Last year’s version of Beach Goth was supposed to be the festival’s finest hour. Against the odds, the ragtag weekender put together by the Growlers and the Observatory had become a must-attend event and was one of the more prominent end of the year festivals. However, it’s fifth installment was met by a comedy of errors that saw the festival as it was once known meet its demise.
Between the venue change from Oak Canyon Park to the Observatory grounds, dangerous overcrowding both at the outdoor stages and inside the venue, overflowing toilets, lack of drinking water and rescheduled or cancelled set times, Beach Goth V was considered by many a disaster. The blame commenced between the band and promoter Noise Group (the Observatory’s parent company), who subsequently sued the Growlers alleging that it created the festival and owns the rights to its name and merchandising.
So, to say Beach Goth’s final edition was a mess would be insulting to messes. But despite the controversy, the band decided to move forward.
This year, the Growlers teamed up with Live Nation and SGE to create Growlers Six. Singer Brooks Nielsen was very tight-lipped concerning the circumstances surrounding the new event’s creation, and more specifically, the Noise Group lawsuit. He was mum on the details regarding the litigation, and couldn’t respond to specifics about what was going on.
“You only live once, so don’t be unhappy,” the singer says of the name change over the phone as he’s busy working on video for the event. “We just have to move on and do something better, and be optimistic. It’s been more control and help. It’s about respecting everyone who works for you and doing what their strength is too. If we can work with people who can facilitate our ideas and bring them to life, we couldn’t be happier. The artist can’t be good at everything.”
Internally, the Growlers underwent personnel changes. Following last year’s debacle, Nielsen and his bandmates have gotten more serious and spent time thinking about their future. Being bogged down in these details can be the death knell for a band. Instead, Nielsen says it’s been refreshing. Reshuffling the lineup and an improved attitude amounted to them having more fun.
“Everything was just overwhelming,” he says. “It was one big rage with partying. We toned that down a little bit. That’s step one, and that’s what this thing is.”
What he was happy to talk about, however, was what is going into this year’s event. Sometimes, a band could get buried in worrying about the nuisance of such an undertaking, but what the band relishes, is playing a hometown show.
“We don’t get to play at home a lot,” Nielsen says. “We starve it out and tour the world. It’s fun to come home with something that’s a little more thought out. We’ve been doing this a long fucking time and I’m excited to share it. This festival is going to be much more boutique as far as all of our ideas coming to life.”
Taking place in San Pedro at the LA Waterfront, the lineup once again will be one of the most diverse and eclectic of the year. Unlike any other bill, this one features Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Modest Mouse, Bad Brains, Danny Brown, Jenny Lewis’ Nice As Fuck, Rostam, Geto Boys, Juvenile and San Pedro’s own Mike Watt & the Secondmen. Despite the extracurricular events that take place, the centerpiece of the event has been Nielsen’s eclectic selection. As they plan it out, the singer says he will put out a wish list of hundreds of bands and slowly, either through their own contacts or their new partner, they’re able to snare their top choices.
“I can’t fully take credit for all of that,” he says. “Teaming up with Live Nation helped since they have some pull. Hopefully some of that has to do with people liking us. At the end of the day, we’re not politically stuck. A lot of these things are all connected and a lot of bands are tied together in weird ways, but we don’t have that. A lot of it is word of mouth and asking people personally ‘will you play?’, and they’ll do it because it’s unique.”
One such artist is the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach. In 2012, the singer/producer worked on tracks with the Growlers for what became Hung At Heart. Though it didn’t work out, he’s still familiar and stoked to be playing at this show.
“I always loved those guys,” Auerbach says over the phone from Nashville. “Even before I worked with them I was a big fan. It seems like such a great festival and a no-brainer. I looked at the lineup and it seems great. It’s like a record store employee made it. There’s a way higher percentage of people that I’d want to see at a festival, whereas normally I’m not as interested. It seems like a great thing they put together.”
The same goes for the B-52s. As one of the older bands on the lineup, Fred Schneider and company will be performing in front of a crowd that likely weren’t alive during their heyday.
“We heard that it’s a real thing to do and well-attended,” the B-52s frontman says. “We still kick ass and we’ve been getting so many new fans, and young people who were raised on us by their parents, and this will be a lot fun. And the lineup is really good!”
The Growlers thought about potential locations and doing it in the small, working class surf town made the most sense. Recommended by an anonymous friend, they were turned on to the location and realized that it was perfect for what they were going for. The work ethic of the diverse community was appealing to the band’s DIY ethos. The location may be out of the way for fans in Orange County and Los Angeles, but that wasn’t a deterrent for the band.
“It’s the most beautiful spot I’ve ever seen for a festival to be thrown at,” Nielsen remarks. “We have the ability to say that because we’ve toured festivals all over the world, and it’s much cooler than all of them. I’m biased because I’m from California, but when it comes down to it, San Pedro is the shit and most people don’t know about it.”
Having the years of experience working out the kinks of the festival allowed the band to get better in honing their vision of what a Growlers Fest should look and feel like. The usual array of artsy and unorthodox activities (Nielsen won’t reveal too much about the other aspects either) will be a part of Growlers Six. At this juncture in putting on events, it would be understandable if the band were over doing things on their own. Yet, Nielsen and company continue to design things and film backdrop video inspires the band as they continue to put in their direct imprint on the festival.
As much as Nielsen avoids any mention of the previous years, the stench of last year’s event looms large. The Growlers have made a concerted effort to move on to a new era, and give local fans the wide-ranging experience they’re accustomed to from the rockers.
“We don’t want to be political or in lawsuits or anything like that,” Nielsen says. “We just want to throw parties. In the beginning I wasn’t even sure I wanted to make music, but I was always the one throwing the party. In the end, we want to put on a great event and forget all of the bullshit, and show that nothing’s changed.”
The Growlers Six featuring The Growlers, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Dan Auerbach. Modest Mouse, Butthole Surfers, Danny Brown and takes place at the Port of LA, 3011 Miner St., San Pedro. (310) 732-3508, www.thegrowlerssix.com, Sat. Oct. 28-Sun. Oct. 29, $66-$350. 12 p.m. (both days). All ages.
Daniel Kohn is a writer based in Southern California. With bylines in an assortment of outlets, Kohn primarily specializes in music with other interests ranging from sports to food. As a transplant, Kohn loves the beautiful weather and is glad he no longer has to deal with brutal winters. If you see him, say hi and of course, he’s always willing to down a beer or two…if you’re paying.