Hansen: Music is Laguna's artistic stepchild

May 10, 2012|By David Hansen

We have more art festivals than we know what to do with. We have fancy food festivals, world-class theater, legendary surf competitions and dozens of other Laguna Beach events.

But no festival for popular music.

Little Dana Point, only slightly bigger than Laguna, has two major festivals — Doheny Days and the Blues Festival — along with several other smaller events. The lineups are stellar with bands like Weezer, Ben Harper, Cake, Ziggy Marley and Donavon Frankenreiter.

Granted, Dana Point has a state park right on the beach, so the venue is very conducive, but we have a beach. We have two festival grounds, an amphitheater and, with a little imagination, enough open space to host Coachella West.


But for many reasons, some murky and prejudicial, a major music festival in Laguna is unlikely. Rick Conkey, founder of, is a local music promoter who has tried off and on over the years to get music more established in Laguna.

"Music is a controversial part of the arts scene," he said. "It's never been recognized."

Conkey said it's ironic, given the city's long-standing arts history.

"Laguna Beach has always been known as an artists' town, but music has always been left out of the equation," Conkey said. "The music scene has always been here and might be one of the most powerful parts of the arts scene but never been acknowledged."

When asked why, he basically said people are afraid of it.

"Music is a lot more spirited, and it creates a lot more energy and excitement that surrounds it," he said. "It's like people are afraid to acknowledge it or put their minds around it."

Conkey did manage to throw a local party in 2005 at the Festival of Arts with the "Blue Water Music Festival."

While somewhat successful — it broke even financially — there were challenges and sniping from various locals.

The major problem in getting a legitimate festival is a venue. The obvious choices, the Sawdust or the Pageant, are problematic.

"We started with strolling minstrels and worked up to the bands but never had a concert," said Tom Klingenmeier, general manager of the Sawdust Art Festival.

Klingenmeier said it's largely because of timing and logistics. Between the summer and winter festival, there's little time left.

Nonetheless, Conkey is optimistic that he can resurrect the Blue Water Music Festival at the Sawdust.

Years ago, the site was considered as a possible location for a new music venue, according to Klingenmeier.

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