19 Aug 2014
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Improving the Eagle Rock Music Festival: An Investigation

This year’s festival is a vast improvement over 2011, but some problems remain.

Improving the Eagle Rock Music Festival: An Investigation Improving the Eagle Rock Music Festival: An Investigation Improving the Eagle Rock Music Festival: An Investigation

Every year after the Eagle Rock Music Festival, the , sends a form letter to individuals, businesses, organizations and donors that sponsored or hosted the event. Besides serving as a note of thanks, the letter specifically asks for any feedback aimed at making improvements to the coming year’s festival.

Of the roughly 120 letters sent out last month following the 14th Annual Eagle Rock Music Festival, only one evoked a response—and that, too, from an entrepreneur who has been in Eagle Rock for all of three months, according to Center for the Arts Development Director Renée Dominique.

Of course, that doesn't mean Eagle Rockers have no constructive criticism—or complaints—about what is widely acknowledged to be L.A.’s premier music festival. On the contrary, according to Dominique, “we get a lot of feedback” from other channels and “we try to make a lot of adjustments and improvements.”

Eagle Rock Patch recently asked Dominique and CFAER Director of Events Brian Martinez how they felt this year’s festival compared to last year’s event—and what they think of certain complaints that some businesses had.

Sounder Structure?

By all accounts, this year’s festival was clearly safer, more maneuverable and family-oriented than in previous years. An estimated 75,000 to 80,000 people attended the festival, according to Martinez and Dominique, much less than the top estimate of some 100,000 people last year.

“One of the comments we had for the previous year was that there were too many people—lot of youth from out of the community, and that you couldn’t quite get through the crowds because they were so thick,” said Dominique.

To help spread out the crowds, the Center intentionally programmed the festival to start at 2 p.m.—two hours earlier than in 2011—so that families had more time and space to enjoy the festival. An earlier start would also allow crowds to circulate more and there wouldn’t be a lot of people at any one given time, Dominique explained.

There was also some direct enforcement aimed at making the festival less of a free for all. “In the previous year we saw people coming in with beer on their shoulders,” said Dominique. “This year we tried to create a better infrastructure so that the people who came knew that they had to respect the community. We put up codes of conduct and had more entrances.”

Camilo’s Concerns

Still, the crush of crowds was palpable in certain areas of the festival. At Camilo’s California Bistro, for example, the police had to be called to disperse a crowd that was disrupting the restaurant’s sidewalk dining.

“It was a madhouse,” recalls Amelia Gonzalez, who runs the restaurant along with her husband Camilo. “People were dining outside and the crowds were falling over them. The Council member [José Huizar] was here with his staff and they were the ones who called the police.”

Dominique acknowledges that “a couple of things” went wrong. First, in placing a stage near Camilo’s, the festival’s logistics team didn’t take into account the fact that the restaurant would have outdoor dining, said Dominique. Second, a lot of festivalgoers came just to listen to just one (hip hop) band—Pharcyde—“and that created a kind of bottleneck.”

At one point, according to Camilo’s Gonzalez, the music was so loud that the restaurant’s windows began to shake. “Last year I had to go out and tell Renée to turn the volume down because the windows were shaking,” she said. “This year I couldn't tell anyone because they had a fence and there was nobody to talk to.” Added Gonzalez: “I think they really need to hire someone who knows festival layout.”

The View From Taco Spot

Unlike Gonzalez, the co-owner of Taco Spot, Joshua Lewis, didn’t have a problem with crowds or the noise. “Our problem was with the early start for family time,” he said. “Because the festival started earlier, a lot of people left before dinner time.”

According to Dominique and Martinez, however, the early start to the festival ensured that many people left after a few hours—which helped streamline the crowds—and that they also grabbed an early dinner.

During last year’s festival, a lot of people complained that restaurants ran out of food and that the lines outside eateries were too long. “So we brought in some more food trucks and dispersed them—there was a food court down at the Farmers Market and we had food trucks on the other end,” said Dominique, adding: “And we tried to space them so they weren’t in direct competition with the restaurants.”

To some restaurant owners, food trucks are a bad idea because they compete with fast food restaurants. “They say they are promoting the community and yet they bring all these food trucks that compete with fast food restaurants,” said Gonzalez. “I walked by Lemongrass and Taco Spot at 4:30 [p.m.] and they were empty.” Added Gonzalez: “They [the festival] don't need a taco truck when they have Taco Spot and they don’t need a hamburger truck when they have Oinkster.” (According to an employee at Oinkster, business, especially the sale of beer, was brisk at the festival.)

Taco Spot’s Lewis agreed that taco trucks competed with his restaurant. “But I didn’t have a problem with that—that’s the nature of the beast,” he said. “People are going to eat where they are when they’re hungry—the last thing I want to do is complain about who can come in and support our festival.” He added, however: “It would be different if a taco truck were parked right in front of the restaurant.”

Center's Five-Man 'Army'

For Dominique and Martinez, organizing the music festival not only takes an enormous effort every year but a great deal of adjustment from past practices that proved ineffective or counterproductive.

“There are people who do appreciate it, but there are always minor complaints that stick out after the event,” said Dominique. “When you think of it, there were no arrests, no assaults, no burglaries, no auto thefts, no vandalism,” she added, referring to the 2012 festival. “There was no trash at the end of the end of the night—we spent a lot of money on a cleaning crew to clean everything up—and there wasn’t as much alcohol on the street.”

For an organization that has just less employees than most restaurant kitchens, that’s no mean achievement. “It’s just five of us, not an army,” said Martinez. “So in a way, the criticism is a kind of compliment.”

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