For years, when people talked about festival culture in LA, they were talking about Coachella. Though, admittedly, many Angelenos do make the two-plus hour, 120 mile trip out into the desert each spring for the long-running festival, Palm Springs is still not Los Angeles. And while the city has supported a number of pop-up and one-off festivals over the years, for a city as bustling and robust as it is, it hasn’t managed to sustain as robust a festival marketplace as a city like New York or Chicago.
That could all be changing, though, thanks in part to Goldenvoice. Best known nationally for putting on the Coachella and Stagecoach festivals, Goldenvoice has been producing concerts in the LA area for over 40 years. They were purchased by events behemoth AEG in 2001, but have somehow managed to still maintain an air of corporate separation and indie cred.
Coming out of the pandemic, Goldenvoice has gone all-in on festivals in the LA area, putting on five in the area immediately surrounding the Rose Bowl. There was Cruel World, which took place in mid-May and highlighted ‘80s and ‘90s goth and mod powerhouses like Bauhaus, Morrissey, and Devo. The following weekend, the company popped up Just Like Heaven, which focused on what it called “era-defining” indie rock, like The Shins, Modest Mouse, M.I.A., Bloc Party, and more. Palomino launches July 9, bringing the vibe of LA’s legendary country music haven the Palomino Club to the region with acts like Willie Nelson and Kacey Musgraves, and in August, the Rose Bowl will host both the returning Head In The Clouds festival, which self-describes as a fest focused on “amplifying Asian art and culture,” and This Ain’t No Picnic, which revisits the feel and vibe of an indie rock fest Goldenvoice first threw back in the late ‘90s.
To get a better handle on what these fests could mean for Los Angeles and for the festival marketplace at large, Uproxx talked to three Goldenvoice festival bookers about the company’s push into what seems to be a more niche festival space: Stacey Vee, who snags acts for Stagecoach and Palomino, Jenn Yacoubian, who co-books This Ain’t No Picnic with Vee, and Ellen Lu, who puts together Head In The Clouds.
Vee says that Goldenvoice’s sudden expansion into LA festivals came in part because of the company’s reaction to the pandemic. When staffers at the company would meet to chat about the company’s future, they’d always end up circling back to the company’s past and present, as well. She says the group was attracted to “recognizing some of the company’s big wins and the special things that we’ve done in the past,” including festivals like This Ain’t No Picnic.
The pandemic helped launch the expansion in other ways, too. Yacoubian says that, during lockdown, she and Vee would go on semi-weekly runs around the Rose Bowl just to catch up. They ended up falling in love with the site, which Goldenvoice had used before, but hadn’t really latched onto wholeheartedly. “It feels very unique for a festival setting in LA, because those have typically been a bit more urban, like in parking lots or in other areas,” she says. “This one’s totally grass, which I haven’t really seen in LA before — especially with shade — and there are all these really wonderful views and amenities.”
That setting, the Brookside Golf Club, also helped determine the fests the company decided to pursue, in a way. “This Ain’t No Picnic was a precursor to the early days of Coachella, and it was really edgy and innovative,” says Vee, who called the original fest “a beautiful day in a beautiful park.”
Pasadena is also part of the San Gabriel Valley, which holds one of the largest concentrations of Asian communities in the States. Goldenvoice teamed with 88rising to put Head In The Clouds at the Golf Club in 2021, and the fest was such a success they decided to bring it back again, all while pushing even more into where they think the event’s strengths are. The fest is once again teaming up with the 626 Night Market to curate its food. “It felt like it would be a miss to not bring” the Night Market back, Lu says, noting that treats from all over the Asian diaspora will be available, from Japanese food to Balinese fare.
It’s not just food, either, Lu says. “Last year, we made the mistake of only having one boba stand out in the GA section, and that was probably the longest line at the fest,” she explains. “This year, we said, ‘let’s talk about maybe having a boba world separate from the 626 where it’s actually just a ton of different boba stands where people can choose from different types of drinks.” She says it’s a natural evolution of the festival, which isn’t just about music, but also about culture as a whole. If this year goes well, she says, then maybe next year they bring in comedy. “There’s so much more for us to celebrate,” she says,” and that’s what we intend to do.”
In a way, each of Goldenvoice’s festivals is a celebration of a unique culture and sphere. While Head In The Clouds is certainly the most massive and defined, Palomino pays tribute to Los Angeles’ country music heritage, which is quite often forgotten. “The Palomino club in North Hollywood was such a big part of the outlaw, extracurricular, ‘what is and isn’t country music’ kind of vibe,” says Vee. The club inspired the Palomino Stage at the Stagecoach festival, and it’s always hosted artists she says “you wouldn’t think belong at a country festival,” like Smokey Robinson and Tom Jones. For the Palomino Festival this year, she booked from the near fringes of the country world, tapping acts that push the boundaries of what modern country can be, like Old Crow Medicine Show and Orville Peck.
This Ain’t No Picnic is less of a statement than a celebration, according to Yacoubian. She says, “That was one where we just thought, ‘I’m from LA and I know that people in LA love to celebrate summer and love to be outside. It felt like that fest hadn’t existed in the market for a minute and we wanted to bring back that wonderful feeling of celebrating summer.”
Booking a festival like Picnic, Yacoubian says, does have some science behind it, in terms of making sure it’s a financial success, but really “it’s totally a gut feeling.” Snagging and reuniting an act like Le Tigre can help the fest draw fans from outside the LA area and intrigue people who either never got a chance to see them during their first go-around. Creating the rest of the lineup felt natural to Vee and Yacoubian, with the latter saying “it was truly like we were booking our friends.”
“The Strokes and LCD [Soundsystem] and Mac DeMarco have all been in the Goldenvoice family for so long that it felt fun and exciting to be able to create this awesome show with our friends again,” Yacoubian says. “Stacey lives in Highland Park. I live in Glassell Park. This show is for us, and it’s for the other people who are at Walt’s Bar.”
To look at it another way, This Ain’t No Picnic is a fest by Angelenos for Angelenos, with all the diversity of life, experience, and circumstance that indicates. All five of Goldenvoice’s summer festivals could fit that same bill, a move that Vee says is far from coincidental. “We want to have something for everybody,” she says. “We want every fan to feel like it’s their festival, so whatever experience they’re looking for, we’ve got that for them.”