For all their popularity, summer music festivals sure do have a lot working against them. High temps, high prices, and conflicting set times seem to be the bullet points of choice for festival naysayers. But ask most Cali-raised music junkies, and they’ll tell you: Festivals are where the magic happens. Personally speaking, I’ve spent many a summer traipsing through throngs of sweaty moshers, dancing barefoot on questionable expanses of lawn, and falling victim to overpriced water bottle vendors, and yet I still wouldn’t give it up for the world. Why? Because festivals are the ultimate catch-all, boasting more music, more fans, and, when done right, that coveted “totally immersive experience.” They’re playgrounds for concert lovers and more often than not the best way to discover new music.
Such is the case for Indie West Fest, the two-year-old, now multiday event taking place this Friday through Sunday in Ventura. Imagined and organized by longtime Venturan Michael Jones, Indie West is centered on the idea of bringing under-the-radar acts from across genres together in front of a diverse crowd of music fans. Last year, Jones set up the fest at the Ventura Fairgrounds (the South Coast stop of choice for the Vans Warped Tour) and lumped more than 30 acts and five stages into one action-packed day. But for year two, Jones has teamed up with downtown’s history-drenched Majestic Ventura Theater, which will host the Indie West Fest for three full days (and nights) of live music and film screenings. On board for the event is an eclectic collection of up-and-coming bands (The Ettes, Gypsy Death Star, Gardens & Villa) and long-established acts, like seminal punk rockers X, alt-rock heavyweights The Smithereens, and L.A. pop-punk act The Muffs. Attendees can also catch free early evening screenings of two new music documentaries, Color Me Obsessed and Bob & the Monster.
I recently caught up with Jones to discuss the new and improved Indie West Fest, as well as his picks for this weekend’s musical (and movie) highlights.
How did you settle on Ventura for the Indie West Fest? You know, Ventura was recently named the fourth largest music city in the nation after New York, which surprised me, but they were counting bands and musicians per capita. It seems like a lot of bands come out here wanting to be close to Los Angeles, but with the affordability. Ventura is a small town, but it’s close to all the essentials. I think there’s a great community of musicians here. I’ve lived in other areas, and it can be much more competitive. Here, we all know each other, we go out together, and if you’re not playing a show with somebody, you’re doing your best to promote it. It’s just a really good scene.
A lot has changed for 2012. What did you learn from last year? I see a lot of festivals that get too big too fast with too many stages, where you’re forced to choose who you want to see. Then there’s confusion as to who’s playing at one time. When you’re paying x amount of dollars to go to a show, and you’re put in this quandary of Should I see this or this? your group ends up splintering. … Last year was definitely a learning curve; there were too many bands and too many stages. Everything went off great, but there was also rain leading up to the event. This year, I wanted to scale it back, and I didn’t want to be held hostage by the elements. It was perfect timing when the Ventura Theater approached me about doing it there.
What are you most excited about seeing on this year’s lineup? One of the biggest things is definitely X. Every year, you kinda feel like it might be the last time you’re going to see them touring. They’re an institution, and this is their 35th year as a band. Another one is Bob Forrest. The film [Bob & The Monster] is just amazing. I remember L.A. back in those days, and everyone thought [Thelonious Monster] would be the band to break out between them and X and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Plus, after the movie, Bob and the director are going to do a Q&A session. Friday’s cool, it’s kind of got an Echo Park/Silver Lake–type feel. One of the bands, The Ettes, is a must-see. They’re originally from Nashville, but they all live in L.A. On Sunday, Old Man Markley is another great act, and they kind of cross genres. They’re a band that can play Punk Rock Bowling in Vegas, but also play the Stagecoach Festival out in Coachella Valley. The Smithereens are another good one. They haven’t played here in two years, and this is their only California show in 2012.
The Indie West Fest takes place this Friday, July 27-Sunday, July 29, at the Majestic Ventura Theater (26 S. Chestnut St., Ventura). For tickets, info, and daily schedules, visit indiewestfest.com.