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He's the Boss, Not the Bouncer

Former All-American football player calls the plays for Smoke Out music festival.

October 05, 2000|STEVE HOCHMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Not every former college football player working at the third annual Smoke Out music festival Saturday will be on the security crew.

One of them will be running the show.

Chang Weisberg--all 6 feet, 250 pounds of him--is one of the rising-star entrepreneurs of the vibrant Southern California street and club music scene. And the Smoke Out, an all-day, genre-crossing affair at the National Orange Show Events Center headlined by Cypress Hill, is the annual showcase for Weisberg's growing empire. He also publishes the hip-hop/club culture magazine Insider (circulation: 160,000) and oversees the drunknmunky line of "street" clothing and the new Guerrilla Union marketing and consulting firm.

Not bad for someone who's just 27 and started with a club information hotline run out of his room at his mother's house in Rosemead--where he still lives.

"I have no problem telling you I've never, ever failed at anything I've done," says Weisberg, who was an All-American football player at St. Mary's College, a small college in Northern California. "I'm not trying to be arrogant. But if I say I'm going to do something, I deliver."

Indeed, there's no sense of bluster in his chummy manner. He credits those who have helped him along the way. His mom, an immigrant from Taiwan who raised two sons alone, gave him the $3,000 loan that launched his hotline business four years ago. KPWR-FM (105.9) personality Big Boy was an early supporter, and the band Cypress Hill has joined in as his partner in the Smoke Out.

Weisberg certainly hasn't lost touch with his roots. When he needed to set up a real office last year, he didn't go far away. The whole operation is now housed in small, bustling quarters in the basement of a bank building just blocks from home.

Weisberg is still usually out with his staff--he employs seven people--as late as 4 a.m., trying to keep ahead of the fast-changing curve. That street-level touch is essential to all his ventures, just as it was when his magazine was a one-page, photocopied tip sheet.

"We have expert knowledge of the street level," he says. "We're at raves and clubs. People see me at the clubs. I'm learning every day what's hot, what kids are wearing, and I apply it every day to the magazine and the clothing line and to Smoke Out."

With Smoke Out, he says, the results speak for themselves. It has an expected attendance of 40,000 and a lineup encompassing top hip-hop acts (Cypress, Redman, Gang Starr) and rock bands (Limp Bizkit, 311, System of a Down) on the main stage and a roster of regional and national DJs for a "Stoned Garden" rave in the San Bernardino facility's stadium. Weisberg says it has grown organically, if rapidly, and is a true reflection of Southern California's cultural mix.

The first Smoke Out in 1998 was meant to be a public release party for a new Cypress Hill album. Cypress rapper B Real had been a supporter of Weisberg's publication from the early days, and he asked Weisberg to arrange the event. Plans were made to hold it in an Orange County club's parking lot. But when 3,000 advance tickets were sold, it had to be moved to a larger site. The Orange Show locale was free and a few more acts were added to boost the profile. Attendance topped 13,000.

With that foundation, Cypress and Weisberg formed a joint venture to do it again in 1999 as a real festival, with such acts as rock band Deftones and rappers the Pharcyde booked. Attendance grew to 40,000.

Now Weisberg has set his sights on turning the event into a national tour next year, but he's not taking anything for granted with the 2000 edition. The key, he says, is to make the show truly all-inclusive in music and culture.

"It's the only show where you can look around and go, 'There's a punker, a raver, a metal-head, a hip-hop-head,' " he says.

They're even trying to make women comfortable with the aggressive musical vibe.

"We've got the first all-female mosh pits this year," he says. "I had my wife last year go through the crowd and she found problems. I don't know if it will work. But we'll try."

BE THERE

Cypress Hill Smoke Out, Saturday at the National Orange Show Events Center, 689 S. E St., San Bernardino, 10 a.m. $40. (909) 888-6788.

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