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The standard model for a music festival these days is all about one-upsmanship. Each year, archetypes such as Coachella and Electric Daisy Carnival insist on changing shape—getting larger, more expensive and tech-savvy, and progressively impersonal. When OC-based entertainment company the Pacific Festival prepared to announce the next installment of its namesake event, we assumed it'd also follow suit. Another expanded two-day marathon perhaps? How about a surprise headliner that makes last year's Snoop Dogg/Cut Copy bill look like child's play? Maybe throw in hologram of a dead rapper to spice things up?
Instead, this year's Pacific Festival takes last year's bacchanal at Oak Canyon Ranch in a totally different direction by spinning it into a new event. Relocating to the sandy shores of Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort and Marina, Pacific Festival: The Dunes is curated to reflect the breezy, oceanside aesthetic of its notably posh surroundings. Think of it as the laid-back cousin of an agitated and sweaty FYF Fest. Headlined by retro-soul singer Mayer Hawthorne, more than a dozen groove-oriented, indie pop bands such as Fools Gold, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. and Poolside will plug in on a single seaside stage on Sunday.
"If we followed the traditional path of what most festival producers are doing, our third year, we'd be trying to go even bigger, more acts, more flashing lights and bigger stages," says Pacific Festival co-founder and Detroit Bar talent buyer Mike Tunney. "But for us, this year, that doesn't really define success." What does define success, he says, is the ability to draw celebrated up-and-coming acts to OC in a format that carves out its own identity.
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In 2009, Tunney and fellow Costa Mesa/Newport Beach natives Justin Ruiz and DJ/Dim Mak founder Steve Aoki started the Pacific Festival brand, launching a two-day event at Triangle Square that drew more than 4,500 people to hear Chiddy Bang, the Aggrolites, Morgan Colett and more. The event took over the complex, spilling into surrounding clubs such as Sutra.
The second installment in August 2011 boasted five stages, with a glut of national-marquee acts, all exploding with laser lights and relentless, untz-untz energy. A dancing tribe of 10,000 local revelers covered the sprawling, lakeside location of Silverado's Oak Canyon Ranch, howling and bouncing around to the likes of Ghostland Observatory, Calvin Harris, Cut Copy and Snoop Dogg.
"Our approach last year was Field of Dreams," Tunney says. "'Let's just blow it out do five stages. Let's do a 14-hour event; let's invite 60 artists out and see what happens.'" The learning curve was steep for the organizers, who'd never attempted anything that huge. Yet they pulled it off—Snoop's obscenely late start time notwithstanding. The trio emerged with a list of assets and improvements for this year's festival.
Among those assets are returning acts such as American Royalty, Miami Horror and Bag Raiders. Poolside—who played the festival as a DJ duo last year—are also coming back, this time on the heels of their ballyhooed debut, Pacific Standard Time. Last year's afternoon set at the Lakeside Stage turned out to be a major confidence booster for the San Francisco duo, despite worries about whether their dazed, tropical disco sound would go over well with the crowd.
"We were scared that no one was going to listen to it," says Poolside's Jeffrey Paradise. "But we ended up having a big crowd, and we got a lot of compliments for that, so it definitely encouraged us to keep doing our own thing."
The party is also representative of the vision for the brand Pacific Festival; the group want to throw memorable, cultural events that benefit the beach-area community its founders and producers grew up in. That includes donating a portion of the proceeds to the Surfrider Foundation and organizing a beach cleanup after the event. But most important, the group behind Pacific Festival: The Dunes hopes to prove that when it comes to festivals, one size definitely doesn't fit all.
As Tunney explains, "Some of these fests are getting so oversaturated and for the masses that there is a real need for that middle-sized festival that isn't a massive blowout, something a little more intimate, more of a tailored experience."
This article appeared in print as "Straight West Coastin': Pacific Festival: The Dunes taps into laid-back beach culture."