Happy Sundays delivers a slice of Long Beach culture with its homegrown ‘anti-music festival’

Joyce Manor performs at Happy Sundays.
(John Michael Ferrer)

The creators of Happy Sundays, Scott Montoya and Julia Kugel Montoya, know exactly what they don’t want to do: create a giant ticketed Goldenvoice-esque festival that costs a ton of money for some and earns a ton of money for others.

That’s why even as their annual community-focused festival has steadily grown from one small venue to virtually the entire Zaferia District in Long Beach over the last seven years, it’s always maintained the same basic principles. It’s free to attend, the bands/artists get paid, and the Montoyas are going to give it their absolute all every year to make sure that everyone has as good of a time as possible.

“We really want it to be almost an anti-music fest where everyone just wants to play and be joyful,” Julia says. “It’s about how music can bring together all different kinds of bands and people. That’s the whole point.”


After spending the vast majority of their adult lives seeing the music industry from the artist perspective (Scott as a former drummer for the Growlers and Julia as the guitarist/vocalist for the Coathangers), the Long Beach couple are all about finding new ways to simultaneously give back to their local and musical communities. Happy Sundays has become the live culmination of that mind-set. It’s a way to directly support the businesses, residents and artists for a day while celebrating the vibrant and diverse music scene in and around Long Beach.

And this year, the event on Sunday isn’t even strictly a music festival. Spread across seven different venues (including two all-ages outdoor stages) with a trolley running between them, 2023 also returns stand-up comedy to the mix with Christoper Carmen and Shane Torres headlining the Long Beach Playhouse. Aside from the re-addition of comedy, the fest includes sets from bands like Nectarines and L.A. Witch, as well as an auction to support the Montoyas’ Studios for Schools nonprofit (featuring dozens of rare albums and autographed items, including a Fender Stratocaster signed by Albert Hammond Jr. of the Strokes).

Julia Kugel Montoya and Scott Montoya smile in front of palm fronds
Julia Kugel Montoya and Scott Montoya, the Long Beach couple behind Happy Sundays.
(Lauryn Avlarez)

The Montoyas enjoy the fact that they don’t really need to explain to many Long Beach locals what Happy Sundays is after seven years in existence. Even if a venue or artist hasn’t participated before, if they’re local, residents likely are at least familiar with it. It might not be a nationally renowned festival just yet, but there’s a pretty good model for what it could look like years down the line.

“We used to go to South by Southwest all the time with our bands, and we realized that it was such a good thing for the area,” Scott says. “We just thought it’d be really awesome to get something like that going on here, because there are so many venues that we could just have free shows and bands all over the place. We really wanted the local community to be able to enjoy it and not just the music scene, which is why we added Khmer to our posters and stuff, since we’re in Cambodia Town.”

While a single-day, seven-venue event may not rise to the level of Austin’s most famous festival anytime soon, there are already plans for a Happy Sundays event in the Bay Area and a tentative plot to expand beyond that in the coming years. As the founders of an online independent music video channel called, the Montoyas can see a future where Happy Sundays events happen all over the world with livestreams occurring from each location — or one where they can expand to larger stages in local parks to accommodate bigger headliners. They’re also in support of other local venues hosting their own events while everyone is already out and about for Happy Sundays, similar to the “unofficial” South by Southwest shows that pop up all around Austin during the event itself.


“[Long Beach] Mayor Rex Richardson was doing a little talk the other day, and he said that he wants to wean Long Beach off of oil money by 2030,” Scott says. “They’re trying to figure out more ways to bring in revenue to the city, and entertainment is a big one. It’d be really cool to have Happy Sundays become a citywide thing stretched out over an entire weekend or week, although I don’t know what we would call it if it was more than one day.”

A band performs to a crowd in a room with a brick wall with art on it.
Prettiest Eyes perform at Happy Sundays.
(Matt Cowan)

For now, the Montoyas remain focused on the immediate future of Happy Sundays — including taking the stage during two sets on the day of the festival (as Julia, Julia at 3:30 p.m. at Bamboo Club and then Soft Palms at 6 p.m. at Port City Tavern). Julia will still continue her tradition of giving out VIP wristbands that don’t actually mean anything or grant access to anywhere (“But they make people feel special!”). Once that’s over, it’s back to planning for next year — starting with finding sponsors, artists, vendors, venues, and one of those electric golf cart companies to assist in transportation along with the annual Big Red Bus shuttling attendees around.

Of course, they’re also aware that things don’t always work out the way they planned. 2021 saw a strong post-COVID return with a major headlining set from Joyce Manor, but 2022 landed on the same day as the Strokes playing at This Ain’t No Picnic in Pasadena. If there’s one thing Happy Sundays taught the Montoyas in the past few years, it’s that last-minute changes and complications are inevitable. And forging ahead despite any unplanned obstacles is the only way to keep themselves sane, and of course, happy.

“It’s like we’re throwing a wedding every year,” Julia said. “We start planning in February, we spend months making sure that everything is perfect, but we’re also ready for everything to collapse at any time — especially since COVID. The pandemic was a great lesson that it doesn’t matter if you’ve been planning for six months, you might have to cancel it all tomorrow. It really lifted the stress off of planning for us, because we know that there’s a chance it could fall apart and there’s nothing we could do about it.”