High & Low Refreshes the Festival Format While Keeping It Simple (and Fun)
When it was announced in May, there was some curiosity over the name of the new High & Low Festival. The high? Bands including Brand New, Death Cab for Cutie, Tegan and Sara, and Andrew McMahon will grace the same stage.
The low? Well, probably just the temperature in the air-conditioned comedy tent to counter the heat.
For Andy Serrao, developing the upcoming fest in San Bernardino was all about two things: good music and affordability. "I had a list of bands in my head, and I was told no quite a bit. To finally get it all together was one of the most difficult things I've ever had to do in terms of booking a festival," says Serrao, who owns Chain Reaction in Anaheim and has helped produce events such as Self Help Fest and Chain Fest. "When it comes to a dream lineup, I kind of came pretty close here."
Unlike similar festivals, which are held over the course of a weekend, Serrao thought attendees would appreciate a one-day event, which would be less costly. Tickets for High & Low, which takes place Sept. 9 at NOS Events Center, are priced at $79 for general admission and $259 for VIP, plus service fees. "Do you know how hard it is for people to go to three-day festivals?" Serrao asks. "Most people have to take some days off work, arrange places to stay, travel . . . We're talking about people spending thousands of dollars. And now there are a million of those festivals. I just want people to show up, have the best experience they can, see the bands that I love and hopefully they love, and they can go home and sleep in their beds that night. I don't want to inconvenience them to give them a great show."
The Orange resident was excited to land Long Island alternative rockers Brand New for the headlining spot. Though the band may have started in the emo scene, he says, they have since evolved into a full-fledged rock group. "I think people don't actually understand how big Brand New is," Serrao says, adding he first worked with the band when he was a security guard at Chain Reaction, just before one of their biggest albums, Deja Entendu, was released in 2003. "They kind of have this big, broad fan base of young people and millennials, as well as older people who've kind of graduated from maybe some of their peer bands. It's interesting. They have these incredible lyrics and have gotten people through hard times. Their records have stood the test of time."
The lineup also features Orange County's own Andrew McMahon, who started in the pop-punk/emo group Something Corporate and now regularly plays arena shows, opening for Billy Joel and becoming a familiar face at KROQ festivals. "He's become this major force," Serrao says. "I think [McMahon] has become this staple in the festival scene, which is just incredible to see because a lot of bands that came from the emo world, like, say, Something Corporate, don't get the respect on a festival billing. But people don't realize how much depth Andrew has as an artist."
Serrao notes that a sort of resurgence of emo bands is happening, with events such as Emo Nite being regularly sold-out. Despite coming from that scene in the early 2000s, the bands on the High & Low bill—which also includes Best Coast, Bad Suns, Cloud Nothings, Pup, Coin, Citizen, Alex G., Now Now, Kevin Devine, Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas, and Charly Bliss—have evolved in their own ways. "I think every band on this festival would hate that word because it has such a stigma to it," he says. "I think they all were birthed out of that world and now look at it as cheesy."
Poking fun at the genre, as well as music in general, will be the Hard Times comedy group. Best-known for its Onion-esque website, which frequently writes parody articles about bands and their fans, the group has started performing club shows in Los Angeles. The comedians are slated to perform four one-hour sets in an air-conditioned tent throughout the day. "I think they're pretty incredible and growing at a rapid pace," Serrao says of the Hard Times. "I just asked them if we could do a bigger-scale show for them. This is their first time doing something on this level. For me, sometimes you don't want to see some of the bands, and . . . I wanted to give people something to do when they're not really in the mood to grab a beer or a meal or watch a band."
Serrao hopes High & Low stands out among other festivals and will become an annual event. In fact, he has already started thinking of next year's lineup. "There are a lot of festivals that, to me, are just trying to be [like the bigger, mainstream festivals]," he says. "I think people are just buying into 'this is what a festival should be': multiday with certain bands. I think people are trying to out-cool themselves, but it doesn't have to be a standard thing to copy each other."
High & Low Festival, featuring Brand New, Death Cab for Cutie, Tegan and Sara, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, Best Coast, and more, at the NOS Events Center, 689 S. E St., San Bernardino, (909) 888-6788; www.highandlowfest.com. Sept. 9, 1 p.m. $79-$259. All ages.
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