REDONDO BEACH, Calif. — In May 2019, Redondo Beach’s King Harbor came alive. The three-day BeachLife Festival brought an energy to the city’s waterfront that hadn’t been seen there in years, and was just what promoters and city leaders were hoping for when they struck their multi-year deal.
BeachLife founder Allen Sanford and his team had just announced the lineup for the Fall 2020 edition of BeachLife when COVID scuttled his plans.
About two months ago, Sanford and his team had to make a decision: begin the push for BeachLife’s sophomore run — betting that the pandemic will be on a downturn by late 2021 — or cancel and wait for next year.
In late April, the word was out: BeachLife was coming back, running Sept. 10 through Sept. 12. Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand even leaked a few planned acts, including Counting Crows, Ben Harper and Men at Work, at his 2021 State of the City address.
The full lineup will be released by BeachLife on Friday, May 21, but it seems safe to expect that at least a few acts from the scrapped BeachLife 2020 festival might make an appearance.
Organizers are promising that BeachLife won’t be reinventing the wheel: the three-day festival will still have multiple stages (four this time, up from three in 2019); an emphasis on craft beer and high-quality food still stands (as does the “Sidestage” restaurant experience); and the acts will be a celebration of beach living — a blend of music, art and food representing the coastal culture of Southern California.
The decision to press forward with the 2021 festival, Sanford said, was an emotional one. That’s rare for him to admit. Sanford’s always been numbers-driven, focusing on data and analytics, not just gut feelings. “But the last thing I wanted to do was to end 2021 as another year in defeat,” he said.
The pandemic was rough for him. His primary businesses are restaurants and live music, two of the worst industries to be in during COVID; his sale of Saint Rocke (one of the few music venues in his home region of LA’s South Bay) has hit complicated snags; and, of course, there was the cancellation of BeachLife 2020.
“But there was enough emotion behind defeating this thing, in spirit, that the team collectively decided to do the festival this year,” Sanford said.
Since the decision was made, the BeachLife team has been in a dead sprint to be ready for the show.
“The way we’ve been working on it, it feels like it’s going to happen next week,” said Jim Lindberg, a founding member of legendary punk band Pennywise, which was born in the Beach Cities. Though he was given the role of festival creative director last time around, Lindberg’s role with BeachLife has expanded this year. “Allen asked me to come on as ‘Director of Branding,’” Lindberg explained, “but I call it ‘Helping Out with Everything.’”
Sanford has years of experience in the concert promotion game, but Lindberg’s name adds some respected grit to BeachLife’s polish. Besides his behind-the-scenes work, he’s helping to curate the festival’s new, fourth “Speakeasy” stage, set to be tucked away from the other three stages.
“That corner of the festival’s going to be the fun, outlaw area. It’ll be punk rock acoustic and cool art. Everyone’s going to be stoked,” Lindberg said.
In many ways, the festival’s programming is pretty well set — asked about the lineups, Sanford can run down the list of acts in his head and tell you who will be playing on what day.
On top of that, the BeachLife team has already set up the days of the festival with three unofficial tags: Friday will be the "Amped Up” lineup, with hard, fast and fun acts; Saturday will be the “Party Day,” packed with hits; and Sunday is the soulful, musical "Chill Day.” (“It’s beers, and margaritas, then Bloody Marys on Sunday,” Lindberg said.)
Where the previous festival skewed toward an older crowd, Lindberg said, this year’s festival is expected to hit across generations — adherents to alternative rock radio will feel well represented this year, Lindberg said, speaking generally so to not spill the beans on acts.
The elephant in the room, of course, is the COVID pandemic. Southern California isn’t quite out of the woods, infection statistics and vaccination reports have been trending in their respective right direction and life is returning toward something akin to normal.
But what happens if the worst comes to pass?
Right now, that’s an unknown, Sanford admitted. The big milestone will be June 15, which Governor Gavin Newsom has targeted as a date for the state to fully reopen.
“We know COVID is going to play a part in this. We just don’t know what part it’s going to play,” Sanford said. But to make sure they’re ready, the festival has partnered with the local Beach Cities Health District, which offers public health services throughout the three Beach Cities. BeachLife also plans to restrict attendance well below the 18,000-person occupancy limit for their grounds, holding to 10,000 people at a time. However, that should be in keeping with the previous festival’s attendance.
There will be a few changes to the experience, Sanford said. The fourth stage is chief among the additions, though the festival will include a family area to satisfy an unanticipated demand from BeachLife 2019, and private cabana space will be expanded as well.
“The stakes are even higher now, because you’re dealing with not just promoting the show, but with the community. You’re dealing with coming through for people,” Sanford said. “And I think that, if you’re gonna position yourself as this beacon for hope at the end of the summer, where everybody gets to return to life, don’t screw that up.”
The full lineup for the BeachLife festival will be announced on May 21. Tickets are available at beachlifefestival.com, and start at $349 for 3-day general admission passes. Single-day passes are expected to go on sale in June.