Why Not in Newport?

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Our guest columnist hopes to bring back the days of bands in the sand.– By John Grafman | illustration by Stephanie Castro


This isn’t LA or NYC. It isn’t even Memphis, Austin or Seattle. No, this is Newport Beach, a city with a rich music culture of energizing sounds and a heritage as deep as some of the best. But, today, where’s the love?
Communities up and down the California coast are embracing musical talent. Huntington Beach has the annual Pier Festival; Redondo Beach, the Lobster Festival; and Doheny State Beach has Doheny Days. Similarly, Long Beach has the Funk Fest. So, why not in Newport?
Music and art festivals bring the whole local community together, and these are major money generators as well. Everybody wins!
From the birth of this city, music has been an essential element. Not only did the modern surf industry spring out of this area, but also it’s here that surf music came into its own. In the 1960s, it was as plentiful as the palm trees. The legendary Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa set the stage, until its ultimate demise in 1966, showcasing talent like The Chantays, “King of the Surf Guitar” Dick Dale and the Deltones. Plus, the Rendezvous  hosted Caesar and Cleopatra (Sonny and Cher), Jackie DeShannon and the Righteous Brothers, packing in as many as 4,000 crazed teens a night.
Five decades later in 2007, during the city’s centennial celebration, a massive stage was erected on the beach just south of Newport Pier. Homegrown favorites like Sugar Ray belted out tunes to a mob of suntanned fans.
Instead of once every blue moon, how about every summer on the beach? It isn’t like Newport suffers from a lack of bonafide and diverse talent. Over the decades, Newport has been, and is still home to amazing groups like the Fabulous Nomads (performing since 1962). All four current band members reside around this OC beach community. Also, world-renowned DJ Steve Aoki is a graduate of Newport Harbor High School. Even Mark McGrath (of Sugar Ray) continues to reside locally.
Just a few decades back there were numerous establishments for bands and dancing. Back in the day, this town was jumping. Woefully, venues fell by the wayside either through city ordinances or permit requirements that the establishments couldn’t obtain or comply with or from other issues. It was like something out of the movie “Footloose.” In the early 1990s, beach clubs and bars like the The Warehouse, Thunderbird and Josh Slocum’s rose to power, and then, one by one, collapsed. Live music at venues like Parker’s Seafood Grill, Red Onion and Rumpelstiltskin’s all came and went.
Even the vaunted Rendezvous Surf-Fest, where legendary bands like The Chantays and The Surfaris jammed, doesn’t have enough momentum to remain an annual event. Bob Spickard of The Chantays, and co-writer of the classic surf-tune “Pipeline” reminisces, “Live music has always been a mainstay of local musicians, and fans always love to dance. I’d love to see that situation return—especially in Newport.”
Fortunately, Siena in Balboa, Blue Beet, Woody’s Wharf and even American Legion Hall are still offering fantastic talent, albeit on a smaller scale.
The annual Taste Of Newport at Fashion Island, and Jazz Festival at the Hyatt (plus the former Fashion Island summer concert series) produce recognized musicians and big crowds. Alas, none feature youth-centric bands or oceanfront locales. The new Pacific Festival and the Balboa Beach Music Fest are coming in just shy of the mark.
OC is ready to see the rebirth of a truly diverse and progressive music festival on the sand. For this to happen, the city needs to reduce the red tape for obtaining permits and provide temporary waivers to restrictive ordinances. However, the long-term solution lies in changing the laws and regulations. If the business owners, event planners and residents make the case and push hard, this town just might sing a new tune. NBM

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  1. Being the wife of one of the above mentioned bands, I see first hand how absolutely ridiculous this city law is. There are only 4 Newport beach restaurants/bars that have what is called a “caberet license” (Blue Beet, Woody’s Wharf, Landmark in CdM, and I can’t remember the last one), and if these establishments decide to sell, the license will NOT be transferred. People now call Newport Beach “No-fun Beach”. Having been born and raised here, I remember the good ‘ol days when bands would rock at places like The Shamrock and the crowd could dance and carry-on; not harming anyone, just having fun. Does anyone have a good reason why this law is approved in the city of Newport Beach, because I’d sure like to know! And how can we repeal it?


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