Ryan McDonald

Sounds good: city concert options vary

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by Ryan McDonald

As Hermosa Beach goes forward with its request for proposals for hosting its summer concert series, it will have plenty of options to consider.

According to several tourism websites that aggregate event information, there are over 200 cities in California that offer free summer concerts. Some, as Hermosa’s have been in recent years, are handled by a private business. But many others are handled by the city itself or contracted out to a nonprofit organization.

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Cities running their own concerts is probably the most popular option. From Bellflower’s “Street Fest” to San Juan Capistrano’s “Summer Nights,” parks and recreation departments or their equivalents regularly put on concerts. Still, others are run by organizations that do not specialize in music but frequently partner with cities, such as in Seal Beach, where the summer concerts are handled by the Chamber of Commerce.

The concert programs in several nearby cities including Manhattan Beach and El Segundo are city-run. In Manhattan’s concerts at Polliwog Park, the city’s Cultural Arts team books bands, coordinates stage set-up and hires sound engineers, said Mark Leyman, director of the city’s Parks and Rec Department.

But although Manhattan once hosted the “Riot at Polliwog Park” performance by Black Flag, both programs take place inside parks instead of beaches, and typically draw fewer attendees than Hermosa’s program. Saint Rocke owner Allen Sanford, who oversaw the concerts for the last decade, has emphasized that putting on a concert with the profile of Hermosa’s requires know-how and experience with the intricacies of music promotion that city staff members are unlikely to possess. He has pointed to the unruly conditions that resulted at Rebelution as an example of what can happen with a large concert that gets out of hand.

Perhaps with this in mind, other cities have contracted out a summer concert on public property to a private provider with connections to the music industry. This is the case with Dana Point’s Concerts in the Park, which take place at the City’s Sea Terrace Park, and are put on by the Doheny Blues Festival. The Doheny Blues Festival is an annual two-day concert in the spring that also takes place at Sea Terrace Park, but which last year charged a minimum ticket price of $100. An official with the city’s parks and recreation department referred questions about concert management to a spokesperson, who did not immediately respond to a voice message.

According to the city of Dana Point’s website, entrance to the summer concerts is free. There is a “spirit garden” where alcohol is sold, as well as a booth selling barbecue; proceeds from both go to military charities. Sanford has requested that the city permit alcohol consumption by performers and in a VIP area on the beach for the concerts, which City Attorney Michael Jenkins said would require a code amendment.

A third, hybrid option, popular in Southern California for large free events held on city land, involves turning management of concerts over to a nonprofit group. For example, in Santa Monica, the city’s Twilight Concert Series is put on by nonprofit the Santa Monica Pier Corporation, said Elana Buegoff, a senior development analyst with the city. The nonprofit is not charged rent for use of the pier, and about one-third of the corporation’s budget comes from the city. (The remainder comes from sponsorship, filming rentals and periodic special event leases.) In return, the corporation is expected to “market, promote and produce community events on the Pier,” Buegoff said. The Twilight Concerts began as a way to draw people back to the Pier after it was damaged during the 1982-83 El Niño winter. In recent years, the concerts have attracted more than 30,000 people.

Buegoff added that, although the Twilight Concert Series is not a city-run event, when Santa Monica does hold large events of its own, like the Open Streets Festival it hosted a few weeks ago, it does go through the RFP process.

The Mortimer and Mimi Levitt Foundation is perhaps the prime example of a nonprofit concert operation. The foundation covers the booking and producing of free community concerts in city-owned spaces, with a “Levitt Pavilion” now in nine large cities across the country, including in Macarthur Park in Los Angeles, said Vanessa Silberman, senior director of communications and strategic initiatives for the foundation. Levitt also operates a grant program, known as AMP, to set up temporary facilities and concerts in smaller towns.

Relationships with the local government vary from location to location, Silberman said. At each, a smaller nonprofit, known as Friends of Levitt Pavilion, sets up locally and handles booking of artists and working with the community. At the permanent facilities, Levitt will arrange for up to 50 free performances per year, while the AMP cities generally host 10 free concerts in the summer. But what unites all of them, she said, is the “social bridging” function that music can have.

“It’s amazing to see, no matter where you are in the country. That experience on the lawn:
people coming together, the breaking of boundaries,” Silberman said.

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