Weekly Update: August 20, 2013

First City Festival out of step

It has attracted press attention all over California; in other words, from afar. The inaugural First City Music Festival, at the County Fairgrounds in Monterey this weekend, offers a hefty load of some thirty indie-pop and rock band attractions, including Modest Mouse, Passion Pit, MGMT, Neko Case and Beach House. You can infer a couple of things: a young, hip demographic and a lot of traffic from out of town. Weekend grounds tickets are offered at about $150 (though apparently some have been able to get them on line at a 50 percent discount.) Bands perform on three stages from 1 to 11pm.

What the media outside of the Monterey Peninsula might not have noticed is that First City goes head to head with the long-running West End Celebration in Sand City, which offers about twenty bands all day in the midst of that small Monterey Peninsula suburb’s annual arts and crafts fair. The West End Celebration is free, and as the photo (below) from the 2010 Celebration shows, very popular with locals from all over the county.Westend 2010 (39)Monterey Peninsula residents don’t need to be reminded that last week the Concours d’Elegance and its various spinoffs congested local streets and freeways with gorgeous, outrageously expensive cars—new as well as restored antiques—that, yippee kiyay, gave the Monterey Herald something vital to put on its front page every day. For years, West End has claimed pride of place on the weekend between the Concours and the Monterey County Fair. (West End has generated its share of traffic, but not with the expectation of hoards from outside the area.)

So, why First City this weekend, when the weekend after the Fair would make the new interloper look more respectful of our local culture and community? The only solid answer I could get—and only from the Fairground operators—is that First City wanted to use the same package of carnival rides that has long been a fixture of the County Fair.

How First City benefits us—beyond its obvious impact on the hospitality industry—remains to be seen. But we already know West End’s benefits. Proceeds from sales of food and beverages, plus an auction, support the county’s Guitars Not Guns (GNG) chapter, which directly impacts the youth—especially at-risk youth—in Monterey County.

West End’s fount of knowledge and history is Steve Vagnini, long-time Monterey County Assessor by day, music hound and impresario by night and weekends. Vagnini likens the two-day West End Celebration to a painting, “putting together a body of work that will entertain people throughout the day.” He starts assembling artists for West End eight months in advance of the event. “I know most of these musicians and that our audience wants basic, classic bands,” he says, “but with a bit more originality.” Reggae, blues and rock make their obvious appeal, “but not necessarily to the greatest common denominator.” Vagnini, who now coordinates the entire event, takes pride in the fact that the West End audience consists of “very artistic, musical people.” The festival also enjoys widespread support from the local media and many artists’ groups. Moreover, the Guitar Not Guns program is widely supported by cities throughout Monterey County, especially in Salinas and Salinas Valley.

Vagnini, who chairs a variety of county management teams, runs the county’s GIS service and vigorously promotes green alternatives to fossil fuel emissions, is especially proud of GNG’s involvement with the Rancho Cielo Youth Camp programs. GNG secures both funding and instruments, and provides training, “one kid at a time.” To support GNG, attend the West End Celebration, or visit http://guitarsnotguns.org/monterey.php

Regrettably, we were unable to publish a critique of Les Misérables at the start of its run at Monterey Peninsula College. However, Peter Tuff, who caught it during its last weekend, found much to praise. Please see his commentary on our Theater Reviews page.

Attention Stage Fans: new theater productions, opening as indicated, include Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, Sept 5, at Jewel Theatre in Santa Cruz; The Guys, Sept 5, Monterey Peninsula College; The Motherf***er With The Hat, Sept 6, at Paper Wing in Monterey; Luis Valdez’ Zoot Suite, Sept 7, at The Western Stage in Salinas, and Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, Sept 13, The Western Stage. You can find the details at their respective websites on our Presenters page under Theater. Hidden Valley’s new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni opens Sept 12. More details on our Presenters page under Music: Classical.    

Just added to our Links of Interest page: Strong evidence that appearance rather than artistic talent wins classical piano competitions. Also find a link to Sinfini, the new classical music site from Britain.

Scott MacClelland, editor