Site of the Ranch, a new music festival that brings indie bands from the city… (Brad Bilger )
If there was one locale in Los Angeles unlikely to join the neighborhood music-festival wave, it probably would be "The Deepest Recesses of the Santa Monica Mountains."
There, at the site of a new festival called the Ranch, the flannel and beards aren't ironic accessories but necessary wilderness accouterments. Putting a bird on it involves an actual bird landing on something, and the only rock scene is sedimentary. But that rural idyll was precisely the appeal for a trio of young L.A. concert promoters, who estimate that the Ranch will bring around a thousand concert-goers to a sylvan mountain retreat on March 2 for a day and a night of music and roughing it.
The site is only a few miles from Malibu, but the Ranch is a world away from anything that's been tried in local music recently.
"That was the main draw," said Brandon Lavoie, one of the festival's three principal organizers. "A lot of other events like this have been held in familiar urban spaces. We had access to this completely different space and we just wanted see where we could go with it."
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By day, that space is the home of Ranch Kids, a charity that brings low-income city kids into the wild for firsthand experiences in farming and nature. Lavoie and his partners, Matt Ushkow and Brad Bilger, knew Ranch Kids' founders socially and always wanted to throw a fundraiser for that effort.
But they also knew they had a one-of-a-kind venue for a new sort of festival, one that takes a broad mix of L.A. bands (such as the Odd Future project the Internet and the disco duo Kisses) and displaces their metropolitan cool into a surreal natural setting.
It's not the first recent Southern California indie festival to try an unusual, out-of-town location. The New L.A. Folk Festival commandeered the Zorthian Ranch site in Altadena last summer, and the popular Desert Daze festival offers Coachella-counterprogramming in Inland Empire locales like the Dillon Roadhouse and Sunset Ranch Oasis.
But the Ranch is one of the first to incorporate full overnight camping into the festivities. Tent-pitching is a fixture of Coachella culture, but here it's in an actual woodland setting instead of a sun-scarred grass parking lot.
"We wanted people coming all the way out here to not have to worry about getting home afterwards," Lavoie said. That's an upside to the Ranch ("There's tons of open space for camping, and the bands will be having impromptu jams all night," Ushkow said), but it's also a logistical challenge.
Lavoie and Ushkow share talent buying duties at two Westside clubs, Central SAPC in Santa Monica and the Mint in mid-city, both of which have become credible alternatives to the Eastside rock club gantlet (Bilger is an independent manager and event promoter). But although they're used to pulling music fans into the wild west, the Ranch broke new ground in event planning hurdles.
To schlep fans to the distant site, organizers have booked an all-night shuttle service to whisk attendees from a Woodland Hills hotel (you can't drive to the festival site on your own). They're bringing an array of food trucks and bar vendors along, but as some recent FYF Fests have proven, an unexpectedly popular event can pose supply-line problems for promoters — let alone for a show in the middle of the woods.
"That's why we wanted to limit this to around a thousand people this time, to make sure it didn't get too crowded and grow too big too fast," Ushkow said. "It's been an amazing learning experience; we definitely haven't tried anything like this before. But all the obvious problems have worked out, and we feel like the universe has been on our side with this."
One might think a rural festival like this would lend itself to barefoot Laurel Canyon folk-rock, and there's a bit of that represented in the Dustbowl Revival and the Eagle Rock Gospel Singers. But the Ranch's lineup is counterintuitively heavy on electronic acts and neo-house DJs — perhaps an echo of the original '90s dance music culture, with raves taking place in rural English fields.
Free neighborhood fests such as Make Music Pasadena, Echo Park Rising and the Eagle Rock Music Festival have drawn tens of thousands of fans, many of whom are weary from navigating popular but expensive and instant-sellout festivals like Coachella.
The Ranch is obviously no direct competition there. But for a long night of alfresco stargazing and dancing, perhaps you should go west, young fan.
"Coachella sells out so fast these days, and we've definitely heard a few comments that people picked up tickets to this instead," Lavoie said. "I think we're all excited for the change of scenery."
When: March 2; shuttles begin at noon, music at 2 p.m.
Where: Shuttles depart from the Warner Center Marriott, 21789 Califa St., Woodland Hills.
Price: $40 admission, camping is a $10 fee.
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