“BEACH GOTH V IS AT HAND!”
Thus the great proclamation rang forth from the mouths (or the Facebook page) of The Growlers last Friday night, only a few hours before their fifth annual Beach Goth festival was set to begin. Written in stark letters, the post reverberated like a warning of some coming apocalypse rather than as a statement of joyful anticipation.
“Come early. Stay late. Dress up, get weird. No need to hurry. Move slow,” the post continued. It’s a simple enough mantra for anyone going to a festival the weekend before Halloween. So what could possibly go wrong?
The rumblings of chaos started weeks before Beach Goth V even began; after announcing Oak Canyon Park as the new digs for 2016, a last minute change meant The Observatory in Santa Ana would once again serve as host to the festival. Attendees were apprehensive, and for good reason—over seventy acts spread across two days in what amounts to two small indoor stages and a parking lot is already a tricky proposal, and overcrowding has been an issue in past years. But with the addition of a second proper outdoor stage for 2016, the organizers seemed ready to tackle the hordes. By the end of the weekend it was clear that no contingency plan was in place to handle the unexpected act of God that dampened the whole festival.
Things were off to a bright start as Saturday went off without a hitch; Bon Iver closed out the night with a blissful set of tracks from his latest album, Patti Smith proved herself to be an ageless legend, Melanie Martinez turned the main stage into a fantastical nursery, and King Krule had fans climbing the trees for a better view. The relatively intimate setting of the main stage was an acoustic blessing as even the faintest whispers from the stage could be heard from the pit to the fray. Teens frolicked in their Halloween costumes, people took selfies with Eric Andre and Tony Hawk, and the micheladas were flowing—all was right in Orange County!
When it started to pour Sunday afternoon, the irony was almost too painful to be laughable—a state plagued by drought was suddenly blessed with rain showers and it just so happened to be in the middle of a massive outdoor event? Hilarious!
Still, the bands soldiered on despite the circumstances; Devendra Banhart and Unknown Mortal Orchestra were perfectly suited to the misty setting after taking some protective measures and draping their equipment with trash bags and towels. Colombian songstress Kali Uchis shimmied in a rhinestone brassiere and was unhindered by the cold, as if her smooth reggae-influenced rhythms created their own warmth. French psych-punks La Femme weren’t bothered by the weather either, as evidenced by lead singer Marlon Magnée swinging his cock and balls around in nothing more than flap of fabric and string.
As the night wore on, the rain went from being simply an inconvenience to a legitimate hazard. The road that served as the main passage from stage to stage flooded, forcing organizers to shut down the smaller of the two outdoor stages. The shakeup left attendees confused and irritated while organizers scrambled to rearrange the lineup. One of the night’s most anticipated acts, Grimes, was left unable to perform due to water-damaged gear and Nicolas Jaar’s live set was quickly downgraded to a DJ set.
Somehow in spite of the chaos and the rain, there was a perceptible joy that lightened the mood of what should’ve otherwise been a justifiably grumpy crowd. Blame it on the optimism of youth, blame it on the weed that hundreds of people had artfully smuggled in, but somehow the crowd of mostly teenagers and young adults pushed on, buoyed by their passion.
That indefatigable energy combined with the eclectic and oddly curated lineup is what has always made Beach Goth so damn fun, even when it’s too hot, too wet, or too crowded. Performers for every age set, decade and demographic come out to make the sterile asphalt of Orange County into a grand spectacle. While the fest has clearly outgrown its old stomping grounds, it’s in no danger of losing its edge. FL