SST Records has decided not to take legal action against the County of Los Angeles after a permit for the label's FESST '87 at the Santa Fe Dam Recreational Area was revoked just two days before the Sept. 27 event.
The festival, which would have been the largest in SST's series of free community barbecues, was to have featured live music by SST bands including Opal, Firehose and Sonic Youth, plus free food for up to 1,000 people. Label spokesman Mike Whittaker, saying that SST had spent about $7,000 organizing the event, charged that park officials "got cold feet" about hosting the punk-oriented picnic.
"Our lawyers have said that we do have a case, but the amount of money and time it would take wouldn't be worth it," Whittaker said. "We'd rather spend it on doing another festival somewhere else."
Besides money, Whittaker claims SST lost "prestige and good will" among its fans, as the late notice of cancellation prevented the label from getting word out to fans who had planned on coming. Whittaker estimated that 500 people showed up at the park unaware that the picnic had been canceled, some having come from as far as San Diego.
Park superintendent Dick Wulfing, though, insisted that the cancellation had nothing to do with the style of music involved and claimed that the permit was rescinded because SST had misrepresented the nature of the event.
"The official reason was that they scheduled a picnic for their employees and advertised it as a rock concert," Wulfing said. "We thought it was a group picnic, which we allow. Rock concerts we don't allow. We don't allow things that are advertised. We can't handle affairs with free rock concerts and food for the general public."
The reason for the last-minute cancellation, he said, was that it wasn't until then that a park employee heard a radio advertisement for the festival.
But Whittaker countered that the nature of the label's plans was made clear on the application for the permit, which was accepted when a check covering permit fees and deposits was cashed on Aug. 13. In the application, SST described the event as being a picnic for "employees, business associates and friends," and said that it would include musical performances by SST acts. It also stated that SST intended to advertise the event. However, Wulfing said that the understanding when SST first approached him about using the park was that advertising would be limited to music business-oriented publications.
In any case, with SST rejecting the possibility of legal recourse, the matter appears to be closed, pending a refund to SST of the permit fees (around $1,600), which Wulfing said would come soon.
TRUTH IN ADVERTISING: Bands don't usually even discuss record-company rejections, let alone include them as part of a promotional package. But that's just what Trash Matinee, a local teen quartet, has done. The band's publicity material includes pro and con quotes from--and comments about--record company reaction to the band, making it something of a primer on music-biz politics. Some negative samples:
"Atlantic Records/Nick Loft, A&R--Likes the record but didn't like the band live. 'They're too young.' He also thought the guitar was out of tune on the first two songs and decided to leave."
"RCA Records/Bennett Kaufman, A&R--Hates the record. (Under questioning he admitted he only listened to two cuts--no doubt he was also on the phone the same time.) Thinks the whole concept is stupid."
"A&M Records/Brian Huttenhower, A&R--Almost impossible to get on the phone. Hasn't heard the record so far."
This unusual approach is the brainchild of Mark Nine, a colorful musician/producer/promoter whose Underworld Records released Trash Matinee's debut EP in August. Nine has overseen the group's development, helping form the band around brothers Danny and Phillip Sidlow, two guitar students of his. (Nine has also taught guitar to all of Bob Dylan's children, one of whom--Jakob--guests on one track on the record.)
Isn't Nine afraid of alienating record-biz bigwigs with his comments?
"I'm really kind of fed up with people in the record business," he said, though he was quick to point out that the general response to the record has been positive among the companies, as well as at college radio.
Also in the group's promotions: a form letter that in all false sincerity pleads with record company reps to save Phillip from the horrible fate of a Yale education (the Beverly Hills High School graduate was accepted at the Ivy League school for admission this fall).
"Phillip's parents both agree," reads the letter, "that there is only one thing that can keep him here in Los Angeles--a major label recording contract."
And . . . Phillip left for Yale last month.