Port of Los Angeles, San Pedro, CA
As June turns into July, it’s time for summer in Southern California to really start heating up, and what’s more synonymous with summer than music festivals by the beach? Well, okay, so beach music festivals have been happening locally across various seasons over the past few years, but traditionally, summer has long been associated with both the beach and with music concerts. So just work with me on the tie-in, because today’s update is a recap on the most recent of said beach concerts in Southern California: the GnarlyTown Festival in San Pedro!
Unlike the nostalgia-oriented aspects of some of the more recent festivals we’ve covered, such as Back to the Beach and Just Like Heaven, GnarlyTown opted for a more direct theme of high octane adrenaline and action. Pairing punk rock music with extreme sports, GnarlyTown produced a sometimes psychotic symphony of loud, rambunctious music and death-defying stunts. “Bikes, boards, and bands,” they touted themselves. And though some windy conditions and a few hitches with the site led to a bit of an up and down day (pun half intended), GnarlyTown showcased a great promise to become what might be another SoCal festival tradition.
Set in Berth 46 of the L.A. Waterfront, in San Pedro, adjacent to the San Pedro Wharf, down the road from the famous San Pedro Fish Market, and across the waterway from the shipping yards of Terminal Island, GnarlyTown promised another relaxing and scenic oceanside setting for a music festival. After all, that formula has proven to be enticing for other events such as Back to the Beach, Sabroso Fest, and Just Like Heaven. That was in theory, at least. In practice, unfortunately, there were several issues that precluded this event from reaching its full potential—some inherent to the setting and others related more to operations.
The seaside situation at GnarlyTown gave way to an issue that pretty much all the other music festivals by the ocean have faced: parking. Though smaller in capacity than some of aforementioned festivals, GnarlyTown still faced the issue of limited and constricted parking due to the surrounding infrastructure of the site. Those parked in the farther lots faced a pretty lengthy walk to the ticket gates.
Once inside, guests found a sparser and more bare-bones festival layout compared to some of Synergy Global Entertainment’s more recent productions (e.g. Sabroso and Back to the Beach). The entire concert grounds was on asphalt, with limited seating and shade provided. A few food stands and food trucks were located at the back of the property, near the entrance, while a throng of merchandise and vendor tents made up the middle. The concert area, a location for the Nitro Circus ramps and performance area, and a temporary skate park for the Chris Cole Invitation comprised the remaining space.
While the food stands and trucks brought the festival some level of gourmet—something that has become almost a prerequisite for Southern California festival goers—noticeably missing were the beer tastings initially advertised for the event. This should have worked out similar to one of the highlights of Sabroso Festival, but for whatever reason, that component never turned out. Props to Ska Brewing for still showing up and providing service to guests who were interested in their beers, though!
The other missed opportunity? Placing the festival in a location surrounded by a scenic harbor and iconic Angels Gate lighthouse without opening the festival grounds to the actual perimeter and allowing guests to actually soak in those views. Though glimpses could be made, the festival never really felt open to its surrounding ambiance, unlike, say, Just Like Heaven’s clear views of the Downtown Long Beach skyline and the iconic Queen Mary.
There were a few other details that detracted from the enjoyability of the experience—items that we hope can be improved upon if GnarlyTown returns next year. The portapotties and wash stations were out of paper and water by early evening, at least in the general admission session, which was frustrating to those using the facilities dinnertime and beyond. The accessible seating seemed to also be overflowing at various points of the concert, which impeded on the general flow of traffic. The hard surfaces also created a bit of an echo chamber on site, though perhaps that wasn’t the worst attribute for a rock show. Still, there were a few misses here and there that—if addressed—could have made the content of the festival that much more enjoyable.
Although GnarlyTown didn’t set out to generate nostalgic buzz, it did prepare itself for a family-friendly environment by allowing children 5 years and under free admission. As a result, there were a lot of families spotted at the festival, which lent it the same positive, warm feelings that the “nostalgia fests” we’ve previously covered conveyed. It was great to watch parents rocking out with their kids and passing their love of music to the next generation.
Besides that, the crowd seemed to be well mixed between punk fans and enthusiasts of motocross sports and skateboarding. The event itself alternated between music and show, interspersing the various rock acts with either exhibitions from the Chris Cole Invitational—the street skateboarding contest—or the Nitro Circus, the Travis Pastrana-led showcase of extreme air on bicycle, motorcycle, and creative other cycles of various sorts! That led to a fair mix of fans of both genres of entertainment gathered in those respective nooks of the festival grounds.
The adrenaline-filled line-up lent a nice energy to the general atmosphere. Moshers were out in force early in the afternoon, forming circle pits even for the opening bands. Hardcore music lovers staked out spots along the railing for the evening’s most prominent acts. Overall, people seemed to enjoy the entertainment as a whole, giving every part of the line-up—both musical and sport—cheers and enthusiastic attention.
Chris Cole’s Rail Jam Invitational
Professional skateboarder, Chris Cole, was host to a special skateboard contest featuring a custom course that he designed themed to the event and prizes offered to skateboarders that did the best tricks. With an enthusiastic crowd behind them, some of the world’s best street skaters offered some fun jumps, grinds, board flips, and spins through several sessions.
The centerpiece of this skateboarding open, a giant guitar that doubled as a bench to grind against, provided a photogenic piece of furniture for the skaters, who found innovative ways to make use of the course. These guys were truly impressive with their technical abilities, and the invitational offered a very enjoyable appetizer of professional skateboarding.
The (generally) punk rock make-up of GnarlyTown’s musical line-up was a great fit for the festival, jiving with the general extreme sports half of the venue’s entertainment. Each of the artists seemed to have their own sets of devoted fans, which made sense, given how many of them have musical roots locally.
SoCal lady rockers, The Aquadolls, opened with their beach-appropriate brand of cool and upbeat jams, evoking shades of Best Coast with a little extra oomph. They were followed up by San Pedro native, Mike Watt, showcasing why he is regarded was one of the best rock bassists of all time.
Hardcore punk band, Rotting Out, kicked things into a more intense gear, layering on heavy riffs and shrieking vocals that were more ripped than lead singer, Walter Delgado’s hulking physique. In contrast to the chill, bleached weather, Delgado and his band’s massive sound got everyone’s adrenaline pumping. Coming in after them, the fourth band of the day, Madball, kept that energy going.
Punk supergroup, Off! kept the fast licks and heavy rock and roll going, although frontman, Keith Morris, did admit to toning down the language just a little bit for the family-centric crowd. The band didn’t tone down its political messages. In keeping with punk’s traditional counter culture and anti-establishment motivations, Morris and gang were certainly not shy about expressing their disapproval over the current state of political affairs in the country. The crowd surfers were out in force during Off!’s set.
Action Bronson may have been the only rapper on a line-up full of people who actually played instruments, but he still put on a solid set. As the afternoon sun started heading down, Bronson’s set offered a brief respite from the heavy octane hardcore punk that preceded it.
The highlights of the show, though, were clearly Rancid and Pennywise, the two stalwarts of the punk rock genre, who electrified the crowd after the sun set with their high energy and non-stop ska vibes and punk anthems. Fans sang along to the groups’ favorites, and the great music closed out the festival on a high note.
Finally, the most extravagant part of GnarlyTown festival surely had to have been the outstanding yet perilous stunts and jumps performed by Travis Pastrana and his Nitro Circus. Zooming down from the four story “Gigantaramp,” the FMX and BMX riders jumped distances of nearly 75 feet, thrilling the festival audience gathered around the grounds.
The Nitro Circus was very nearly grounded, as the seaside winds initially postponed and nearly cancelled that component of the festival—a consequence that would have struck an even more egregious blow given the beer tasting cancellation that had already occurred. Ultimately, what did transpire was a more moderate version that didn’t quite have the specifically ludicrous density and risk-taking that the Nitro Circus has become known for. This doesn’t mean the show was tame, though.
On bike or ATV or motorcycle… or even on wheelchair… the talented and bold athletes seemed to stop at nothing in their quest to jump higher and farther limits. By the time night descended, blasts of fire amplified an already jazzed up crowd growing increasingly in awe of the more and more incredible stunts. It was pretty amazing watching these unimaginably talented performers contort their vehicles through the air and (mostly) stick their landings on the ramp on the other side of the gap!
Though not without its issues, GnarlyTown ultimately delivered on what it promised. It brought a full and fun day of punk rock and X-Games-style sports to a beach type venue to Southern California music and adrenaline fans. The combination proved to be a great draw for guests, and the family component added an extra touch of appeal.
It’s tempting to say that at some point, these specially themed music festivals that seem to be popping up all around Southern California—especially along the coast—will hit their saturation point and inevitably result in some form of failure. Statistically, that is bound to happen at some point. But thusfar, it has not. If anything, these “concerts at the beach” events seem to be growing more and more popular and prevalent, finding niche audiences and relatively lean and efficient production set-up’s to generate profitable and enjoyable events for the consuming public. Although we do hope that some of the operational issues within the control of the festival producers can be rectified in future productions, we do love any avenue that allows live music to be shared and enjoyed by a variety of people. As such, we’ll be excited if GnarlyTown returns for more big air and big punk next year!
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.