The Growlers didn't have too many grand plans after hosting their first Beach Goth festival four years ago. But by the time all the sweaty, psychedelic, costume craziness at the Observatory was over, they knew they wanted to keep it around. Comparing it to making a record, singer Brooks Nielsen says the band was ready to build off what they learned and make it better.
In the early days, the band and their crew worked tirelessly all the way up to the day before building the props and art installations. Nielsen recalls a time when the band had to literally saw ply wood and put it together in less than six hours in order to prepare for the earlier Beach Goths. After spending the majority of those early days hoping that everything would go right, The Growlers would have to drive back, pack everything up themselves, drive and dispose of what they'd done the day before at the dump. But it's that DIY ethos that's turned the event into one of the most anticipated on the OC concert calendar.
As Beach Goth continues to grow, it's allowed the band to wean off their minutiae activities. Nielsen says the band is able to lean on their production team and friends of friends to help handle the logistics of the event when The Growlers are on tour. Delegating work has allowed them to focus on the broad strokes of the event without having to dive deep in, knowing that everything is going to be handled.
"We're still not able to get these huge massive art installations made," the singer says during a stop in East Texas while on The Growlers' current tour. "Everything is homemade. It's me and Matt (guitarist Matt Taylor) drawing up ideas and having our friends build it for us. I've slowly let people help me and let go some of the control."
The latest edition of Beach Goth is the most star-studded yet. With bands ranging from hard rockin' side projects like Julian Casablancas + The Voids and Eagles of Death Metal to rappers like Juicy J and Del the Funky Homosapien to rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson, the lineup is easily one of the most diverse — if not unique — of the entire festival season. That doesn't even include what the singer calls "the funny bands" where comedians will have sets or a rap battle hosted by RiFF RaFF and Pauly Shore. Nielsen says he takes pride helping curate a lineup that isn't limited to just a singular genre and can maintain diversity that attracts fans from all over the place.
"We're mixing up a lot of different crowds here by the band selection," he explains. "We want a bunch of different crowds and scenes colliding. We have a fresh perspective from playing festivals all over the world and not enjoying a lot of them. Doing this is more of a joke and there's more humorous things going on so it becomes more of a fun thing rather than those other serious festivals."
It's also what's drawn some of the other bands on the bill to the event. Both FIDLAR's Zac Carper and Skylar Spence agree that the diversity and originality of the event allows it separate itself from its competitors.
"Beach Goth seems like it's just about the music," Carper says. "And all kinds of different music not limited to just one scene. Where else can you find a lineup with Die Antwoord and Camera Obscura? It's a different vibe than something mainstream like Coachella. I think that's fucking rad."
"It's always cool when a festival is run by a band," Ryan DeRobertis aka Skylar Spence says. "I think they have been to their fair share of festivals that are run by people who don't know what it's like to play them. Festivals run by musicians run a lot smoother and cater more to the musician's needs."
Beach Goth 4 will utilize the entire Observatory grounds, and will integrate floats that will driving around the festival, carnival games and vendors as well. They also expanded their event's footprint by getting permits for the neighboring streets so they could fit more people in the area comfortably.
"This year, we're really pushing the costume aspect of it," the Growlers singer says. "It's super important because people tend to get a lot weirder and take on the persona of what they dress like and are more fun to look at."
Rain or shine, Nielson says the event won't put bands on the inside stages for strategic reasons. With the deep lineup, he admits he's afraid to put a band on inside out of fear of going above capacity, and thus not depriving people of the ability to see who their favorite band.
"The biggest fear we have is anyone getting hurt," he says. "The last thing we need is everyone going crashing in."
Having a sponsor for the event will shift costs, and would alleviate the problem of the band plunking down their own money for the festival and not making much in return. However, while that would provide a needed influx of cash, The Growlers don't want to lose the scrappy, DIY edge that helped make Beach Goth popular to begin with.
"A sponsor is almost necessary, even though we haven't done it yet," Nielson says. "That's why a lot of these places are littered with sponsors everywhere because it pays for the festival. Hopefully there's a way we can do it to pick stuff that we actually like or have them get involved with the scene of whatever we're doing."
That growing process figures into the band's preliminary plans for Beach Goth 5. With the number of attendees growing each year and The Growlers' ability to attract larger bands, moving to a bigger location will play a role in determining the next destination, which also includes plans to potentially expand to the East Coast and Europe. So far, it's too early for the band to start giving definitive directives of where they want to go, they just know the event continues to grow and they may need to find a bigger space to accommodate it.
"We're not sure how big we want this to be and how long we want to do it," Nielson admits. "I want to keep it in this space as long as we can before it's something big and beyond our control."
The Growlers perform at Beach Goth (both days) along with Grimes, Die Antwoord, Mac Demarco, Julian Casablancas + the Voids, Camera Obscura, FIDLAR, Juicy J and many more at the Observatory, 9503 S. Harbor Blvd., (714) 957-0600, www.observatoryoc.com, Oct. 24-25, 2 Day Passes $100. 2 Day VIP Passes (Beach Goth T-Shirt, Button, Bag) $150. 12 p.m. All ages.