Who Stole the Punk Rock Picnic?

How OC's biggest backyard party went from mosh pit to money pit

Smith was so full of charisma and passion that Litwack and Schwab not only gave him the stage-manager gig, but they also made him the event's treasurer, in charge of signing and receiving checks, as well as working with all of the vendors and contract companies, many of whom were close friends of Schwab and Litwak.

Though the two had just met Smith, they were happy to accept help from a well-known member of the local punk community who seemed eager to help out. Besides, the Picnic never made any money for them to worry about anyway. What could possibly go wrong?

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Burn, punkers, burn
Pat Kinsella
Burn, punkers, burn

April Singleton and her husband, Barney, woke up in their Queen Mary hotel room on April 13, grabbed some coffee and gathered up aluminum racks of clothes from their rockabilly retro store, A PinUps Closet—corsets, vintage purses, polka dot dresses, tight black swimsuits à la Betty Page. Around 10 a.m., April looked out at the area near the ship called Queens Park, where the festival was scheduled to take place, and noticed that nothing had been set up. The park seemed empty. She flipped open her laptop, clicked onto the Punk Rock Picnic's Facebook page and saw the now-infamous note from Smith saying the event had not only been canceled, but sabotaged by Long Beach city officials, as well.

"The city of Long Beach booked a drift race the same weekend that I was holding the Punk Rock Picnic," Smith wrote. "It was going to be so loud that we wouldn't be able to hear the bands play, there was no overflow parking at the Pike, and they were going to charge me another $8,000 to advertise so that people didn't confuse the car race with the Punk Rock Picnic. I totally got screwed."

"It was a shock, to say the least," Singleton now says, perched on the plush red couch in the back of her Westminster store, surrounded by ruffled, satiny lingerie and swimsuits. "We were prepared for a few things to go wrong that day; it's a festival, after all. But c'mon—seriously?"

In his meandering message, Smith claimed the Queen Mary held onto his $5,500 deposit and that one of the bands he booked was refusing to return $2,000 he'd paid them in advance. Smith says he had no choice but to cancel the Picnic because it would have been drowned out by noise from the annual drift race, and that when he made his deposit with the city six months earlier, he was told no other events would conflict with his event. But claiming a street race would have a negative effect on one of the loudest, rudest genres of music is debatable. "We were at the Queen Mary that day during the drift racing, and it totally wouldn't have conflicted as far as sound," Singleton says. "It's not like he was throwing a freaking jazz concert out there."

Representatives for the docked luxury liner say it was Smith's choice to cancel the event after an agreement had been reached to use the venue, though they declined to comment further. According to city records, Smith apparently had a contract with the Queen Mary, which applied for a permit through the city (normal process for events in this location) on Feb. 14. On March 5, after a meeting with the parties involved, the promoter told the Queen Mary he was canceling his event, and Smith's festival-permit application was rescinded. A week later, he announced the cancellation of the Punk Rock Picnic Music Festival via Facebook, though tickets were still on sale days afterward on the event's website through a link to ticket broker Purple Pass.

A representative from Purple Pass later confirmed the money that had been made on the event through their site was funneled directly to Smith; all refunds would have to be processed through him. Despite willfully allowing Smith to hold onto the funds himself (typically ticket processors are required to withhold ticket funds from the promoter until after the event has taken place), a Purple Pass rep says the company is also considering legal action against Smith, "since this whole fiasco has caused a tremendous amount of problems for us as well, not to mention all the bad press simply for being associated with this."

But when it comes to getting refunds to vendors and ticket holders, most of whom were small businesses, Singleton and her husband say Smith's claims of being broke and unable to pay anyone just don't add up. "If my booth alone was $450, even if he had all the vendors who paid him, that would've covered the cost to at least start giving ticket-holder refunds," Singleton complains. "He had enough money that even if he lost $7,000 on the deposit and one of the bands, he still had money somewhere."

"All the fans and bands are mad at me because they think I just stole their money," Smith responded in an email statement to the Weekly. "I don't know what to do. I have built this Picnic up the past three years to make it what it is, and now, because of the city of Long Beach and the Queen Mary, not only will we not get to do the Punk Rock Picnic, but [also] the fans are out the ticket money they spent and the bands are angry. . . . The bands and the fans don't realize that I am one man putting on a $100,000 show by myself with no help and raising all the money to do so. I don't know what else I can say."

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