Gary Tovar Has His Goldenvoice

The iconic concert production company birthed Coachella, helped punk-rock luminaries early in their careers—and isn't done yet

Gary Tovar Has His Goldenvoice

"Hey, look at this one," Gary Tovar says to no one in particular. "I liked this one. This is when Keith [Morris] broke his back, so I knew he'd go on early, right?"

Tovar positions the poster over the trunk of his champagne-colored, 1990s-era Toyota Corolla parked in the empty lot belonging to what used to be Acres of Books in Long Beach. The black-and-white poster advertised a show on Pearl Harbor Day, Dec. 7, 1984, at the now-defunct Grand Olympic Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles. The background was splattered with the iconic photograph of Japanese fighter planes queuing up for their attack on Pearl Harbor and the words "SYNCHRONIZE WATCHES! ALL-AMERICAN SKANK-OFF!"

The lineup? One that would sell out venues even today, with Circle Jerks, the Vandals and Youth Brigade leading the pack.

Gary Tovar
John Gilhooley
Gary Tovar
Paul Tollett, left, with Tovar
John Gilhooley
Paul Tollett, left, with Tovar

Location Info

Map

Santa Monica Civic Auditorium

1855 Main St.
Santa Monica, CA 90401

Category: Community Venues

Region: Santa Monica

Details

GV30 presented by Gary Tovar, features Social Distortion, X, Adolescents, Bad Religion, T.S.O.L., Youth Brigade, Descendents, the Vandals, Dickies and more at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, www.goldenvoice.com. Fri.-Sun., 6 p.m. $33-$99. All ages.

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"I had to talk to the Vandals and tell them, so I said, 'Vandals, take the 11 o'clock spot.' By 12:15, they'll be burnt, and sure enough, by a quarter to 1, a half-hour into the set, people were leaving."

Meanwhile, Paul Tollett is quietly thumbing through a well-preserved photo album, the kind with adhesive pages, picked at random from a pile stacked child-high that was sitting shotgun.

"Keith Morris," he says, gesturing to the photo. "From OFF! And Circle Jerks."

"Oh, look at this one!" Tovar exclaims, unfurling another oversized poster. "Remember Melody Dance Center?"

Another poster unraveled: "Oh, here's another one . . . the Damned."

And another: Fishbone, Bad Manners at Fender's Ballroom. Long Beach.

Another: "FUCK OFF, WANKERS!" is scrawled at the top.

"A show with a message," Tollett says.

"Who did Public Enemy?"

"That was March of '88," Tovar answers. "Or do you mean the [Santa Monica] Civic one?"

"N.W.A was at the Palladium; that was '87. That was their debut."

"Their debut? Huh."

The sun is just starting to dip below the buildings of downtown Long Beach, and the men are only beginning to reminisce. Tovar wears a freshly pressed, blue dress shirt over a white crew T-shirt. Jeans, dark wraparound sunglasses and a pair of black Docs top it off. He's the founder of Goldenvoice Productions, the wildly influential Southern California concert-promotions company. With roots long-steeped in punk, Tovar and Goldenvoice helped usher the genre from small clubs scattered throughout the suburbs into all-ages, large-capacity venues such as the Palladium and the Olympic.

Tovar spent seven years in prison on charges of drug distribution and left Goldenvoice in the very capable hands of employees Tollett and Rick Van Santen. While the subsequent years weren't exactly the smoothest ones for the company, two decades and a little something called the Coachella Music and Arts Festival later, it has secured its reputation for gathering the best, most innovative artists together for bills that span from intimate clubs to Imperial Valley polo fields.

And this weekend, Goldenvoice celebrates 30 years of riots, organized mayhem and beautiful music over three days with a lineup straight from the early years of the company.

"There were many bands Goldenvoice helped along through the years," Tovar explains. "But this is a festival to help celebrate the bands who made Goldenvoice."

* * *

It was 1981, and punk rock was a liability.

Just as promoters and venues tend to freak out over electronic- and rave-anything these days, promoters and venues back then wanted to avoid punk.

"Nobody wanted to do punk rock because it meant damages. I didn't see it as this Neanderthal music that some people wanted to stamp out," Tovar says, sitting outside Jan's Health Bar just off the main drag in Huntington Beach. He speaks energetically, with a passion that has clearly remained intact. "I refused to let the police, the authorities dictate what kind of music [could] be presented. We had every right to perform and every right to this culture."

Although Tovar's first punk show was catching the Sex Pistols at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom in January 1978, he was introduced to punk's plight through his younger sister Bianca, who had alerted him the police were tightening their grip around shows in Southern California. The heavy-handed crackdown convinced a 20-year-old Tovar that he wanted punk rock to flourish.

"I saw the culture. I wanted to push it as far as I could," he says. "I wanted to expose it to as many people as I could. I thought there were a lot of good thoughts that were getting a lot of resistance. And I think we won."

Chuck Dukowski, founding member and bass player of Black Flag and the man behind the Goldenvoice logo still in use today, says there was one main distinction between Goldenvoice and other promoters at the time: "Gary and Goldenvoice were willing to work with us and other new groups coming out of the punk rock underground. When the going got rough, Gary wasn't scared away by police pressure."

Born in Los Angeles, Tovar was now splitting his time between Santa Barbara and Huntington Beach. He decided to start his venture first in Santa Barbara, comparing it to "practicing in the minor leagues before I came into the majors." Goldenvoice's first show featured T.S.O.L., Shattered Faith and Rhino 39 at La Casa de la Raza on Dec. 4, 1981.

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7 comments
Mellissa Nielson
Mellissa Nielson

I thought there were a lot of good thoughts that were getting a lot of resistance. And I think we won."

Tapper
Tapper

Thanks for the article.

Qprimeguy
Qprimeguy

Great article. too bad the people over at the LA Weekly cut it all up and made the article all about drugs.

Linda
Linda

Thanks for making punk music a part of my life for the last 30 years. And what better Christmas gift than three nights of great music from the bands I grew up with. Looking forward to the shows!

R3dtr4cer
R3dtr4cer

Really a great read. Wish I would have been in the early days of punk. This is stuff I would have loved to do!

Matt Munoz
Matt Munoz

Great article, and so many legendary shows. Can't wait for...Oh shit, TOMORROW!

Punkndrublic911
Punkndrublic911

Good for those guys.

Paul always had the gift of promoting. He used to get his brother's band, Chardon Square, book at venues like the Roxy... I mean, top shelf shows for bans that were otherwise not heard of in 81.

I was kid back then carrying drums for them, thrilled to be backstage at the shows with Bad Manners (and then on stage diving and surfing the crowd), hanging around Tishbone (Fishbone for the uninformed), bouncing at the Olympic... But Paul had the gift and you could slowly see the shows, bands and venues getting bigger and bigger.

He always was and is a class act. Good on him.

 
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