Old school funk music has always had a place in Orange County. From backyard boogies to car shows and monthly dance parties at Original Mike’s and Malone’s, it’s a sound that continues to defy the passing decades and draw us to the dancefloor. A quick search of “Orange County Funk” on YouTube reveals a smorgasbord of electrified boogie classics with cover photos of The Santa Ana water tower, curvy Chicanas posing with Low riders, city names written in graffiti and many more OC-inspired images synonymous with our oldies and funk favorites.
But rarely (other than a trip to the Art Laboe show) do we get to experience a live event that celebrates the impact of the funk on our county culture. Which is why events like OC Funk Fest are so vital to the music scene. This year, the annual event is shaping up to be bigger and better than ever, according to its creator, George Sanchez of Curious Entertainment.
“If you don't believe me well, the numbers don't lie," he says. For years, Curious built its name through hosting various Funk and Oldies events in Orange County, including Firme Sunday, Valentines Love Jam, Dia De Los Muertos East End Car Show and Octoberfunk. This year they’re taking things to a new level with OC Funk Fest, moving into the Pacific Amphitheater at the OC Fairgrounds, their biggest venue to date.
"It was a difficult venue to get" Sanchez says. "We are an independent promoter, yes we bring out the best in Funk and Oldies but our name is still a work in progress." The first Funk Fest, featuring The Bar-Kays, Lakeside, Mark Woods Jr, Slave and Circle City Band was supposed to be at Original Mike’s but on their first ticket sale day they sold 500 tickets reaching the full capacity. When Sanchez decided to move the event over to The Yost Theatre, they sold out tickets and drew a crowd of 1,500 people. It was the beginning of a business that Sanchez dreamt about since he was a youngster.
The numbers only expanded in 2016, when they held their event at The Anaheim Convention Center, packing in a crowd of 10,000 funk fans. The sold out show featured Cameo, The Bar-Kays, Oneway, Midnight Star, Stone City Band and Ozone. This year, Curious Entertainment expects it to be another sold out show, this time filling up 13,000 seats for funk fans who will come out to see old school legends O'Bryan, Evelyn "Champagne" King, Slave, The Dazz Band, Lakeside, The S.O.S Band, Chocolate Milk and Zapp and other special guests. This is also the first year that the festival is hosting a pre-party, where guests will be able to drink and dance before the event with The Gap X Band and Stone City Band former band of the now deceased Rick James.
Considering their new digs, it’s almost unbelievable that when OC Funk Fest started, it was a struggle to get it off the ground.
"It used to be difficult to get a venue and artists to work with us but now they call us," Sanchez says. This year the Queen Mary in Long Beach City offered the Curious Entertainment team their venue for a reasonable price, much less than the OC Fair Grounds. But Sanchez denied the generous offer. "It’s very important for me to bring and keep the Funk scene in Orange County," Sanchez says. "That’s why Its called OC Funk Fest we want to stay true to our fans."
"This is my third time working with George and it’s always nothing but a good time," says Mark Hicks the son of Mark 'Drac' Hicks, the guitarist and vocalist of Slave. "I don't come to Orange County often but I'm very excited to be part of this event and perform alongside these artists I've known many of them for a long time and I'm happy to be a part of it."
The opening act of this year’s Funk Fest is O'Bryan, a SanTana resident. He graduated from Valley High School where he often sang in the talent shows in church before getting his big break via Capitol Records. During his career he played in various venues like the Budweiser Superfest in Los Angeles but only coming back to play in Orange County a few number of times in the Celebrity Theater in Anaheim now the River Arena. Coming back to the stage for the first time in 10 years, the singer says this hometown show has been a long time coming. "The Funk community in Orange County knows me but I don't know them and I want to get to know them,” O’Bryan says. “Everyone is proud when someone makes it out of your city but I've always wanted to play in my city."
When it started three years ago, Curious Entertainment team was made up of three people, including Sanchez the founder, Nelly Sanchez [George's sister] who took care of reaching out and booking artists and David Hernandez a long time friend that Sanchez considers to be a “brother from another mother” who takes care of the production, labor and security. Originally Curious Entertainment started with no sponsors they paid for everything out of their own pocket and they continue to as they are still into the early stages of their business.
"One may think we are making bank seeing as we keep booking a better venue each year and bringing big time artist and more performers but in reality we don't" Sanchez says, sitting in his office space located in Santa Ana off Broadway and First street. "But to me it’s never really been about the money, it’s about fulfilling this long time goal/vision it’s about having a good time and bringing back this Funk and Oldies Culture that was once so vibrant in our community."
This year, local businesses reached out to him to become official FunkFest sponsors, some from the community like Suavecito Pomade, Gunthers Supply Co., Good Fellas Barber Shop, Westcoast Lifestyle, Zug Monster, Firme Sundays, Santi360 Photography, Modelo and Corona.
One day Sanchez hopes to launch a Coachella style event with more than 20,000 attendees along with three stages that would include Funk, Old School Hip Hop and Oldies music. He explains that the event is a work in progress and already has the name down for it but you'll have to wait on the details. "I can tell you this, it’s a set project for myself and my team,” he says. “We are putting all our efforts and assets into making this our biggest event to date, it’s coming soon."
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Attendees who purchase VIP tickets for OC Funk Fest will have a meet-and-greet with all the performers on the lineup. For people that consume funk and oldies music this is something special considering the age of performers and not knowing if they'll be around to perform in the coming years or if they ever decide to retire. One things for sure is Funk is alive and has always been in the OC, the people here love funk they hit the floor in numbers at the first drum beat.
"They say history always repeats itself and music is no expectation except Funk and Oldies music is not history to me," Sanchez says. "It’s always been part of my life and I want to make it available to all the Funk Fiends out there that want to hear, see and experience these bands that would normally only be listened through vinyl or YouTube."
OC Funk Fest featuring Zapp, The S.O.S. Band, Lakeside, Slave, Evelyn “Champagne” King, Chocolate Milk, The Dazz Band and O’Bryan to the Pacific Amphitheater, 100 Fair Dr. Costa Mesa, (714) 708-1500, www.allstarconcerts.com, Sat. June 10, 3-10 p.m. $45-$150, All ages.