What the Hell Happened to Punk Rock Picnic?
John Gilhooley

What the Hell Happened to Punk Rock Picnic?

While there's plenty to be happy about with this year's Ink-n-Iron lineup at the Queen Mary in Long Beach, the Weekly recently learned that another one of the ship's major festivals slated for spring has sunk. Last Thursday, Punk Rock Picnic was cancelled until further notice. The two-day festival, which already suffered the loss of it's previous headliners, Danzig and Gwar, was scheduled to feature over 60 bands on April 13th and 14th on the iconic Long Beach vessel. Now it appears that the future of the entire event is going down in flames due to a scheduling conflict with the city of Long Beach and an amateur event promoter who got in way over his head.

The day of the cancellation, promoter/organizer Steve Smith posted the news via Facebook and told his side of the story of why the event was cancelled.

"The City of Long Beach booked a drift race the same weekend that I was holding the Punk Rock Picnic," he writes. "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 $8000 to advertise so that people didn't confuse the car race with the Punk Rock Picnic. I totally got screwed."

The news came as a shock to many who had already purchased tickets when they went on sale several months ago. The average price per ticket ranged from $35 (one day) to $150 (Backstage, all access for both days).

Headliners of the event included English hardcore punk stalwarts Anti-Nowhere League (their only US tour date this year) and Houston legends D.R.I. Over the years, previous lineups have included the Dwarves, TSOL, the Dickies, Youth Brigade and more.

The event, which was held at Oak Canon Ranch last year (as wells Irvine's Hidden Valley Ranch in 2010 and 2011) has had its share of detractors since it started five years ago. An angry mob of bands and concert goers site Smith's mismanagement of the festival's organization and finances as the reason its been cancelled. There's even a Facebook group dedicated to boycotting the event riddled with harsh comments from bands and fans who say they've been ripped off by Smith.

The promoter on the other hand, claims to be the one getting the shaft. He says that the Queen Mary still has a hold of his $5,500 deposit and that one of the bands he booked still has his $2,000 deposit. Representatives for the docked luxury cruise liner say that 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.

The Picnic was scheduled just days before the Long Beach Grand Prix, one of the biggest annual events in the city, which takes place April 19-21. Typically, the days leading up to the Grand Prix are packed with a number of affiliated events, including the drift race that the Long Beach City Council says would have a negative effect on Smith's event because of the extra noise factor. In fact, scheduling anything in downtown Long Beach in the heart of race car territory during GP season was probably Smith's first, second and third mistake as a promoter this year, though he says he was assured six months ago that no event would be held on the weekend of his festival.

According to an emailed statement from Smith, the city also said that it was mandatory that he advertise on their digital street sign to keep the confusion down between the two events, to the tune of $8,000. With barely enough funds to cover the venue, Smith says he couldn't come up with the money in time to keep the event alive.

The promoter says he's given up literally everything he has--including his own muscle car and a motorcycle-- to find revenue to produce the event independently. He says any money he got from sponsorships went directly to pay for the venue and advertising and bands with zero breathing room for emergencies, or refunds to ticket holders.

Despite announcing the cancellation of the event last week via Facebook, the venue's website was still operational and tickets can actually still be purchased for the event via the distributor Purplepass.com. Though he'd like to keep it going, Smith says the latest gut punch to the fests credibility makes that dream nearly impossible.

Nick "Animal" Culmer, the lead singer for Anti-Nowhere League, said after his band agreed to do the festival several months ago he was battered with emails from various people warning him about working with Smith. He quickly contacted Danzig, who dropped out of the event months earlier, to find out more about the festival and its promoter. "Over 30 years in this business and I have never heard so much bad press on any person more than him, fuck," he says. "How guys like this can even start to organize a big event in this day and age really surprises me."

Though he's still not sure if Smith was being a money grubber or just a dreamer, Culmer says that the string of bad press his band has gotten over the cancellation is all they have to show for their involvement with the Picnic. He says the band promises to return to Southern California to make up for it as soon as they are contact by "real promoters."

"All the fans and bands are mad at me because they think I just stole their money," Smith says. "I don't know what to do. I have built this picnic up the last 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 the fans are out on the ticket money they spent and the bands are angry. This picnic has been going for the last five years and now it will die...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."

Currently Smith says he's been scouting out new venues which includes Whittier Narrows park in South El Monte. The event's website says the Picnic may be rescheduled sometime in June or August. Though his social media rants don't inspire too much confidence in that projection either. "Everyone can bitch and cry and complain if they want. If anyone has a new venue we can move the picnic to I am all ears," Smith writes. Heard Mentality will keep you posted on details as they become available.

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