
"It's the music. It's the draw," said Beach Charities director Sharrie Dyer without equivocation.
Now in its 14th year, BeachFest '95, to be held at Shoreline Park on Saturday and Sunday, raises money for more than 70 local organizations along with Beach Charities' own programs. Those include education and retraining for the homeless and the Santa Paws program, which provides pets and care for children and low-income seniors.
Music always has been a part of the festival--which this year also includes beauty contests, a car show, an "Adventure Island," rides, arts and crafts--but previously it was a hodgepodge with little quality control, said Dyer.
"I'm almost 50 years old and I know a lot about ugly dogs and chili," she said, "but with rock 'n' roll, I can't tell a good band from a bad one."
Enter Steve Zepeda, best known as the respected, chance-taking talent buyer of Bogart's, the Long Beach venue that closed in late 1993. Hard as the loss of that club was on the local music scene, it did finally allow Zepeda to say yes to fest officials, who had been asking him for two years to organize their talent roster.
Those particular two years would have been discouraging in any event--in '92 BeachFest was preempted by the L.A. riots, while in '93 it was rained out.
Spurred last year by an enlivened music lineup put together by Zepeda, BeachFest '94 drew a sell-out crowd of 50,000 on its main day, paid off a $120,000 accumulated debt from the two canceled fests, funded Beach Charities programs and left $64,000 to be distributed to other organizations.
According to Dyer, "Everyone has commented on how much better the presentation and the caliber of the music was."
The surprising thing about this success story is that most of the music Zepeda is presenting is hardly mainstream stuff. Rather, most of the acts have been slogging it out in the O.C.-Long Beach alternative-music scene for years. Though several of the acts have made a career of music for a decade or more, only one, Sublime, has received recent radio play.
"Whether the bands have a CD out, radio play or any of that didn't have anything to do with choosing them," Zepeda said. "What mattered is that they have something to get across, they're accomplished and they fit the different formats of the stages." Two stages are devoted to contemporary rock, and two to roots-rock forms, which include blues, country, rockabilly and surf music. Sunday only, a fifth stage will be set up for rock oldies acts.
The performers range from country stalwarts Rosie Flores and Chris Gaffney & the Cold Hard Facts to Water and Jack Grisham's new band, the Joykiller, two varied alternative-rock acts with highly regarded new albums.
Unlike many talent buyers, Zepeda actually has seen most of the acts he books.
"When I'm seeing something good, I'm not Steve the booker--I'm Steve the fan. That's where the enthusiasm I have for doing shows comes from, the excitement of the music," he said.
Because so many local groups have played on his stages, he was well-situated to select bands. This year, he said he had so many artists interested in helping that he had to turn a lot of them down.
The Long Beach native has been booking shows for the last 15 of his 40 years, beginning when he was a communications student at Cal State Long Beach, where he brought the likes of the Blasters, X and the Plimsouls to the campus pub, the Nugget.
Since Bogart's closed, he's been an independent promoter, booking shows into Long Beach's Foothill, Blue Saloon and Que Sera clubs. It's an uncertain living, and he finds himself scraping by from month to month like many of the musicians he books.
And, like all the musicians involved in BeachFest '95, Zepeda is donating his services.
Getting involved wasn't a hard decision for him.
"I'm not that busy, and it's a positive thing they're doing here," he said. "When people are doing something good and they want you involved, you do it if you can."
Some of the acts playing BeachFest said they wouldn't be if Zepeda weren't involved.
Blasters' vocalist Phil Alvin will appear Sunday with Top Jimmy, Lester Butler, James Intveld, Rick Vito and other area roots musicians in the free-for-all group the Blues Meisters. ("I'll be there as sort of master of ceremonies," Alvin said, "probably just because I've got the best right hook for keeping guys off the stage.")
Alvin said he's generally had his fill of doing benefit performances.
"I've gotten leery of them," he said. "A lot of benefits are benefits only in the sense that the musicians aren't getting paid, while everyone else is--the vendors and all involved. So I really scrutinize them. If Zepeda wasn't involved, I probably wouldn't be doing this. He gave the Blasters its first gig at the Nugget years ago, and he's always been doing a good thing."
Because musicians enjoy playing music, he said, the music industry as a whole seems to place little premium on paying them for their work.
" 'C'mon, it'll be fun ,' they always say and then they go home with the girls, the drugs and the money while we're packing up afterward with no money in our pocket. What fun is that?"
Despite such protestations, Alvin does wind up doing benefit gigs, as do a great many local musicians.
"Look up me in the dictionary, and it says 'benefit,' " claims Costa Mesa-based singer Gaffney, who says the BeachFest will be the seventh benefit he's played for free so far this year.
Why does he think musicians, who usually could use a benefit or two for themselves, are always the ones tapped to help others?
"Well, who else can play the damn instruments, you know? I've got no qualms with us being the ones. I think it will be a blast," he said.
Sunday will practically be a family picnic for musicians Joe Wood, his wife D.D. Wood and her brother Jack Grisham, each of whom will be playing the BeachFest with their respective bands. They've each played several benefits, and D.D. Wood summed up their feeling about doing them.
"I'm a teacher during the day, so I guess it's kind of the same thing: I like to do it because I like to give back what I receive, and money's not always what it's about," she said. "I think it's important to help people."
* "BeachFest '95" take place Saturday and Sunday at Shoreline Park, Shoreline Drive and Pine Avenue, Long Beach. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days. Tickets for Saturday are $8 (advance) and $10 (at the gate). Tickets for Sunday are $10 (advance) and $15 (at the gate). (310) 436-7727.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
BeachFest '95: The Lineup
The festival takes place Saturday and Sunday at Shoreline Park, Shoreline Drive and Pine Avenue, Long Beach. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days. Tickets for Saturday are $8 (advance) and $10 (at the gate). Tickets for Sunday are $10 (advance) and $15 (at the gate). (310) 436-7727.
Saturday Stage 1 (Surf and Hot Rod)
11 a.m.--The Huntington Cads; noon--Del Noah and the Mt. Ararat Finks; 1 p.m.--Tiki Tones (the Swamp Zombies); 2 p.m.--the Ziggens; 3 p.m.--the Go Nuts; 4 p.m.--the Phantom Surfers.
Stage 2 (Roots)
11 a.m.--Hellbound Hayride; noon--Lucky Stars; 1 p.m.--Mystery Train; 2 p.m.--Dave & Deke; 3 p.m.--Phantom 309; 4 p.m.--Rosie Flores.
Stage 3 (Rock)
11 a.m.--Crash Kills Four; noon--Just Plain Big; 1 p.m.--ADZ (with Tony Brandenberg of Adolescents); 2 p.m.--Beowulf; 3 p.m.--Ex-Members (with Gabby and Spanky of Cadillac Tramps); 4 p.m.--China White.
Stage 4 (Rock)
11 a.m.--Pinwheel (formerly Trouble Dolls); 11:55 a.m.--Free Clinic; 12:55 p.m.--Violet Burning; 1:55 p.m.--Chris Cacavas & Junkyard Love; 2:45--Ghostly Trio (with John Easdale of Dramarama); 3:30--Giant Ant Farm; 4:15--Willoughby.
Sunday, April 23 Stage 1 (Oldies)
11 a.m. to 5 p.m.--Elm St. Blues Band and Miss Chili Pepper Contest.
Stage 2 (Roots)
11 a.m.--Bourbon Jones; noon--Russell Scott and the Red Hots; 1 p.m.--Chris Gaffney and the Cold Hard Facts; 2 p.m.--Mr. Hot Sauce Contest; 3 p.m.--the Blues Meisters (with Phil Alvin, Lester Butler, Top Jimmy, James Intveld, Juke Logan, Rick Vito and others).
Stage 3 (Roots)
11 a.m.--Throw Rag; noon--Sherry Clarke and the All Stars; 1 p.m.--D.D. Wood Band; 2 p.m.--Mike Martt Electric Band (ex-Thelonious Monster, with Zander Schloss and others); 3 p.m.--Gary Eaton Band (formerly of Continental Drifters); 4 p.m.--Cisco Poison (with Joe Wood).
Stage 4 (Rock)
11 a.m.--Bomboras; noon--Red 5; 1 p.m.--National Peoples Gang; 2 p.m.--the Rugburns; 3 p.m.--Battery Acid (with former members of Mary's Danish); 4 p.m.--Water.
Stage 5 (Rock) 11 a.m.--All Day; 11:45 a.m.--the Humpers; 12:45 p.m.--Manic Hispanic (with members of Cadillac Tramps, Joyride and the Grabbers); 2 p.m.--One Hit Wonder; 3 p.m.--the Joykiller (with Jack Grisham); 4 p.m.--Sublime.