As 41-year-old Allen Sanford looks at Seaside Lagoon in Redondo Beach from the second floor window of his office, he remembers the days he spent there as a kid with his brothers. It’s where their mother would “turn them loose,” and where the now avid surfer first learned to swim.
But, he doesn’t have too much time to reminisce now because he has big plans for that lagoon and the nearby harbor.
The entrepreneur and his 46-year-old business partner Rob Lissner are turning the lagoon and the adjacent King Harbor into the biggest music festival venue in the South Bay, attracting thousands of music fans and dozens of bands on three stages to celebrate the area’s rich beach culture.
About 12,000 people are expected to attend the inaugural BeachLife Festival per day May 3-5.
Encompassing 8.6 acres of land, the concert will feature 40 musical acts including headliners Brian Wilson, Willie Nelson and Bob Weir.
Besides the music, food will take center stage, literally, because a 50-seat pop-up restaurant will be set up on the main stage area where three star chefs will cook dinner inspired by the music.
And since it’s about celebrating beach culture, the 2019 Big Wave Awards will be taking place there during the weekend too.
Add to that VIP areas, a craft beer and curated wine village, several food trucks, 20 food vendors, cabanas, bars plus a 10-year agreement with the city to nurture BeachLife and turn it into a major annual musical and cultural event.
So yeah, this is one huge undertaking, especially for a first time event.
And here’s how it all came together.
How the idea was born
While this is their first festival, Sanford and Lissner are quite experienced in the music industry.
Sanford owns Saint Rocke, a popular live music venue in Hermosa Beach and founded the Hermosa Beach Summer Concerts.
And along with Lissner they run LiveList, a live streaming platform that broadcasts festivals from around the world.
So you might think they’re also avid music festival goers and that’s why they wanted to create one of their own.
Although they’re both passionate live music fans, it turns out they’re not all that crazy about attending a lot of huge festivals.
“I think festivals have lost their point of view. They’re a dime a dozen and I actually don’t like going to festivals and that created the (motivation) for me to create a festival,” Sanford said.
“With BeachLife it’s not about a bunch of bands in one place, it’s a celebration of beach life culture, which is surfing and skating and hanging out on the beach and listening to music on the beach,” he added.
With so many music festivals in the area, including some that also take place by the water and draw similar sized crowds like those at the Queen Mary (the ship’s Just Like Heaven festival takes place the same weekend as BeachLife) and others like the Back to the Beach Festival in Orange County that happened the weekend before, the partners are aware there is a lot of competition.
So why start a festival now?
Part of it was the location, which isn’t just a cherished childhood memory for Sanford but would offer Westside locals a place to see live music and an intimate experience, (at least when it comes to festivals) without having to head to venues out of town, they said.
“It had to be something different and this is just a unique opportunity,” Lissner said. “Being on the beach listening to music is the ideal situation for Southern California. This (location) epitomized what we’re trying to go after from a culture standpoint,” he added.
When it came to creating the 40-act lineup that will perform on three stages, the partner’s wanted to go big.
“The first thoughts were to make sure we get some legendary artists …we started just listing who could those be? Brian Wilson is synonymous with the beach so he made perfect sense. Willie Nelson always works extremely well and then we wanted to mix in a little something for everybody,” Lissner said.
Sanford admits that it wasn’t easy getting the lineup together for a first time concert on the beach, especially with the spectacular failure of the Fyre Festival in the Bahamas, which was explored in a pair of recent documentaries.
“This is a new everything, and it’s on the beach and with Fyre fest everyone is scared of everything,” Sanford said.
But where Willie goes, others follow.
The country legend was the first to sign on, and once that happened other artists started to roll in to create a lineup that includes acts such as Grammy Award-winning singer Jason Mraz, San Diego-born rock-reggae group Slightly Stoopid, Ziggy Marley, Violent Femmes, Los Angeles punk legends X and Blues Traveler.
For Lissner and Sanford, the lineup reflects various kinds of music you might listen to while hanging out at the beach.
“We wanted to make people feel good about being on the beach,” Lissner said.
“If I took all of those bands that are on the lineup and put them on a mixed tape and we went down to the beach with a case of beer, it would be perfect,” Sanford added.
The BeachLife Festival isn’t the first to mix food with music.
Long Beach’s Music Tastes Good for example includes a lineup of several well-known chefs that are billed as headliners alongside the musical acts and serve food from booths during the festival.
But BeachLife is doing it a little different by keeping the number of chefs small to just three and building a 50-seat pop-up restaurant right on the main stage just to the side of the headlining acts.
“Most people don’t get the chance to stand at the side of the stage. And if you’ve ever stood on the side of the stage it’s just a completely different experience,” Sanford said.
The chefs are Michael Cimarusti, who appeared on “Top Chef Masters” and “Hell’s Kitchen” and cooks on night one when Weir performs, Tin Vuong, the chef-owner of the Little Sister restaurants in Manhattan Beach and downtown L.A. who cooks on night two when Wilson headlines, and celebrated South Bay chef David LeFevre of MB Post, The Arthur J and Fishing With Dynamite, who closes it along with his musical hero.
Sanford first approached LeFevre about this idea and the music-loving chef was on board right away, requesting to cook on the night Nelson headlines.
From there they thought of other music-loving chefs who would create set lists based on the music.
LeFevre quickly thought of Cimarusti, who is such a huge Bob Weir fan that he cooks with a Grateful Dead patch on his chef’s coat.
They also wanted to bring culinary diversity to the pop-up restaurant so they thought of Voung, who is known for his creativity in the kitchen, plus he’s a Beach Boys fan.
“I could not be happier with the three chefs who are part of this,” Sanford said. “All of them are listening to their artists daily and we are not asking them what they’re cooking.”
And just as his mom brought Sanford to the lagoon as a kid, he plans on bringing his 7-month-old daughter down too.
“I can’t wait until Sunday evening and when Willie Nelson is playing and I’m standing on the side of the stage with my daughter … I imagine her with headphones on and then looking back in 20 years and going ‘Wow, like we actually pulled that off,’” he said.
If You Go
When: Friday, May 3-Sunday, May 5
Where: Seaside Lagoon, 137 N. Harbor Drive, Redondo Beach
Tickets: $95 daily or $259 for a three-day general admission pass; $275 daily or $795 for a VIP three-day pass; $995 daily or $2,500 for a Captain’s three-day pass. The meals at the side stage are $150 per person.