[Aural Reports] Nightlife Maven Sean Francis' Need for Speed Led Him to Create Spare the Air Fest

A Ticket to Ride
Festival promoter Sean Francis seeks to Spare the Air

Orange County music mogul and Spare the Air music festival promoter Sean Francis found inspiration and mobility where others would find themselves stranded.

The Spare the Air festival is related to the Earth Day event you used to put together?

We’d done these Earth Day shows a long time ago. I owned the Hub in 1994, and we had bands play there. I thought, “Why don’t we do a little Earth Day thing on our patio?” We did the show for maybe 300 people. The following year, I had it in the parking lot; a little less than 1,000 people came. The next year, it turned into the biggest Earth Day in the United States. It was cool, but what were we accomplishing? It was a day to feel good about the Earth? I always struggled with that. Plus, it was a free event, and it cost a lot to put on. I got all that money from sponsorships, or I had to come up with it out of my own pocket. I took a few years off to reflect and focus on one main issue. Earth Day was too broad. I didn’t feel that we were changing much with Earth Day.

How did that turn into Spare the Air?

I built the Slidebar, which is right where the Hub used to be, in the parking lot of the Fullerton Transportation Center. About seven months ago, I didn’t drive for a month. Here’s the real story: I lost my license for driving 170 mph. I’d just bought a new Bentley. The thing goes 205 mph. You’re going to try to see how fast the thing goes at least once. Sure enough, I was coming down the 91 express lanes, and there’s a CHP there, and he gets me going 140. I lose my license for a month, but I’m dating a girl who lives in the Hollywood Hills. She has a regular job and gets off at 6 p.m. For her to come down, she’d sit in traffic. I’m in the transportation center, so I get on the Metrolink. I’m 36, and I had no idea there was a subway under Los Angeles. It’s amazing. It changed my habits. Now, if I have a meeting in LA, I’ll take the Metrolink, and I have since gotten my license back. I get there faster on the train than I would driving, and it’s half the money in gas. I thought that I want to do Spare the Air, and it’s all about public transportation. From 15 to 35 is our target because they haven’t yet gotten set in their ways. They might get a job in LA or in South County; we might convince them to take a train. If you can convince a handful of people that day to start using public transportation for the next 30 years, you might change a lot. Someone for their entire career for the next 30 years can get on the Metrolink. That’s what this show is all about.

Did you keep ticket prices down for that reason?

This would be a $40 ticket. For a promoter to get the Used, Saosin, Lit, Sugarcult and the DJs I got would be a $40 or $50 ticket. Because of the sponsors, we’ve been able to lower the ticket price.

With the sponsors you mentioned, like the county of Orange and city of Fullerton—they’re not exactly the groups one would associate with a rock festival.

You would think, but they’re for public transportation. At a rock concert, you’re not necessarily going to see the mayor of Santa Ana, who is the chairman of the South Coast Air Quality Management District. This is to promote clean air and public transportation. It’s bringing all of these agencies together for this one day to try and change people’s habits. In fact, our generators for the show are all running on biodiesel. Those special generators are going to cost us more, but we’re going to run it off refined oil recycled from the Slidebar.

Like from your fryers?

Yeah. We’ve taken our oil, and we’ve saved it. The oil from the French fries you may have had at the Slidebar is running the generators for the show. The entire day, Amtrak, Metrolink and buses are coming and going. All day long, it’s in your face. You could never ignore it. The train is literally 200 feet away. One of the kids in Saosin—for the month of August, he will not drive a car. He’ll carpool or take public transit. There are kids that idolize that band. It might convince some kids to look at different avenues.

Spare the Air, featuring the Used, Saosin, Lit, Peanut Butter Wolf, Sugarcult and many more, at the Fullerton Transportation Center, 120 Santa Fe Ave., Fullerton; sparetheairfestival.com. Sat. See the website for show times. $10.67. All ages.

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