For the Creators of the BeachLife Festival, Bringing a Concert Event to Hometown Shores Was a Longtime Dream
Brian Wilson, Willie Nelson and more rock the SoCal shore May 3-5.
- CategoryMusic + Culture
- Written byRich Thomas
Every pier has a personality, and if you live in the South Bay you’re aware of the defining characteristics of the Redondo, Hermosa and Manhattan Beach piers. You frequent them accordingly, and chances are high that of the three, Redondo is the outlier.
But what the Redondo Pier lacks in flair and affluence, it makes up for in old-world charm. Its neighborhood consists of various and sundry businesses—from tacos to toe rings … a small village sitting cautiously atop the water.
To the north is Seaside Lagoon, another South Bay institution browbeaten by time. In the winter months the Lagoon really shows its age—its lifeguard chairs occupied by seagulls and its reservoir filled with frigid rainwater.
While the location has survived nearly two decades of permitting ups and downs as well as a busted CenterCal deal that’s left a number of waterfront businesses high and dry, Seaside Lagoon is woven into the fabric of Redondo Beach. Apart from its peak season bustle, a few small-scale fall happenings have taken over the Lagoon and its surrounding parking lot … but nothing quite like what’s about to take place there.
On Friday, May 3, the property will welcome upwards of 10,000 people to the inaugural edition of the BeachLife Festival—the first of its kind for not just the South Bay but the entire Westside of L.A.: three days, three stages and a deeply curated lineup of more than 40 artists, most of which would look right at home on any big-ticket festival poster.
The brainchild of Rob Lissner and South Bay restaurateur and Saint Rocke founder Allen Sanford, BeachLife is a swing-for-the-fences undertaking that has the entire region buzzing. But this is not a story about a music festival.
“I grew up here,” says Allen, “so the desire to do a festival in the South Bay started a long time ago but was quickly killed by the ‘there’s nowhere to have it’ conversation. Then the perfect storm happened with Redondo, politically.”
The perfect storm he’s talking about is the dissolution of the CenterCal agreement, the election of slow-growth proponent Bill Brand to the Redondo Beach mayor’s office and a few well-timed sales pitches. But the roots of the opportunity go back much further.
When Saint Rocke opened its doors in 2008, it immediately set the bar for live music in the South Bay. Two years later Allen took the reins of the Hermosa Beach Summer Concert Series and piloted the program to success until a parting of ways late last year.
“I never imagined a three-day event like he did, but the more he talked the more excited I got,” says Mayor Brand about his early discussions with Allen. “He talked a lot about the South Bay being his home and how he always saw the Redondo Beach waterfront as a great opportunity to hold a unique music and food festival. His local roots and demonstrated ability, given his long history of putting on the beach concerts in Hermosa, made this a perfect fit.”
“My ask wasn’t small; I need 10 years,” Allen remembers. “This is a 10-year permit based on a mutually beneficial partnership that gives us the opportunity to grow a long-term event in a community-centric, slow-growth manner. But it’s our job to win over the community, and the City Council is behind us.”
He pauses and then smiles before continuing. “I think part of the reason I got the permit is that I have so much to lose in the South Bay that they trust me.”
Allen’s fingerprints are all over the Beach Cities, including three iterations of The Rockefeller, the old Union Cattle Company, Abigaile, Primo Italia, Día De Campo and, of course, Saint Rocke. By the time May rolls around, Allen will add another music venue to his list: The Venice West, a joint venture between him and Rob.
They’ve recognized that L.A., like New York, has become increasingly more borough-like and that the South Bay bubble, no matter how much we joke about it, is very real. Together they’re trying to change the narrative that any live music experience worth attending has to happen east of La Cienega … that if you live within earshot of the beach, you can roll out of bed, hop on your bike and over the course of three afternoons catch sets by artists destined for—and in some cases already in—the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
But here’s the other thing: As mellow and sun-drenched as beach life can be, there’s a reason why kooks don’t last long in the water, why boardwalk skaters don’t take kindly to posers, and why bands like Black Flag, the Descendents, Circle Jerks and Pennywise were born and bred in the South Bay. Authenticity matters.
“The ideas behind punk rock, surfing and skating as being about individualism and resistance to the status quo are what give the South Bay its edge,” says Pennywise lead singer and BeachLife creative director Jim Lindberg. “The South Bay can keep that by remembering our roots and where we came from. This is what we are known for around the world. The South Bay has always been a place that has championed free expression and the pursuit of happiness.”
Allen, Rob and the BeachLife team have nurtured those roots by painstakingly curating every last element of the festival—from the lineup, the culinary component and the charitable causes right down to the skateboard valet and the 2,000 bike parking spaces that will be available to attendees. One of the three stages will be devoted exclusively to local talent; bands like Everclear, Best Coast, Slightly Stoopid, Matt Costa and, of course, Brian Wilson are inextricably linked to West Coast beach culture.
A “Cruises For Causes” charitable initiative will allow people to bid on their chance to attend intimate performances taking place on boats moored in the waters just off the marina. For the ultimate pairing, a side stage pop-up restaurant experience available to VIPs puts renowned chefs in the wings during headlining performances.
“I was sold right off the bat,” says Chef David LeFevre, South Bay resident and owner of Manhattan Beach Post, Fishing With Dynamite and The Arthur J. “I’ll be cooking on Sunday while Willie Nelson, Blues Traveler, Grace Potter and Ziggy Marley are performing. I think the best way to approach the menu is to really take a good look at their bodies of work and the set list and see where our food and that music has congruence—whether that’s what regional styles of food go with the country/blues/reggae set list, or if there is any particular style of cuisine that resonates with the musician.”
Chef David, Jim Lindberg and Mayor Brand aren’t the only locals who have bought into BeachLife and rallied around its communal focus. Redondo Beach police chief Keith Kauffman, a 22-year veteran of the Hawthorne force and a champion of community relations—he started the “Coffee With A Cop” program, sees the event as a great opportunity to strengthen the bonds between South Bay residents and the department. He’s also pleased by the promoters’ prioritization of public safety above all else.
“Allen came forward before anything was decided, before the plan was in place, and we talked about all the issues,” says Chief Kauffman. “I felt good about the fact that a promoter who is coming in to do a large-scale event was concerned with safety first before talking about what it was going to look like or who was going to play. A lot of times the relationship with public safety is a little more contentious and it comes down to dollars and cents. ‘Well, we have this much money to spend.’ I don’t get that from Allen.”
On the day of our interview, I meet Allen and Rob at The Rockefeller on Pier Avenue. We run through logistics like stage placement, shuttles, ingress, egress and water station locations. Their answers are thorough and thoughtful, and they pass the baton like proper business partners. But when they start to riff on their mutual love for The Black Crowes or what Van Halen songs they’re hoping Chevy Metal will play, the conversation takes on an air of high school exuberance.
“When you strip it down to its bare bones, the reason we’re doing this, the reason we started LiveList and the reason we’re opening another venue is that we’re music fans,” says Rob, who co-founded the livestream discovery platform with Allen back in 2014.
LiveList will power the livestreaming element of BeachLife, while four teams, more than 15 cameras and multiple hosts will capture what promises to be a forward-thinking, “content-first experience” for the people tuning in at home. And while the stages will be bigger than those of any other event at Seaside Lagoon and they’ll most likely be hosting more people than a Summer Concert Series gig, they’re capping attendance below what the venue footprint could easily accommodate.
Less traffic, no overcrowding, no bad vibes. In fact, bad vibes are listed as a prohibited item in the festival FAQ.
“He’s serious when he says he’s pushing a culture through a concert,” says Chief Kauffman of Allen. “He’s not creating something fake, and I think that’s phenomenal.”
A metal sign hanging on the fence surrounding Seaside Lagoon memorializes Redondo’s famous bathhouse and roller coaster—local attractions of the early 1900s that drew tourists from all over the West Coast. The Lightning Racer was constructed at a cost of $100,000—nearly $3 million in today’s market—while the Plunge was billed as “the largest indoor saltwater-heated pool in the world” and accommodated 2,000 bathers at a time. They were more than landmarks; they were leaps of faith built by dreamers who understood the value of investing in waterfront magic.
It’s fitting that 110 years later, Allen and Rob will be taking their own plunge—investing in a 10-year undertaking that, if done correctly, will bring more than music to Redondo Beach.
Special sets, local legends and other can’t-miss BeachLife moments
As The Crow Flies
Chris Robinson and a few of his favorite players dust off The Black Crowes songbook—from Shake Your Money Maker to Warpaint—along with a few choice covers from the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. (Friday 5/3)
Fifteen years after they released their one-take gem, Acoustic Roots, Miles Doughty and Kyle McDonald are back to perform the full album—the first time the group has ever done it in the U.S. (Friday 5/3)
Bob Weir and Wolf Bros.
You know Bob, but the legendary Don Was (on upright bass) and RatDog drummer Jay Lane round out the Wolf Bros. portion of this Deadhead trio. Stripped down and sublime. (Friday 5/3)
A self-described “backyard keg party band on steroids,” Chevy Metal is an all-covers side project of the Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins. On tap for Saturday: a full set of Van Halen. (Saturday 5/4)
His Eyes Have Fangs
Legendary skater Tony Alva plays bass in this Portishead-meets-Mazzy Star four-piece, fronted by fashion designer Rachel Ann Rainwater. Dream rock for the golden hour. (Saturday 5/4)
Latch Key Kid
Manhattan Beach multi-instrumentalist and Las Brisas Friday night regular Gavin Heaney brings his trademark blues rock balladry to the big stage. (Saturday 5/4)
Whether you know her from her previous band, Gorgeous Got a Gun, or from her vinyasa flow classes at Harmony Yoga, Veronica Torres has been flexing her skills in the South Bay for more than 10 years. (Saturday 5/4)
Expect a healthy mix of Hay’s brilliant solo work and Men At Work classics. Fun fact: As The Crow Flies guitarist Audley Freed contributed licks to Hay’s last album, Fierce Mercy. (Sunday 5/5)
Keller Williams Grateful Gospel
No, this is not the weekend side project for a group of real estate professionals. This is the music of the Grateful Dead through the vessel of traditional gospel. Sunday service will be in session. (Sunday 5/5)
The Hollow Legs
Continuing in the tradition of high-octane three-pieces that sound like five. Lyrics like “I can be your 8-ball, you can be my cue” encapsulate singer/guitarist Kira Lingman’s raucous romanticism. (Sunday 5/5)
When: May 3-5, 2019, doors at 11 a.m. each day
Where: Seaside Lagoon, 137 N. Harbor Drive in Redondo Beach
Who: Willie Nelson, Brian Wilson, Bob Weir & Wolf Bros, Jason Mraz, Slightly Stoopid, Ziggy Marley, Violent Femmes, As The Crow Flies, Grace Potter, Blues Traveler, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, and more …
How Much: 3-day GA: $259, 3-day VIP: $795, 3-day Captain’s Pass: $2,500
In’s & Out’s: GA: yes until 4 p.m., VIP & Captain’s Pass: yes
The Rest: all ages, rain or shine, no pets allowed
More Info: beachlifefestival.com
It’s all about “what we have, not what we’re going to build.”