Playground Festival - The Greatest Shit Show on Earth

A few weeks ago, we were contacted by one of our favorite artists, David Bell Jr., aka SlimDog, of Block Scholars.  The group had been scheduled to play at Playground Festival in Orange County, and he wanted to know if we could do a little promoting, plus come check out the show.  A minute or two of research on Twitter will make it crystal clear that David Bell has been hands down the most active and evangelical supporter of Earbits.  Of course we would help promote, and I’d absolutely be heading down to check them out.

As it turned out, several Earbits artists played, including Rachel Borovik and others.  So, we put up a nice promo on the Earbits Los Angeles page a week or two before the show, bought some of the pre-sale tickets that Rachel had (more on this in a moment), and Saturday I headed down with a good friend, Eric.

Unprepared and Unorganized

We arrived just 20 minutes before 2:30, when Block Scholars were scheduled to play (The band, coming from Colorado for this show, received this schedule only one day before the event).  It was a happy moment because David and I have talked a lot online in recent months and I’d been looking forward to meeting he and NOBULL.  As worried as I was that we might be late for their set, he let me know that they were running behind, had been switched to play a different stage, were pushed one band further back in the lineup, and would be going on in a bit.  So, Eric and I went and got a beer – a Miller Lite, the only beer, nay, the only booze they served at Playground Festival.  FAIL.

When we returned, there was a bit of a commotion going on with David and the sound crew.  All Block Scholars needed from the sound team was to plug their iPod into the board.  Apparently, the promoter had told them to just bring the iPod, that everything else was taken care of.  At a festival with over a dozen hip hop lineups scheduled, being able to plug in a CD player or iPod sounds like one thing you ought to be able to handle.  Alas, the crew did not have an eighth inch to quarter inch cable, and did not seem to be offering any alternative to the band.  Considering Block Scholars had come all the way from Colorado to play this festival, and the sound crew was starting to imply that they might not get to play, the guys handled it with the utmost level-headedness.

While all of this is going on, what really started to annoy me was the attitude of the festival staff.  There is a band who has traveled here who is not getting paid, whose only interest is in performing in front of some new fans.  They need a basic cable to plug in an iPod.  Your job is to be prepared for basic band setups – and this could not be more basic.  Instead of working hard to see what can be done, or apologizing, making changes that ensure that the band can go on later, I see this lazy 20-something kid on staff say, “Man, I just want my cigarettes.  I want a sandwich.  I want my damn break.”  I wanted to tell this kid that a break is what you get when you’re working, and as far as I can tell, you’re not doing shit.  So, fuck your cigarettes, fuck your sandwich.  Get us a cable and shut the fuck up.

As luck would have it, I have an eighth inch to eighth inch cable in my car, and David’s headphones come with an eighth-to-quarter inch adapter.  We offered to go get the items, only to be told that there might not be time and that they might not get to play.  Then, the staff just stands there.  Finally, completely fed up, I say, “Is there a reason we can’t go right now to the car and try to get this taken care of?”

The fact that nobody on the staff was making an effort was beyond me.  Then, someone from their staff stepped up and offered to escort me to my car and back, since I did not have a performer bracelet.  We made the long trek to my car to get the cable.  To this one staffer’s credit, I told him he didn’t need to walk all the way to my car as long as he stayed by the gate and waited for me, which I immediately regretted, fearing I would come back to a locked gate and nobody there who would believe my story.  Fortunately, the guy did wait and escorted me back in.  The fact that this very basic task impresses me is a testament to the disaster that was Playground Festival (but thanks to that one guy).

Microphone Check – Thanks for the Help

When we got back, the staff informed Block Scholars they’d be moving stages yet again, and walked them to a stage in the walkway between the field and the Palm Stages where they were supposed to play.  There was no grass, there was little shade, and it was not the kind of place anybody was going to congregate.  The team had been effectively moved to the hallway of the festival.

There was a great band who played this new stage while we waited, and then they hopped off, pulled their gear to the side, and waited for a dolly, cart, or car that never came.  They eventually lugged their equipment all the way across the festival grounds.  We would later hear further horror stories from them while enjoying another Miller Lite.

Once they were clear, though, the Block Scholars were ready to be setup.  Great…who is the sound guy?

What?  There is no sound guy?

That’s right.  There is no sound guy.  Here is your stage.  Here is your sound board.  Here are your mics.  Good luck.

Block Scholars Have to Battle a Drunk

Having been hit with a series of issues at a gig before, I understand how badly this can affect your ability to perform.  That being said, I have never dealt with near the shit show that Block Scholars dealt with, and yet, these guys hit the stage like they’d just gotten fresh out of the green room after a solid night’s rest.  Despite further issues with the sound, which they had to setup themselves, Block Scholars delivered the goods and put on a great performance.  They kept their energy high, had the passers by throwing their hands in the air, and even got a few packs of go-go dancers to do a little rump shaking on their way through the grounds.  All of this, while an incessant drunk is standing at the side of the stage and continuously begging to freestyle battle the duo.

For at least 15 minutes (over half of their now shortened set time), a pint-sized drunken moron stood there waving down David, yelling at them during their songs, and asking if he could get on stage to “battle” them.  At one point, I thought he might actually unplug their iPod, which was sitting well within reach.  Meanwhile, there is a security guard about 30 feet away, watching this happen, doing nothing.  Eventually, the drunk gave up and walked away.

It was about this time that I started piecing everything together.

Pay to Play – for Next to Nobody

After looking around and seeing what was going on, the vibe of this show became crystal clear.

Playground Festival had booked dozens of smaller acts, scheduled them at the last minute, put them on tiny stages, provided them with no real engineers, and didn’t care if they even got to play, so long as they pre-sold 15 $45-65 tickets.  The going price to play in the back of the festival grounds, be treated like shit, not get any help with your gear or sound, was about $675-975 for most bands.  Coming from Colorado, David tells me they talked their way out of the pre-sales, but Rachel and others had helped to sell tickets to the show.

With half-hour sets and rapid fire changeovers (at the expense of sound, not because the crew was fast), Playground Festival had probably scheduled 30 or more smaller bands to play, drumming up close to $25k in pre-sold tickets.  Then, they gave them whiny amateurs as technicians and put the stages where next to nobody would be standing.  I even heard a rumor that they started the bands playing at noon, but didn’t open the festival gates until well after that.

And the Hits Just Keep Coming

I feel bad ranting and raving about this show while two of our artists played great sets.  I’d love to write a glowing review of just their performances, but unfortunately, there is just no way that we could support artists in general and not give a full report of the disaster that was Playground Festival.  I hope these promoters go down in flames, and from the looks of the news, they will (more on that shortly).

So as Block Scholars wrap up, sometime around 5pm (yes, 2 hours after they were supposed to), we head back to the Palms Stages to see Rachel Borovik play.  I think it was sometime during this time that we found out that the symphony was going to be playing nearby, and that the sound from the festival was too loud, and that the entire festival was going to have to end at 8pm.  The Game, Too Short, Lil Jon, these headliners were going to have to play a festival headlining slot at 4, 6 and 7pm, just before everybody would be ushered out by the police.

How does one schedule a festival of this size, and not know what time they are required to shut down the event until the day of?  Or maybe they knew.

At any rate, Rachel hits the stage and I might feel bad saying it if she hadn’t said it a few times herself, but the girl has just got a sultry way about her that makes all of her songs a bit sexy and enchanting.  She continued to lure the boys in as they passed by, and made small talk with the crowd between songs.  Overall, it was a great little performance that, as far as I know, was relatively free of the complications that David and NOBULL suffered.

Hats off to Rachel and her band for keeping a great attitude during the madness.

Wait.  This is the Main Stage?

Throughout all of this happening, Eric and I had sneaked off and had a few beers, but never quite made it all the way to the main stage.  With the two Earbits performers I had come to see now done, we decided to go check out the main show.  As we came over the hill that separated the area where the smaller bands played from the main stage, I was taken aback.

There could not have been more than a couple thousand people in front of that stage.  With a field that rivals Coachella in size, this crowd could have fit in The Wiltern or The Palladium, easy.  If it wasn’t such a pitiful disaster for the bands who thought they’d be playing for 10k+ people, it would be laughable.  There was nobody at this event.  In fact, if you consider that 30 bands sold about 15 tickets each, honestly, I think the bands’ sales may have constituted 10-15% of the total ticket sales.  This was a joke.

Extra Fees, Bad Eats, No Tee Pee and More

Among other things that were wrong with the show, the $80 maximum ATM withdrawal with the $3.95 fee ranks up there, as does the lack of toilet paper and the fact that the port-a-poddies don’t appear to have received any attention all day.  There were only 5 booths serving food, all of which looked like crap.  And, they stopped serving alcohol at 7pm, probably to prevent a riot, which they probably only avoided because a riot would require that more people be there.  I have even read one review that claimed someone was backed over by a runaway security vehicle that was parked on a hill without the emergency brake.

Oh, and No Headliners, Either

Come to find out, we don’t have to feel sorry for The Game, Too Short or Lil Jon playing for such a small crowd.  They didn’t play.  They, among others, either saw the crowd was too small and didn’t want to be associated with a losing event, or, as so many have speculated, they probably were not paid by the promoters and decided to cut their losses.  Whatever the case, almost the entire headlining bill did not perform at the first day of Playground Festival.  A little digging and you’ll see that there were a ton of no-shows on day two as well.

I want to give props to both the bands who made a stand and refused to play this ridiculous event, and simultaneously commend those who still performed and gave it their all.  Both are noble positions to take and it’s just unfortunate that any artists had to endure the experience.

Turns Out, It’s a Scam

Before I wrote this article today, I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t the only one who thought Playground Festival was a clusterfuck.  Maybe my anger at the way our artist friends were treated tainted my view.  Surely, though, the headliners not showing up was enough to piss off the world, right?  But I just wanted to make sure, so I jumped online and did a search for Playground Festival.

Not only did I find articles bashing the disorganization of the festival on day one and day two, but it turns out that the State of California recently sanctioned Elevated Sound Productions, the promoters, for hard selling investors on getting in on the festival at the last minute, promising them a 2 to 1 return.  According to the Orange Country Register, Steve Blasko, a managing partner at ESP, claims they only tried selling to people who expressed an interest, but recorded calls and other information imply otherwise.  What’s worse is that they were making these 2 to 1 on your money calls only days/weeks before the concert, knowing full well that their ticket sales were dismal.

Information is Power

I think the easiest way to end this story on a good note, other than applauding the great artists we did get to see perform, is to talk about the solution to problems like this, rather than just complaining.

The reality is that some promoters just over shoot their abilities and can’t deliver every promise, but they try.  They show up, they take care of people, they try to make good on whatever promises they can.

Then, there’s guys like ESP, who may have done everything they did in order to try and deliver on their promises, but the scale at which they fucked up is enough that they should not be trusted again.  And the best solution to that is for artists to share their stories as much as possible, and make the information not only reliable, but easily found.

If your band experiences a problem of this magnitude, make sure you find an outlet to report on it, make sure you have the full story, make sure you provide backing information and evidence, and make sure you do what you can to save other artists from making the same mistakes.

And, for the love of God, let’s stop paying to play untested events and “festivals”.  Nobody putting on an event that is supposed to draw in 10k+ people needs 30 bands to sell 15 tickets.  Anybody for whom bringing 10k people is a given, need only work a little harder to bring 450 more people.  If your sales matter, they’re not bringing 10k people.

Thanks again to David Bell Jr., NOBULL, Rachel Borovik and everybody else who helped Saturday to be a good time, despite the drama.  You guys rocked it.

Joey Flores
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