Preaching rarely works, and earnest warnings often go unnoticed. But publishing executive Fran Richards realized how to meaningfully inform young adults about the risk of AIDS while flipping through the pages of a rock 'n' roll magazine.
There in an interview published in the now-defunct R.I.P., Dave Mustaine of Megadeth talked excitedly about the joys of snowboarding. On another page, Scott Ian of Anthrax was pictured in a snowboarding T-shirt. Richards soon imagined a mix of music, board sports and AIDS awareness that would culminate in the annual Board AID festival, which returns to Big Bear Lake on Sunday with performances by the Offspring, Wyclef Jean, Steel Pulse, the Specials, Royal Crown Revue and One Hit Wonder.
"I thought it would be really cool if we did a benefit where we took the skateboard community and the snowboard community and we did something good--to prove to the world that all skaters and snowboarders aren't just a bunch of dirt bags who don't care and are anti-social," says Richards, general manager of TransWorld Media, which publishes WARP magazine.
The result now is a 5-year-old festival that has so far raised $475,000 for AIDS outreach and education programs aimed at teenagers, says Richards. Proceeds have been distributed to programs across the country, including the Los Angeles Free Clinic and the AIDS Resource Center in Manhattan.
Aside from music, fans who arrive at the Bear Mountain Resort will find high-energy board sport demonstrations, occasional speakers and AIDS awareness booths. "It's kind of a wild three-ring circus," says Richards. "We've got guys flying through the air on skateboards and snowboards right by the stage.
"Last year we had a Tribe Called Quest play, and they all went snowboarding right before they went on stage," Richards adds. "We almost didn't get them on stage in time. They wanted to take one more run."
For event co-founder LIFEbeat, the music industry's 5-year-old AIDS organization, the festival's importance is largely in delivering a profound if rarely heard health message to young people, says executive director Tim Rosta. To that end, student editors from more than 60 high school newspapers are invited every year.
"One out of every four new infections is in a person under age 25," says Rosta. "So it's important that somebody be addressing that audience in a way that's nonthreatening, taking a message and wrapping some popular culture around it and delivering it in a way that young people want to hear and embrace."
For the musicians who perform at the daylong festival, Board AID also provides a chance to help fight a disease that hits ever closer to home. "There was a time when you sort of knew someone in the papers, then you had a friend who had a relative who was like that," says Steel Pulse singer-guitarist David Himes. "Now that you've got a friend or two that's contracted it, you just want to get involved."
In previous years, Board AID has attracted performances by the likes of Porno for Pyros, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Bad Religion, 311 and the Pharcyde. This weekend's event promises another multi-genre lineup of music, ranging from the hip-hop of Wyclef Jean to the punk rock of the Offspring.
"We try to vary the music as much as possible to keep it appealing to people," says Richards. "Certainly, there is some more gravity toward faster music, and some urban music. But we really tried hard this year to have a broad spectrum. Kids are into all different stuff."
The Specials will arrive Sunday in part to commune with the new wave of ska fans that has emerged in the years prior to the band's recent reunion. "All these kids are into skateboarding," says Neville Staple, whose band first came out of Britain's late-'70s two-tone ska movement. "And I'll tell you, if I get up on a skateboard I'm hopeless. That's their scooter."
Fans at the festival are typically a mix of die-hard music fans or board-sport enthusiasts, traveling up the mountain from cities stretched from Los Angeles to San Diego. The event's success led earlier this month to Board AID's first appearance in Europe, headlined by Run-DMC in Andermatt, Switzerland.
"The most important thing for us about this event is the way it really delivers a powerful message in a way that is not preachy," says Rosta. "It also raises a lot of money. That's as good as it gets."
The Offspring, Wyclef Jean, the Specials, Steel Pulse, Royal Crown Revue and One Hit Wonder play Sunday at Board AID, Bear Mountain Resort, 43101 Goldmine Drive, Big Bear Lake, 9 a.m. $30. (909) 585-2517.