For ticket holders, music festivals can be a treat. But for area residents, the only upshots can be bawdy fans, gridlocked traffic and noise de trop.
Anticipating such criticism, Tyler Russell was determined to do things differently. So he conceived an event that straddles the line between exciting and toned down.
Starting out, he rifled through a list of a couple hundred musicians and contacted only those who were of a high enough caliber, who then had to agree to a charity show. Staying away from punk or heavy metal types, his team lined up mostly acoustic acts — don't be surprised, though, if someone whips out an electric guitar. While the musicians themselves get increasingly mellow as the night proceeds, sound and production teams know not to turn up the volume too high.
And thus, KX 93.5's first-ever Festival of Music was born.
In keeping with the channel's commitment to air "Generational alt rock from the 1960s to today," it will feature Los Angeles indie rock band Trapdoor Social, actor John Ritter's daughter Carly and Colin Hay, an Australian vocalist previously associated with Men at Work and Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band. Costa Mesa musician Matt Costa will be the headlining act at the Festival of Arts grounds Saturday.
The space, which during the summer can house up to 2,600 Pageant of the Masters viewers, has over the years been leased out to the AIDS Services Foundation of Orange County, Laguna Beach Rotary Club (for its annual Classic Car Show), Pacific Symphony and others. The last event on this large a scale, though, was the Moonshine Festival, which starred Jack Johnson in 2004.
"There have been lots of events on the Festival grounds — some of them have had music and some of them have not," Festival of Arts events director Susan Davis said. "But we, meaning the Festival of Arts and city of Laguna Beach, are trying to be mindful of our neighbors who have, in the past, had moments where they've not been OK with the sound. We have been cautious about having events where the decibel levels might disturb people, some of whom live right behind us."
Organizers have done their part, Russell said, by being doggedly conscientious about the type of music they've chosen. His goal is not to push past any sound regulations — it is to present a festival that locals can be proud of.
"Laguna Beach has so much talent and love for music, but not a lot of outlets to express it," he remarked. Although Russell counts the White House, Cliff and Mozambique among the city's entertainment options, he believes that an outdoor concert in a "big, open space" is a refreshing change of pace for music aficionados, who otherwise file into restaurants and bars.
Thinking back to the early days of Laguna Beach's community radio station, Russell recounted wondering why nearby Dana Point and Newport Beach have music gatherings to their names, but not his hometown.
"It's something that Laguna wants to put its identity behind," he added. "We are responding to a major desire in town for this sort of thing."
Skylar Funk of Trapdoor Social agreed. Live music is indeed an integral part of a vivacious arts scene, he mused.
The band began as a twosome — Merritt Graves and Funk met via Pomona College's Environmental Analysis program and connected over shared environmental concerns — and has since grown to a sextet that is regularly heard by KX 93.5 listeners.
"We have toured through a couple towns where people are really engaged with the live music scene, and it's so awesome," Funk, 25, said. "It's great to meet a community of folks who appreciate live music."
A pre-party is scheduled Friday at the Aliso Creek Inn and Golf Course, where the Salty Suites will play original tunes and Deborah Magone, a Grammy-nominated blues and rock artist from New York, will take the stage.
Calling the free event a "bit of a guinea pig," Russell expressed hope that it will help build interest in the following day's festivities.
Costa, who recalls the venue from his appearance at Moonshine, is a fan of its historic and scenic assets. He plans to mull over his recordings, some of which are a decade old, and piece together a well-rounded set list.
A believer in the power of music to "transcend a scenario and feeling," Costa, 31, plans to attend the entire concert, which will be marked by performances by a number of his friends. Such shows are special to him, he said, because after being on tour so much, he is able to bring his songs back home.
Crossing his fingers that the festival passes the test and develops into a yearly gathering, Russell expressed pride at having teamed up with the Mauli Ola and Tony Hawk foundations and the Boys and Girls Club of Laguna Beach. One hundred percent of funds will be diverted to these charity partners, as well as KX 93.5.
According to Hans Hagen, executive director of the Mauli Ola Foundation, the independent radio channel has been a longtime supporter of the nonprofit's work introducing surfing as a natural therapy for people suffering from genetic disorders, including cystic fibrosis and cancer. Resources earned via such events are funneled into the foundation's patient support programs, helping it cast a wider net and aid more people in need.
Hagens, who helped to add Costa, Ritter and Hay to the concert's playbill, is most looking forward to "seeing the Festival of Arts grounds purposed for a local fall event and vibing to the amazing cast of musicians set to play for these great causes."
So far, about 300 people have bought tickets, Russell said, a number that both he and emcee Jason Feddy anticipate will increase.
To assuage the mild sense of unease among some locals, Feddy offered this: "We are very organized here. There will be no shortage of trash bags."
If You Go
What: KX 93.5 Festival of Music
When: 5:30 p.m. Saturday; doors open at 4:30
Where: Festival of Arts grounds, 650 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach
Cost: $35 general admission, $150 VIP tickets and $250 for patrons