By David Morse
Last weekend, the Laguna Beach Blue Water Music Festival began Saturday mid-morning and lasted until Sunday evening. The organization had all the trappings of success: Impeccable grounds, professional security, and good bands close to the audience. They had an eclectic line up of bands: Blue Grass, Reggae, World, Blues, Surf, Jazz, and more. Food tickets were organized and the food was tasty—exactly what an outdoor music patron would love.
The only problem: Attendance was low. I showed up Saturday morning hoping to find a parking spot only to find that there were dozens of free spots nearby—this did not portend well. Entering the grounds with camera in hand, few people were there at noon. A bluegrass band played in the back stage with no more than 50 people sitting in a place for 200. It was a ghost town.
Assuming that I had arrived too early, I came back at 7:30 Saturday night prepared to spend the evening with great music. It was over, the grounds were nearly empty, and the food tickets were shut down. At $125 for a weekend pass, people gathered at restaurants afterward complaining and their disappointment was abundant. A return trip on Sunday was much of a replay of the previous day.
Blue Water Music Festival Producer, Rick Conkey, explained some of the deficiencies: First, the city planning commission did not even approve the event until just 5 weeks prior to the event date. He had no time to get sponsorships, minimal promotion time, and Conkey organized the event with no capital – all the organizers and promoters were volunteers.
Conkey has already started planning, improving, and resolving known issues for next year’s event.
With sufficient support, the Blue Water Music Festival could be a Laguna Beach winter landmark comparable to the likes of The Atlantic Blues Festival in Rockland, Maine where they attract some 16,000 people to grounds similar to the Sawdust Festival, and local bars and cantinas participate.