Goldenvoice ready to roar in Orange County

INDIO, Calif. — In one corner stands a music promoter that made its mark in L.A.'s punk scene, throwing gritty events at warehouses and velodromes, giving voice to songs like “Beat Me Senseless” and “I Kill Children” before birthing an annual desert bacchanal that might be the world’s most successful music festival.

In the other corner is the master-planned community that put the O.C. in Orange County, where safety, schooling and temperance are hallmarks and a homeowners association can overrule one’s choice of house paint.

Today, growth and maturity have made Goldenvoice and the city of Irvine more natural bedfellows than they might have been not so long ago, and commerce has brought them together. Government officials say the two sides are putting the final touches on a contract that would allow Goldenvoice, the promoter behind the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, to stage a large, multi-day music festival at the Orange County Great Park as soon as 2013.

Officials said the first festival could draw more than 150,000 people. It would likely be the largest event yet held at the park, which is being built on the site of the decommissioned El Toro Marine Corps Air Station — a “signature event,” said Great Park Chief Executive Mike Ellzey, “completely unique and distinct.”


The foray into Orange County could be the trickiest play yet for Goldenvoice, requiring a deft diplomatic touch. “We don’t want to turn this town upside-down,” said Steven Choi, a member of the Irvine City Council and the Great Park’s board of directors. Choi suggested that the Orange County event could even be alcohol-free — which would indeed be a far cry from the sun-baked revelry of Coachella.

In an industry saddled with financial, technological and cultural uncertainty, Goldenvoice has enjoyed a striking ascent in recent years, reaching a lofty position as both ringmaster and kingmaker. This spring, the company doubled its Coachella crowed by expanding to two weekends, then added a day to the festival’s country cousin, Stagecoach, and still sold out 55,000 passes. The aggregate attendance at the desert festivals passed a half-million for the first time, with a remarkable 650,000.

Now, Goldenvoice is preparing to plant its flag not in Indio, on the fringes of the metropolis, but in the heart of the Orange County suburbs. Goldenvoice President Paul Tollett said the new festival would be “not Coachella,” though he did not say what the alternative might be. A possible model, he said, could be the fabled US festivals thrown north of San Bernardino by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak in the early 1980s, with each day used to celebrate a distinct musical genre. “It’s just too early,” Tollett said.

As something akin to a warm-up, Goldenvoice is promoting the music-and-skate-punk Vans Warped Tour, scheduled to be held at the Great Park in June. Reflecting the discussions to come, several officials expressed reservations about that event. At a recent park board meeting, member Larry Agran, an Irvine council member, joked that he left popular music in the Perry Como era. When he looked at the Warped Tour website, he said, “it kind of frightened me.”


Any expansion to the south would further fuel Goldenvoice’s ability to shape the very soundtrack of the West.

Typically, concert promotion is a hidden sector of the music industry — fans come for the acts, not the company booking the venue and printing the tickets. But Goldenvoice’s growth in the last decade has enabled it to flip the equation — “fans became loyal to Goldenvoice,” said Kevin Lyman, who worked for the company for a decade before launching the Warped Tour.

Goldenvoice’s early years were spent on the outside looking in. In the 1980s, riding the cacophonous and often outlandish antics of such acts as the Circle Jerks and the Dead Kennedys, Goldenvoice gave an air of unity and legitimacy to the West Coast punk scene — without eroding its proud sense of rebellion, which many viewed as no small feat.

“It made you feel like you were part of this secret, underground society,” said Brett Gurewitz, a founding member of the band Bad Religion and the punk rock entrepreneur behind Silver Lake’s Epitaph Records. Last fall, Goldenvoice celebrated 30 years with a string of concerts at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, recognizing the bands that shaped the company’s brand — punk outfits such as Social Distortion and Gurewitz’s Bad Religion. “It felt like a family reunion,” he said.


By now, Goldenvoice has reached a rare perch where it shapes popular music; its decisions about lineups and time slots — the company has already announced dates for another twin-weekend Coachella in 2013 — are followed closely and can make a band’s career.

At last month’s Stagecoach Country Music Festival, the singer Miranda Lambert gazed at the crowd and remarked: “I can’t believe I’m playing last.” Despite a string of hits, she’d finally made it, apparently — because she’d been granted one of Goldenvoice’s choice, headlining time slots.

Witness, too, the instantly Internet-meme-worthy “appearance” of the late hip-hop star Tupac Shakur via projected CGI at last month’s Coachella festival. The Shakur simulation even gave a shout-out to “Coachella,” a word he does not seem to have uttered before his death. The moment prompted talk of Shakur going on “tour” — and had some fans cringing at the prospect of faux reunions of the Rat Pack or the Beatles.

By now, said Pablo Soler, co-director of the Primavera Sound music festival, held each spring in Barcelona, Spain, Goldenvoice’s lineups “are a global reference.” Soler attended this year’s Coachella festival on a scouting mission of sorts. “Every promoter in the world checks them — or they should,” he said.


Goldenvoice is not new to Orange County — its founder, Gary Tovar, worked in the early years out of Huntington Beach, and the company has played a role in the Hootenanny festivals, a smaller-scale rock celebration held primarily at Oak Canyon Ranch. But taking the full-fledged Goldenvoice circus into Orange County

raises a host of issues for Irvine, whether it’s noise levels or traffic routing. Those issues will be hammered out in the coming months.

“Our foremost concern is public safety and orderly conduct,” Choi said. Orange County has been home to plenty of music over the years, including an influential punk scene of its own. But Choi said officials would only tolerate a festival “suitable to our characteristics,” and a crowd that is “well-behaved — no drugs and no alcohol.”

Tollett suggested that he is prepared to navigate those concerns.


“If someone did a big event in Orange County, they would have to make it specific to Orange County,” he said. “It would have more flavor to that county than Coachella or Stagecoach does out here.”

The 4,700-acre former military installation where the Great Park is being constructed, despite being a real estate jewel, has endured a tortuous time.

The base closed in 1999; in 2005, Lennar Corp.bought the bulk of it from the federal government, then signed a landmark deal to transfer the base’s 1,347-acre core to the city in exchange for the rights to surround it with homes and businesses. Under the plan, homebuilding would pay for the construction of the Great Park, which would be nearly twice the size of New York’s Central Park.

But the funding mechanism crashed with the housing market. Though a respected landscape architect hired by the city completed a heralded design that includes wooded forests and a man-made canyon, construction of the park has languished. The site’s abandoned runways have been leased for automotive tests; vacant land has been rented to strawberry growers.


The Goldenvoice festival, if successful, could go a long way toward giving the park a taste of the cachet the county has long envisioned, officials said. It could also be lucrative for the county; government documents outlining early negotiations suggest that Goldenvoice could pay the county $250,000 for the space, and $3 to $5 per person, as well as paying for park improvements.

“I think it’s just wonderful,” said James “Walkie” Ray, the park board’s vice chair. “Goldenvoice has a good reputation. We want the Great Park to be a metropolitan park serving a very broad community. We want folks coming in from across Southern California. That’s our dream.”

Fans, too, are already buzzing over the possibilities of the Orange County festival. On an Internet message board for Coachella fans, a few said they were concerned that a new festival could detract from the Indio festivals, but most welcomed the development. One said the Orange County festival has “greatness written all over it,” and another said he’d been “waiting for something like this to happen down here in the OC.”

“Hell, yes,” said Mennette Sanchez, 21, of La Habra Heights, when asked at the recent Stagecoach festival if she’d consider adding another festival to her docket. “We would crawl over there.”


Times staff writers Tony Barboza and Randy Lewis contributed to this report.