The thing about grassroots festivals that few people ever see isn’t the grass or the roots, it’s the dirt that the hands have to dig in order to make everything come together. In the festival world, that dirt comes in the form unexpected obstacles, frustrated emails, sleepless nights and endless hashing and rehashing over minute details. Over the past two years, as local music event Happy Sundays progressively built its buzz on the streets of Long Beach, no doubt local music fans appreciated the end product of a full day of live music scattered through a garden of beloved venues and public spaces. But few probably realized that the heart of it came from a dining room table in the house of Scott and Julia Montoya smack dab in the middle of the Zaferia District off of Anaheim St. where the event is located.
For co-creators and veteran rock-n-roll musicians, planning a party for their neighborhood was a lot like planning their wedding back when they got married last October.
“Back when we got married I said I wish we could have a wedding once a year where basically you have all your favorite people come out and have a good time and party,” Julia says sitting at the table that’s become her home inside her home for the past year. “That’s exactly what I got [with Happy Sunday]. It’s awesome, but also given the amount of work and the level we want it to be takes a lot of work.”
Now on their third installment of the community-wide event, the couple are finally reaching their dream of turning a laidback Sunday funday event into a well curated, fully sponsored South By Southwest style shindig offering a day of free music from bands, art, comedy and community.
The idea of having acts like Jake Snider of Minus the Bear, stoner rock band the Shrine, Audacity, Death Valley Girls and Caught a Ghost who never play in the area mix with Long Beach faves like Rudy De Anda, Bundy and DCHAV offers a refreshing mix of sonic curation. Eight different venues including Los Altos Plaza Park, Red Leprechaun, Alex’s Bar, Urban Americana, Iguana Kelly’s, Long Beach Playhouse, DiPiazza’s and the newly opened Analog Records will each host a unique lineup of entertainment and talent with trolleys available to take people up and down Anaheim St. to get a taste of each stage. In the process, the Montoyas also hope that people who don’t normally come to Long Beach or and least not their part of town will get a feel for the neighborhood as festival championing small business instead of a standard, homogenized festival experience.
“Just talking to the business owners in the area has been really important,” Scott says. “Because if the business owners aren’t stoked and feel like they’re being railroaded into something that doesn’t help their business then it’s counterproductive and it doesn’t say anything or bring anything to the table.”
The analogies of being in band and working a small business aren’t lost on the Happy Sundays team. “That’s how we’ve made our living being in bands, that’s a small business. And our goal is to keep small businesses active here,” Julia says. “We don’t want to whitewash this area we want to support the businesses that are here. We want to keep the character, that’s what made us fall in love with Long Beach.”
The year long journey to go from bi-monthly event to a yearly festival has also got the couple thinking about ways to add to the spirit of inclusiveness that break through the invisible borders that separate communities in Long Beach that often feel very real. The goal is to make this all of Long Beach with Red Buses and trolleys going all day taking people to parts of the city they’ve maybe never been to.
“It’s amazing to her that there are still people who don’t know about Anaheim St. or the Zaferia District,” Julia says, remarking on the positive change the area has gone through in recent years. For a community once nearly destroyed by the LA Riots to endure today as a thriving business district is no small feat, but still even for all its hard work and self preservation it doesn’t get noticed as much as it should.
As word of the event grew, so did the support as was sponsored by a wide range of businesses from Joe Jost’s, one of the oldest bars in LBC to U.S. Representative Janice Hahn. Even Mayor Robert Garcia threw them a sponsorship.“This is our chance to make it a thing because everybody’s looking at it as a thing, even the Mayor,” Scott says.
For the “thing” to happen, Happy Sundays had to bring the sound–that in itself was no easy task. With help of event producer Jeanne Rice of Indie Ignited, the Montoyas were able to get sound equipment, skilled personnel to run the stages and of course the one thing everyone’s coming for–the bands. As artists themselves, Scott a former member of the Growlers and Julia the frontwoman of The Coathangers, throwing a festival instead of playing one (they’re doing that too, by the way as haunting electric folk duo White Woods) is a new challenge.
“From the artist side we really hope the artists to feel like they were thought about.,” Julia says. “When you go to play a show you’re thinking ‘Where’s my food, where’s my drink, where do I park?’ Even that was a long process.”
While coordinating a flight for Corey Parks, the bassist for the Shrine, to come out to Long Beach from Raleigh, NC for the show there was a pause when Parks realized Julia was the one in charge of these kinds of logistics. “I talked to her about on the phone the other day and she was like ‘What? You’re doing all this? I thought it was just someone in an office somewhere.’ And I was like no, if you contact us it’s gonna be me or Scott who answers.”
Between answering phones, blitzing social media and flyering the neighborhood themselves, the connection to the neighborhood they’re inviting people too has never felt stronger. Obviously events like this don’t get going overnight, after all SXSW wasn’t built in a day. But when thinking about how each move by their hands will is helping Happy Sundays grow, it feels like they’re slowly building their own Austin on the West Coast with the mission of not only keeping Long Beach weird, but helping to keeping it together. “When we were flyering and putting posters up around Long Beach I really felt like I was back when the Coathangers were starting in 2008. We would flier the fuck out of places,” Julia says. “It’s like that feeling of beginning something great.”
Nate Jackson is the gatekeeper to your dreams of local dive bar stardom. If he writes about you, expect your band to be offered at least one more drink ticket than the rest of the bands on the bill. Get his attention with some groovy tunes and he might just do it. Then, boy will you feel special.