After the dust had settled at 2014’s inaugural TBD Fest in West Sacramento, organizers knew they needed to better control the clouds of powdery dirt kicked up by thousands of attendees.
They had brought in gravel. They had sprayed a special agent on the ground to keep the dust down. But there was only so much they could do for the music festival already underway in a loamy lot near Raley Field. Some concertgoers ended up sporting bandannas or surgical masks to keep from breathing the particles. Others simply resigned themselves to dancing in dirty shoes.
But the dust did little to obscure the ambitions of TBD – the multistage, multiday event that incorporates art, food and fashion – named in part for The Bridge District, the growing mixed-use neighborhood near where the festival is held.
TBD’s second edition takes place Friday through Sunday, with more than 30,000 attendees expected over its three-day run, organizers said. That’s more than a 40 percent increase over last year’s event, which drew a combined attendance of 21,000 to hear a lineup of cutting-edge electronic music, indie rock and other sounds not otherwise featured at a major Sacramento music festival. This year’s headliners include Death Grips, the experimental hip-hop group from Sacramento named Spin Magazine’s 2012 artist of the year, electronic music favorite Pretty Lights and 1980s synth-pop icons Tears for Fears.
Clay Nutting, who co-founded TBD Fest with restaurateur Michael Hargis, says the look and feel of TBD Fest will remain similar to last year’s – albeit with better dust control, a more prominent water refill station and other minor improvements to the West Sacramento site. Prior to the event, the entire area is being aggressively treated with a biodegradable bonding agent to help clump the dirt.
“In a sense, there’s a cool kind of ‘under construction’ vibe, which is reflective of what’s happening around Sacramento,” Nutting said in an interview at midtown’s Block Butcher Bar, which he co-owns with Hargis and others. “You have this piece of property along the river that has this backdrop of the cityscape and is very compelling. We knew the grounds weren’t necessarily ideal, but if we could do just enough to make it tolerable and not hinder people’s experience, (it could work).”
The site of this year’s festival has moved a few hundred yards north, closer to the Tower Bridge, due to construction of The Barn, the $5.6 million outdoor venue developed by Sacramento’s Fulcrum Property. It originally was supposed to be completed by the time of TBD Fest 2014, but construction challenges have delayed its debut. When finished, the curvy-shell structure will house a beer garden and food vendors and will host year-round entertainment. Nutting and Hargis, who also co-own midtown’s LowBrau, have been selected as tenants for The Barn’s concessions program.
Mark Friedman, president of Fulcrum Property, estimates that The Barn will open to the public in spring of 2016. Its foundation has been set and its trussing is under construction. “It’s the complications of building such a unique form,” Friedman said of the delay. “Every single structural element is unique and curved in a different way. It’s been quite a challenge to build, but when it’s finished, it’ll be an iconic structure.”
In a sense, there’s a cool kind of ‘under construction’ vibe, which is reflective of what’s happening around Sacramento.
Clay Nutting, TBD Fest co-founder
Nutting expects that The Barn will become a focal point for future TBD Fests. The building and its landscaping would add much-needed shade and ground cover to the event, and its concessions area would help support the festival, which features food and beverages supplied by food trucks and other vendors.
While The Barn’s name pays homage to the region’s agricultural history, its design-forward aesthetic fits nicely with TBD’s progressive programming, Nutting said. “It’s going to be a beacon for what the region stands for, and having that at the festival further tells our story,” he explained.
But even bigger developments are underway in the Tower Bridge District, with an influx of residents that could affect TBD Fest’s future at the West Sacramento site. TBD’s stages sit adjacent to The Park Moderns by Fulcrum Property, a housing development that’s brought some 400 residents to the neighborhood. That’s just a fraction of the area’s expected future population. By the time other Tower Bridge District developments are completed – including the Habitat apartment building and an affordable housing project – some 10,000 residents are expected to call the area home.
The question then becomes if TBD Fest can coexist peacefully with its neighbors, given the noise and traffic from tens of thousands of concertgoers. “It will definitely be a challenge,” Friedman said. “We’ll have to look each year to see if the festival is an asset for the people who live there.”
Noise was an issue at last year’s TBD Fest, which was scheduled to end nightly at midnight but exceeded its curfew. West Sacramento police received 16 noise complaints the first night of the festival. This year, TBD Fest has set an earlier curfew to appease neighbors. On Friday and Saturday, the festival is scheduled to end at 11:30 p.m.; Sunday, it will shut down at 10 p.m.
Despite the noise complaints, West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon said overall the festival ran smoothly. TBD organizers met with West Sacramento city officials after last year’s event to discuss the noise and ways to improve this year’s installment.
“The issue wasn’t about volume,” Cabaldon said. “It was the points at which the festival was going beyond (its end times) and violating its permit. We made some adjustments with the organizers, and they’ve brought a more sophisticated management of sound. I expect this year to be a success.”
However, success doesn’t necessarily mean turning a profit. Financial solvency remains one of the biggest challenges for concert organizers. Music festivals often fail to break even in their first years, such as the storied Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, which lost $800,000 in its 1999 debut. The inaugural BottleRock Napa Valley festival sustained $8 million in losses in 2013, leaving numerous vendors and workers unpaid. Organizers later filed for bankruptcy protection.
TBD Fest organizers also faced financial issues in 2014, losing an undisclosed amount of money and being unable to pay a handful of vendors. Nutting says organizers have deposited more monies in advance to vendors this time around, and despite an ongoing dispute with TBD Fest’s backstage caterer from 2014, the festival has no outstanding issues with other vendors.
“Everyone to my knowledge is satisfied,” Nutting said. “We reached out to people after the event (in 2014) and said we’d like to work with them again, and I don’t know anyone who’s not on board.”
In an interview with THUMP, a subsidiary of Vice Media that covers electronic music culture and festivals, TBD co-founder Hargis acknowledged that losing money is often the price of throwing festivals.
“We’ve taken some capital losses over the years and it’s fine with us,” Hargis told THUMP, which is also a promotions partner in TBD Fest 2015. “Not many of us are always getting paid, but we’re doing this because we believe in it, and that’s what you have to do to reach critical mass.”
Despite the dust and growing pains, TBD Fest again has assembled an impressive roster of musical acts that’s unlike anything on a similar scale in Sacramento. While the region is known for its support of country, hard rock and other mainstream music, TBD Fest has drawn thousands for a lineup of sounds that normally percolate in the underground.
Nutting plans to keep TBD Fest’s left-of-the-dial ethos as the event moves forward. He doesn’t expect to book the likes of Elton John or Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, who were previous headliners at San Francisco’s Outside Lands festival. Nutting would rather showcase acts that might not register yet on everyone’s musical radar, along with local artists and vendors with a futuristic bent.
“What we’re trying to be is taste-makers and cutting-edge, and showcase eclectic artists that reflect a wide variety of tastes,” Nutting said. “But it also has this indie aesthetic. We’re doing it in this (space) that’s continuing to develop.”
What: Three days of eclectic sounds, local foods and futuristic art in West Sacramento’s Tower Bridge District
Featuring: Death Grips, Tears for Fears, Pretty Lights, Dinosaur Jr., Lyrics Born, Cut Copy and many more
When: 3-11:30 p.m. Friday; noon to 11:30 p.m. Saturday; noon to 10 p.m. Sunday
Where: Riverfront Street near Bridge Street, West Sacramento
Cost: $209 plus fees for three-day general admission pass; $129 plus fees for two-day pass; single-day tickets, $69-$89. VIP packages and group discounts are also available.