Last Saturday, a scant few blocks from where Poseidon played on the big screen, a local disaster/romance epic launched at Downtown Brewing Company. KCPR, Cal Poly's independent radio station, saw its own fund-raising "Garden Party" festival struggle to breathe after the school's sudden cancellation, but persevered to host a full day of alternative music. You may have read about this in Glen Starkeyâ€™s news piece in last weekâ€™s New Times.
While the touching shots may not have been as beautiful, the Garden Party's were just as sentimental. Rather than an emotionally-grabbing shot of Leo grasping for his last moments of life a la Titanic, I got to see the KCPR Music Director shotgun through beers with the members of NYC rock outfit Rahim. Let me tell you, I felt ten times the love in my beer-splattered chest.
The Garden Party was supposed to be KCPR's all-day music festival sponsored at Downtown Brewing Company (and the senior project of journalism senior/KCPR General Manager Stacey Anderson). Hopefully, it would garner a few bucks to keep the station running. But, more importantly, it would show a few more people the independent music that dozens of DJs spend unpaid hours bringing to the community. Sometimes this seems to be a losing battleâ€”but for every 99 people that don't want to pick up the new Wolf Parade CD after meeting us, one does. And the community slowly grows through an amazing display of man-hours committed to making others understand the love we have for something so personal.
KCPR's Garden Party was perhaps one of the most doomed ventures on campus. What's that trite Albert Einstein quote that gets tossed after any ridiculous action? "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." If life can truly be summed up in that clichÃˆ, I highly suggest locking up Stacey, myself, and the rest of the KCPR staff, because we tried to defy our past. KCPR itself had already been host to money-losing acts, with Mogwai and Grandaddy concerts as recent examples. Both, however, were the farthest thing from a disappointment, as they helped hoist the indie-kid flag high and mighty for this town to see. But in spite of these past losses, the close-knit and music-loving staff of KCPR got behind the vision of the KCPR Garden Party (other considered names: Slochella, Staceystock).
The festival started initially with the idea of pulling a big-name crossover act onto campus with the help of Cal Poly's Associated Students Incorporated (ASI) for an all-day festival. I'm from Reno, the farthest thing from a musical Mecca, and I quickly threw myself into the mix. It seemed like we had somehow sold the whole idea to the ASI representatives for all Cal Poly students. However, ASI ended up finally shooting down the whole idea like Old Yeller.
Unfortunately, like Cujo, KCPR hardly takes the first shotgun blast as a good indication to call things quits and quietly die in a corner. Stacey pitched the entire idea to Downtown Brewing Company, who quickly donated their venue, security, and insurance for the afternoon of May 20th. An eclectic indie line-up slowly got sifted out the billion names being pulled from every dark corner of the KCPR music library.
All of this occurred amidst numerous revisions. Within a few months, the festival became a street fair, then a multi-venue jam-off, then a street fair again, then simply a concert, and finally a dual venue rock-out between local acts and their major-league counterparts. With much agonizing school paperwork and e-mail negotiations logged, a terrific line-up of up-and-coming artists emerged: Hella, the Dead Science, Rahim, the Advantage, the Jai Alai Savant, and Magneto (with the bustle of local bands next door at Linnaea's CafÃˆ).
Then, the week before the Garden Party, someone deep inside of the Cal Poly behomoth finally saw the potential iceberg aheadâ€”and KCPR crashed into it on Friday, May 19, one day before the event. Oh, insuranceâ€”you cold, cold bitch. Somewhere amidst mountains of bureaucracy, the message passed down that Cal Poly's endorsement of the festival would require extra insurance from that negotiated with Downtown Brewing. The kind of insurance that is basically impossible to get last minute, unless you are hosting a bake sale or have Bill and Ted's kick-ass phone booth. The festival was cancelled by the Cal Poly Journalism Department, which oversees KCPR.
But instead of following this mandate and just giving in, the DJs scrambled for the nearest life raft. DJs congregated at their favorite houses. Stacey clutched a box of Wheat Thins (already purchased for headlining rockers The Advantage) as a good-luck talisman. Details were hammered out (while some just got hammered over a bucket of mojitos), and Stacey and I showed up at Cal Poly at 10 p.m. for a desperate debate with John Soares, journalism professor and KCPR's campus advisor. The whole affair was a no-go as long as the University even had a toe touching it, though. KCPR could have nothing to do with the event.
Luckily, a visit to Jason, Downtown Brewing Company's manager, saved the whole show. He took a bartending break and helped create a deal that would allow for the festival to continue. As long as Stacey and I guaranteed that bands and ticket-buyers showed up, Downtown Brew staff would sponsor the event entirely by themselves, completely separate from the University (KCPR's name couldn't be associated, and we couldn't sell any merchandise). So we breathed a sigh of relief and we spread the news; local bands got pulled into the Downtown Brewing bill and all seemed in order. Cue the uplifting music.
As a result, our party went on. All the bands (except the headliners, which Soares cancelled) rocked the Downtown Brewing stage, in between enjoying the stocked green room of vegan lasagnas and Tecates. Attendees rocked out to DJ sets, one of which was hosted by Cal Poly professor Dr. Jim Cushing. By the time New York rockers Rahim took the stage, the KCPR crowd, one of the most closely-linked communities in San Luis Obispo, had packed themselves into the venue, officially taking up a third capacity but filling the empty space with their egos and freakishness. (Rahim later said that the Garden Party was the best show they'd played on their whole their national tour.) But despite the overwhelming excitement from the crowd, late arrivers slowly petered out, and KCPR's financial loss was assured.
Then one of my heroes, Sam Mickens, took the stage alongside the rest of the Dead Scienceâ€”and my efforts were well worth it. Their set packed an intensity wrought with sadness, and the entire affair felt like watching a broken-legged horse kicking and screaming up a muddy mountain. In other words, it felt triumphant, like the Garden Party ultimately was. I almost started sobbing and was left stunned and speechless. No better band could have headlined that stage than the Dead Scienceâ€”a tragic, beautiful, and emotional wreck.
But I didn't go home and cryâ€”there was still more mayhem to be had, as only KCPR can bring. Members of Rahim and The Dead Science joined us for the after-party, which saw the reunion of beloved SLO cover band The Its. A mass of bodies crashed into each other amidst covers of "Push It", "Beat It", and "Whip It" (see a trend?). A scattering of people (band members included) gyrated only in their underwear. In a way, it felt like the end of "Titanic" - we clung to each other, covered in sweat (not icy waters), happy that we could celebrate and enjoy our festival.
It was at this point that I realized I am so proud and honored to be KCPR's General Manager for next year. It is amazing to be part of a family that will bash its head into a wall a million times until they get where they want to go. The persistence was worth it. The loss of money was worth it. The Garden Party is already firmly entrenched as the best moment of my year. And just like KCPR and the idealists behind it, I assure you that the Party will be back next year, no matter how big the iceberg. âˆ†
Graham Culbertson is a journalism major at Cal Poly and incoming General Manager of KCPR. He can be reached through outgoing GM Stacey Andersonâ€™s e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.