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Goldenvoice ready to roar in Orange County

But a planned festival in Great Park won't be a Coachella replica — no booze?

May 19, 2012|By Scott Gold, Todd Martens and Mike Anton, Los Angeles Times
  • The crowd roars during a performance at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, held at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, Ca., April 22, 2012.
The crowd roars during a performance at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts… (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles…)

INDIO, Calif. — In one corner stands a music promoter that made its mark in L.A.'s punk scene, throwing gritty events at warehouses and velodromes, giving voice to songs like "Beat Me Senseless" and "I Kill Children" before birthing an annual desert bacchanal that might be the world's most successful music festival.

In the other corner is the master-planned community that put the O.C. in Orange County, where safety, schooling and temperance are hallmarks and a homeowners association can overrule one's choice of house paint.

Today, growth and maturity have made Goldenvoice and the city of Irvine more natural bedfellows than they might have been not so long ago, and commerce has brought them together. Government officials say the two sides are putting the final touches on a contract that would allow Goldenvoice, the promoter behind the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, to stage a large, multi-day music festival at the Orange County Great Park as soon as 2013.

Officials said the first festival could draw more than 150,000 people. It would likely be the largest event yet held at the park, which is being built on the site of the decommissioned El Toro Marine Corps Air Station — a "signature event," said Great Park Chief Executive Mike Ellzey, "completely unique and distinct."

The foray into Orange County could be the trickiest play yet for Goldenvoice, requiring a deft diplomatic touch. "We don't want to turn this town upside-down," said Steven Choi, a member of the Irvine City Council and the Great Park's board of directors. Choi suggested that the Orange County event could even be alcohol-free — which would indeed be a far cry from the sun-baked revelry of Coachella.

In an industry saddled with financial, technological and cultural uncertainty, Goldenvoice has enjoyed a striking ascent in recent years, reaching a lofty position as both ringmaster and kingmaker. This spring, the company doubled its Coachella crowed by expanding to two weekends, then added a day to the festival's country cousin, Stagecoach, and still sold out 55,000 passes. The aggregate attendance at the desert festivals passed a half-million for the first time, with a remarkable 650,000.

Now, Goldenvoice is preparing to plant its flag not in Indio, on the fringes of the metropolis, but in the heart of the Orange County suburbs. Goldenvoice President Paul Tollett said the new festival would be "not Coachella," though he did not say what the alternative might be. A possible model, he said, could be the fabled US festivals thrown north of San Bernardino by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak in the early 1980s, with each day used to celebrate a distinct musical genre. "It's just too early," Tollett said.

As something akin to a warm-up, Goldenvoice is promoting the music-and-skate-punk Vans Warped Tour, scheduled to be held at the Great Park in June. Reflecting the discussions to come, several officials expressed reservations about that event. At a recent park board meeting, member Larry Agran, an Irvine council member, joked that he left popular music in the Perry Como era. When he looked at the Warped Tour website, he said, "it kind of frightened me."

Any expansion to the south would further fuel Goldenvoice's ability to shape the very soundtrack of the West.

Typically, concert promotion is a hidden sector of the music industry — fans come for the acts, not the company booking the venue and printing the tickets. But Goldenvoice's growth in the last decade has enabled it to flip the equation — "fans became loyal to Goldenvoice," said Kevin Lyman, who worked for the company for a decade before launching the Warped Tour.

Goldenvoice's early years were spent on the outside looking in. In the 1980s, riding the cacophonous and often outlandish antics of such acts as the Circle Jerks and the Dead Kennedys, Goldenvoice gave an air of unity and legitimacy to the West Coast punk scene — without eroding its proud sense of rebellion, which many viewed as no small feat.

"It made you feel like you were part of this secret, underground society," said Brett Gurewitz, a founding member of the band Bad Religion and the punk rock entrepreneur behind Silver Lake's Epitaph Records. Last fall, Goldenvoice celebrated 30 years with a string of concerts at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, recognizing the bands that shaped the company's brand — punk outfits such as Social Distortion and Gurewitz's Bad Religion. "It felt like a family reunion," he said.

By now, Goldenvoice has reached a rare perch where it shapes popular music; its decisions about lineups and time slots — the company has already announced dates for another twin-weekend Coachella in 2013 — are followed closely and can make a band's career.

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