Concert go-ers could enjoy music on three different stages at the annual… (Katie Falkenberg/For The…)
The first time Sean Carlson organized the FYF Festival, in 2004, he was barely 18 and thrilled just to bring some of his favorite indie bands and comedians to the Echo and other scattered clubs. "No organization," Carlson remembers fondly. "It was just a disaster. It was great."
He presented 30 bands and a dozen comedians (including an unknown Zach Galifianakis) that year for a crowd of 2,500. Carlson made about $8, not yet realizing that he'd begun a career as street-level impresario for an exploding music scene in and around downtown, Silver Lake and Echo Park.
"I wanted it to be something that people could see bands they'd never seen before or even heard of, and almost be like a mix tape," Carlson says now of FYF. His company's reach has since expanded to promoting about five shows a month at various venues, from the Smell to the Center for the Arts in Eagle Rock. "I don't look at myself as a promoter," he insists. "I just curate shows and do things with bands I'm excited about."
Now in its eighth year, the FYF Festival has grown into a huge outdoor event on multiple stages and returns Saturday to Los Angeles State Historic Park for an all-ages crowd of about 20,000. Indie music fans mourning last weekend's collapse of the Sunset Junction fest could do far worse than to head downtown for FYF.
Among the 37 bands (and several comedians) performing are the veteran South Bay punk act the Descendents, indie-rock heroes Guided by Voices, Death From Above 1979, Explosions in the Sky, Broken Social Scene, Cold War Kids and the Dead Milkmen. Returning local acts include Off! and acclaimed noise-rock duo No Age, which has performed at virtually every FYF festival.
"The audiences are really open-minded and excited to see something like this happen in Los Angeles," says No Age guitarist Randy Randall, who first played FYF as part of the hard-core band Wives. "Sean Carlson is constantly growing and evolving the fest and pushing it to bigger and better places. We all get to grow with him."
Before FYF, Carlson was a young fan traveling across the country in a station wagon to sell his 'zine the Blacklist, befriending like-minded musicians at rock shows along the way. In Los Angeles, he interned at Epitaph Records and met Keith Morris, original singer for the first-wave punk bands Black Flag, Circle Jerks and, later, Off! Morris became a friend and mentor, and was among the first to know of exciting new acts. "He introduced me to a lot of music and really opened my mind," Carlson says.
This year, the FYF Festival partnered with Goldenvoice Productions, a major force in concert promotion with similar roots in L.A. underground music but also 30 years of experience, including the success of the annual Coachella Music and Arts Festival. The expertise of Goldenvoice was much needed after last year's FYF, marred by heat and dust at the park, exceptionally long lines and a shortage of food, water, bathrooms and shade.
Even the performers found that food had run out backstage by mid-afternoon, remembers Off! guitarist Dimitri Coats, who got his hands on a burrito after a two-hour wait. "It was really bad," Coats says of last year's problems. "The bands are always killer. Everybody understands how much goes into putting on something like that. It didn't stop us from doing it again this year."
Improvements promised for 2011 include more shaded areas, less expensive water, more food vendors, bathrooms and entrances. All week leading to Saturday's concert, workers are watering and rolling the dirt to prevent dust clouds. Improvements also mean higher ticket prices: $40 (and online-only VIP tickets at $99), up from last year's $25.
Carlson issued an apology to fans within a day of last year's event and is confident the big problems are behind FYF.
The partnership with Goldenvoice has freed Carlson, now 26, to focus less on business and infrastructure and more on the creative side the festival has always done right: choosing forward-looking artists for an audience hungry for new sounds and experience.
"Some people left with a sour taste in their mouth," says Carlson of last year, "but hopefully they'll come back this year and will see that, 'Wow, this has progressed.'"
Where: Los Angeles State Historic Park, 1245 N. Spring St., Los Angeles
When: noon to midnight Saturday
Price: $40 and $99 VIP (online only)