Fans float over the mosh pit during No Age's performance at FYF Fest,… (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles…)
Sean Carlson is glad he doesn't have to sweat the details anymore for his FYF Fest, which will turn 9 when it opens Saturday afternoon at a downtown state park. After some difficult years, filled with logistical disasters, Carlson is once again leaving the heavy lifting to Goldenvoice, the L.A.-based promoter responsible for the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival.
This year's event, featuring adventurous rock and electronic acts such as Refused, M83, Purity Ring and Warpaint, marks the second time the fest has been a partnership between FYF and Goldenvoice. The big-time, AEG Live-owned promoter "stepped in to provide the funding and support to run these events in a seamless manner," according to Sean Woods, superintendent for the Los Angeles sector of California State Parks.
As FYF Fest has matured, it hasn't lost its ability to surprise. Experimental Spanish electronic act the Suicide of Western Culture will be performing one of its first U.S. shows at FYF, and lesser-known hard-core bands such as American Nightmare and Converge will get the chance to perform to as many as 25,000 people.
PHOTOS: FYF Festival 2012
Weekend passes are available for $89. Carlson said single-day tickets will be sold for $45 each day at the event.
[Update, 1:13 p.m. Aug. 31: Goldenvoice, which is co-presenting the festival, clarified Friday that the cost of a single-day ticket, sold on site, cash-only, is $60.]
"A lot of these bands, when they play Los Angeles, it's $30 or $35," Carlson said. "I've received hundreds of emails from kids that this is too expensive, but if you nickel and dime it and break it down, it's cheap."
Carlson acknowledges he needed help in running the two-day festival. In 2010 the fan experience was marred by a drastic shortage of water, hour-plus lines for bathroom facilities, severe logjams at the gates and a general lack of shade and food. A Los Angeles Times review labeled FYF as one of "the most frustrating concert experiences in recent memory." Carlson immediately issued a public apology.
Now that the festival is on more solid footing, the Los Angeles State Historic Park, once an undersed 32-acre green space adjacent to Chinatown, is on the verge of an $18-million renovation that will add a dedicated farmers market space, a concert plaza and a cafe, all thanks to the help of festivals such as FYF and the dance-focused HARD.
"We realize that it is important for Los Angeles to have a place to house these events," said Woods. "L.A. deserves that."
When he started hosting shows in 2002 and '03, Carlson was sometimes organizing concerts at nontraditional venues and staged as glorified house parties. Today, as FYF Fest celebrates four years downtown, Carlson says he didn't fully know what he was doing when he began.
"There were a few things I didn't understand then," Carlson said. "Insurance for shows? I didn't understand why you would get that. I had a very narrow-minded punk rock philosophy. I believed no one would sue you if they got hurt. I was wrong. I've been sued a few times with people getting hurt at FYF shows, so now we have insurance."
Carlson stresses numerous times that he is not a professional concert promoter, this despite being able to afford a pair of full-time employees at his Eagle Rock offices and staging about 50 concerts per year under the FYF banner. Yet he's right in that FYF is far from a traditional promoter.
FYF pursues a close relationship with fans. Carlson started a loyalty-card program for frequent show-goers and has been known to host last-minute free "fan appreciation" gigs. FYF's affiliation with Goldenvoice has also tightened, and the once-random events — punk rock concerts at downtown lofts, for instance — have tapered off.
"It takes more work to do a show for 100 people in a random location than it does to do a show for 1,500 in a theater," Carlson said. "You have to deal with permitting, insurance, the show getting shut down, neighbors. If you're a touring band, and your show gets shut down and you have to give refunds and you have 200 angry kids, that's a problem."