I attended my first Fresno City Council meeting and witnessed my first council vote last Thursday afternoon. I attended because I knew the result of this vote, no matter the outcome, would change the future of music in Fresno for years to come.
The outcome would either stifle our music scene and prevent opportunities for our musicians, or it could provide opportunities for our musicians, help grow our music scene and help Fresno become a live music haven.
With a 5-2 vote, the council approved a special event license agreement for the promoters of Grizzly Fest, a local music festival set to take place May 18-19 at its new location – Woodward Park in North Fresno.
Promoters originally wanted approval to allow festival performances to go until midnight. Councilman Garry Bredefeld delayed the vote to allow for negotiations between the city and the promoters after hearing complaints from residents in his district about potential disruptions in the area, including noise (Fresno’s noise ordinance deadline is 10 p.m.), traffic and parking.
The new agreement that resulted from negotiations was that the music would go until 11:30 p.m. Every minute after would result in a fine. After 11:30 p.m., $1,000 per minute. After 11:40 p.m., $10,000 per minute. After midnight, $100,000 per minute. This would be on top of the $100,000 reservation fee promoters are paying the city to use the park.
Bredefeld and councilman Steve Brandau voted no.
I went into the meeting (which is archived on CMAC) thinking I was going to be reporting. I charged my phone to take photos and audio. I prepared questions for those in attendance, and I brought along my notebook and a pen to take notes.
Very quickly, I realized there would not be a news story out of this because it hit too close to home, and I felt very passionately in favor of Grizzly Fest.
In my time at The Collegian, I have watched Fresno’s small but insanely talented music scene grow and flourish thanks to venues like Strummer’s and Fulton 55, and large-scale events like FresYes Fest and Grizzly Fest.
Grizzly Fest is making big moves this year by leaving Chukchansi Park in Downtown and its one-day festival in order to expand and grow at Woodward Park for a two-day festival. A festival, might I add, that is bringing in nationally recognized musicians who our local talent will be opening for to an estimated 20,000 attendees over the two days.
As I sat in that room and listened to people either want Grizzly Fest to end at 10 p.m. – or to not be allowed at all at Woodward Park – dread consumed me.
I wondered how they could not want to be a part of something so exciting and beneficial to our community. Next to highlighting our music scene, promoters said Thursday that Grizzly Fest would have a $3 million to $4 million positive impact on Fresno.
The parking and traffic issue is being taken care of. Promoters said they would be shuttling in attendees, for free, from three other locations where attendees can park. They are also working with Uber to bring in 1,000 Uber drivers who will have a designated area to wait to give rides.
Safety seems to be top priority for the promoters, who said they have been working extensively with the police department to ensure Grizzly Fest will be as safe as possible.
Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer was present and confirmed that once the council made a decision, the police department would meet with promoters next week to devise a security plan that meets police department approval.
Dyer said attendees will have to go through metal detectors to get in. A decision will be made about location of the beer garden. Officers will be stationed inside and outside the festival, and officers will be patrolling the area. He said that the promoters have taken on these costs.
Safety was also a concern when it came to moving Grizzly Fest to Woodward Park in the first place rather than keeping it downtown. Promoters said that nearby tall buildings and overhangs are now considered security risks after a gunman killed 58 people and injured 422 in Las Vegas last year at Route 91 Harvest Festival.
Noise seemed to then be the only issue left, and it was something I couldn’t understand. Grizzly Fest is not taking place in the middle of the week. It is taking place on a Friday and a Saturday. Noise would not happen after 11:30 p.m., or the fees would have to be paid, which promoters said they are well aware of.
I assume when you choose to live next to a public park and an amphitheater, you have to know what you’re getting yourself into. If an amphitheater wasn’t wanted, it should have been more fiercely fought against before it was built. It’s there now. It needs to be used, and it will be used. So, what’s so bad about noise going on for an extra 90 minutes over just two days of the year?
The point could be made that if an extra 90 minutes isn’t a big deal, then why not make the noise deadline at 11:30 p.m. year round? Or, does this mean the city can be paid off every time? It’s a valid point, but Grizzly Fest is a festival. Festivals are unique and should not be equated to a standard concert where there are almost universal-like procedures set in place (i.e. four performers, one stage, a 10 p.m. noise deadline, etc.).
Then came the moment when I understood the fire behind a few of those totally opposed to Grizzly Fest.
It came in the form of a person who had printed out some lyrics from a 1992 Dr. Dre song and proceeded to yell Snoop Dogg’s verses. Snoop Dogg is a headliner for this year’s festival.
This person yelled the lyrics into the microphone, profanities included. This person asked why this man and his “vile” messages should be invited into our community. This person was cheered on by some, then escorted away from the microphone by security, still yelling.
I wondered to myself, is this a race thing? Other community members who got up and spoke confirmed my suspicions by saying, basically, hey, this is a race thing.
After community members had spoken, Bredefeld said, “I’m really disappointed when people bring up and play the race card.”
I was not. Things finally began to click.
The times I have seen people take issue with Grizzly Fest, Snoop Dogg was always brought up for some reason. Would it be the same if a white rapper were headlining? Or, if Foster The People were the sole headliners, would they be an issue? I, genuinely, don’t think so.
While I was discouraged every time someone grabbed the microphone and tried to take a swing at Grizzly Fest, I was just as encouraged every time someone went up and defended it.
At its core, this festival is a chance for our community to support and showcase our local music scene – which also includes venue workers, promoters, advertisers, writers and photographers. It is a chance to put Fresno on the map as a city that can try to do cool things and succeed at it.
A thanks is in order to the council members who realized this and were willing to take a chance on this chance. I hope to see you in May.