Who Stole the Punk Rock Picnic?

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

But Smith never had legal ownership of the Punk Rock Picnic as most people know it. The festival he was advertising online was the Punk Rock Picnic Music Festival, which had all but stolen the identity of the festival he'd worked on in years prior. A cursory glance at the event's website shows photos from past years of the original Punk Rock Picnic—artwork, vendor forms and logos that were all used by Litwak and Schwab, his former partners, on their festival's website, which they've since taken down.

The cache of the old fest, along with the allure of GWAR and Danzig, followed by DRI and Anti-Nowhere League, is what got most ticket holders, bands and vendors to sign on in the first place. A call to both GWAR and Danzig's management confirmed that although initial talks were conducted, it was clear early on that Smith would not be able to afford the deposits either band required to hit the stage, which reaches upwards of tens of thousands of dollars—and explains, in part, why they were billed on the flier, then they weren't.

But the faulty business practices that led to the cancellation started with Smith, Litwak and Schwab's arguments over how Smith handled the contracts and monies the Punk Rock Picnic had earned or, in this case, lost in the years he worked on the festival, from 2010 to 2012. Despite bringing on such bands as the Supersuckers, Youth Brigade, Fear and others, Schwab and Litwak say, Smith had failed to pay most of their contractual obligations to the staging and sound companies, a few of the lesser-known bands, and the Sheriff's Department; the Punk Rock Picnic still owes $7,000 for providing security during 2012's event. Even if they'd wanted to and had the funds, there's no way Smith or the festival's original founders would have been allowed to throw the event because of the outstanding debt to law enforcement.

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

Naturally, Long Beach would be the next best option for Smith to host his own fest. And even though the original Picnic's business account was controlled by Smith, which Litwak and Schwab say they no longer have access to, Schwab was the one who signed the agreement with the Sheriff's Department to pay for security in 2012, making him liable for the cost. More than a year later, he's still getting calls every couple of weeks and letters every couple of months asking him to pay the department.

"The Sheriff's Department already knows that [Smith] should be in jail for grand theft, grand theft larceny, identity theft, fraud, attempt to defraud a business," Schwab says. "When he used the Finding a Way Foundation, he signed the bill for Stage Tech [the festival's staging company] and billed the money to Finding a Way Foundation, something that has nothing to do with him. He's dropping it on me like he thought he was gonna get away with it."

In the months following the nonevent, as fans, bands and vendors continue to wait for any sign of a refund, sentiment against Smith and the Long Beach festival has grown pretty impatient and, in some cases, hostile. Various bands and concertgoers interviewed for this story cite Smith's mismanagement of the festival's organization and finances as the reason it has been canceled. There's even a Facebook group dedicated to boycotting the event; its page is riddled with harsh comments from bands and fans who say they've been ripped off by Smith.

When bands are still cultivating a fan base, events such as this, leaving current or potential fans with worthless tickets to a show that never existed, can be harmful to their reputation. "You don't wanna be known as that band that flakes out on promises or doesn't come through," says Marin of Foreign Bodies.

Likewise, the owners of A PinUps Closet say they would've had to recoup customers out of their own pocket had they agreed to sell tickets for the doomed Picnic in their store.

Despite the obvious debacle, certain bands higher in punk rock's social pecking order who managed to be unscathed in their dealings with Smith aren't exactly ready to tar and feather him based on their experiences. "I got nothing bad to say about the guy," says Jeff "Boz" Milucky, guitarist for local legends the Crowd. "He's done what he said he was going to do on the two occasions I've worked with him. He knew I would be very unhappy if he didn't."

Mike Magrann of old-school punkers CH3, scheduled to play as a sub-headliner at the festival, says the band's dealings with Smith in person were fine, though he seemed to be a nice guy who was in way over his head. "We've become accustomed to showing up at these festivals and given a dressing room and Vitamin Waters," Magrann says. "Maybe we've forgotten about all the chaos and the dreamers, all those canceled gigs and fucked-over paydays of the past. But it's nice to have a reminder!"

Maximum Maxie, the lead singer of masked "power pop punk rock" outfit the Maxies, believes bands who agree to "pay to play" are violating punk-rock ethics. "If all of these bands collectively said, 'No, we're not doing your job for you, and we refuse to sell tickets,' then these kinds of scams would stop," says Maxie. "It's gotta be up to the bands to bust their asses and play the smaller shows and work their way up to be asked to play an event like this, instead of buying their way in."

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