Hansen: Music festival hits high water mark

The night before his Blue Water Music Festival last weekend, organizer Rick Conkey slept on an air mattress on the festival grounds, making sure no one stole the equipment.

At 6 foot 5, his feet hung over the edge of the mattress. But he didn't care. He had other things to worry about.

Would people show up?

Will he have enough cash to pay the bands?

Will he be able to show his face again in Laguna?

He worried but he didn't let it show.

By midday Saturday, people started arriving — not a lot, but some. By late afternoon, the beer and wine started flowing and people were dancing. But it wasn't until Sunday night when the last act performed that Conkey finally allowed himself a glass of red wine.

"I'm happy this whole thing came together," he said smiling, clearly relieved it was over. "The ball will roll forward. The Sawdust was very happy with it. The city seemed very happy with it. The people that were here seemed very happy with it."

Conkey said he does not have final attendance numbers but he estimates as many as 800 people came over the two days.

Councilwoman Toni Iseman attended Saturday and thought the event was well done.

"The music was great, and I think everyone there that I spoke to was absolutely delighted," she said. "The quality was amazing. It's evident that Laguna is loaded with talent. This is going to sound a little strange, but it's depressing that these people aren't famous. Life isn't fair. They're that good."

Conkey has already started a list of lessons learned and has been approached by supporters for next year.

Perhaps it was the rolling air mattress he slept on, but he made nautical metaphors about the experience.

"It was a little bit of a leaking ship, but it got across the ocean," he said. "Now we have to repair all the holes and make sure this thing is improved."

He said several unnamed sponsors already talked to him about trying to get a big-name act to draw more attendance.

"That's the next step," he said. "That's what sponsorships can do. The first thing we're going to do is look for a huge headliner to step forward that will be sponsored, then we're on our way."

While Conkey expects the event will break even this year, it was too close for comfort.

There were several non-profits that received a portion of the ticket sales if the proper codes were used. Conkey would like to see a better ticketing system in place next time to simplify the process.

"All indications are we have an annual event at the Sawdust," he said. "And we have some really wonderful people coming on board with great, professional experience that really want to make this happen."

Iseman seemed to support the notion of making it an annual event.

"What we have to make sure is next year the word's out, and the place is packed," she said.

It was clear by late Sunday afternoon that the festival had turned into a love fest for Laguna Beach talent. Local bands like Ken Garcia, Rebel Rockers and Common Sense had everyone dancing and smiling. Pato Banton, Toulouse Engelhardt and David Lindley were icing on the cake.

The music festival proved that Laguna Beach has a decent (but not ideal) venue for a legitimate music event. There are some kinks to work out with adjacent businesses.

Now with a little help from supporters, perhaps this thing can grow into its own. Along the way, some very talented singer-songwriters like Adam Lasher and Sasha Evans can get the exposure they deserve.

And Conkey can get some sleep on a real bed.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at davidhansen@yahoo.com.

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