Wednesday, May 21, 2008
B.B. King, eyes closed, smile wide, looks peaceful. Surprisingly, so does longtime promoter and King collaborator Joe Fletcher as he sits in his Seaside office beneath the signed portrait of B.B. – despite the fact that he could postpone, rework or cancel his Monterey Music Summit’s second manifestation before it starts.
Fletcher calmly attends to desktop chores while fielding questions as to whether a reshuffling of the summit is the result of weak ticket sales or unforeseen complications hoisted upon his organizing staff by the county officials that hold sway over events at Laguna Seca Raceway, a county park. “It’s kind of a combination,” he says.
As first reported in the Weekly on May 1, those officials took issue with the fact that Snoop Dogg is scheduled to appear at the carbon-neutral event, citing a concern that the aging rapper’s performance could lead to gang violence. (County officials also worried that booths run by groups ranging from the Tibetan Monks to Surfrider fractured a rule forbidding “political” fomentation on county land.)
“We’ve done a thousand concerts in the past 20 years, internationally, in the South,” Fletcher told the Weekly at the time, “and never had a venue try to tell us who the artists should be.”
After censorship charges were leveled at the Board of Supervisors on May 5, the board voted 4-1 to approve the summit’s use of the racetrack venue.
They did, however, authorize a dramatic up-tick in the level of security from last year’s event, when two Monterey police officers had little to do as the summit provided free water and water containers and peaceably pulled off an event that music critics and citizens saluted as a breakthrough for the local music scene.
The Monterey County Sheriff’s Office also mandated “Snoop Dogg and his entourage submit to a search of their vehicles and persons” and that “deputies be positioned in the backstage area… to monitor the activities.”
Fletcher says the demands haven’t made the hair on Snoop Dogg’s back stand up. “He is already on probation. He already has to be squeaky clean,” Fletcher says. “He can’t associate with anyone affiliated with gangs or anyone doing drugs. He’s as clean as he can be, so he was like ‘Bring [the searches] on.’
“Then he stopped and thought about it – ‘Wait, they’re not searching all the artists. That’s discriminatory.’ ”
The demands also set a tricky precedent for organizers attempting to brand a music event for years to come.
“It’s not customary – it’s not what we want to do,” Fletcher says. “We want our artists to have a positive experience.”
According to Fletcher, the bill for the police officers at last year’s summit ran $3,700. The bill furnished by the sheriff in advance of the May 30-June 1 festival totaled $39,002.84.
For at least one group in the local music establishment, these events evoke a previous bit of Monterey County history.
“It echoes what happened in 1958 with the Jazz Festival,” says Timothy Orr, a Monterey Jazz Festival spokesman. “That the word ‘jazz’ was a four-letter word. In the ’40s and ’50s and ’60s there was this fear that jazz was underground, dark music. Rock and roll encountered the cultural resistance, too – it was all considered dangerous. Jazz encountered the same, being considered degenerate music.”
Of course, that was 50 years ago.
Music fans will be anxious to hear what could potentially fill the void. “We may end up with a one-day event,” Fletcher wrote in an e-mail to the Weekly. “I am speaking to each band to figure out what they want to do.” Implicit in that negotiation is whether bands would be willing to accept a cancellation check in lieu of showing up.
In a previous e-mail Fletcher wrote: “We are deciding what the final lineup will be and all of the details but we may reschedule or move it to another venue.” Fletcher says he will make an official announcement Friday, May 23.