Wednesday, July 18 , 2018, 5:41 am | Overcast 64º


Paul Mann: Day Three of Fest Forums Brings Celebrity Vibe to Santa Barbara

Robert Richards, left, commercial director for Glastonbury, and Michael Lang, center, co-founder of Woodstock, engage in a conversation about the histories of the two legendary festivals during day three of Fest Forums in Santa Barbara. The exchange was moderated by Elliot Lefko, president of Goldenvoice/AEG of Coachella fame. Click to view larger
Robert Richards, left, commercial director for Glastonbury, and Michael Lang, center, co-founder of Woodstock, engage in a conversation about the histories of the two legendary festivals during day three of Fest Forums in Santa Barbara. The exchange was moderated by Elliot Lefko, president of Goldenvoice/AEG of Coachella fame. (L. Paul Mann / Noozhawk photo)

[Click here for a related Noozhawk photo gallery. Click here for coverage of the first day of the festival.] [Click here for coverage of day two.]

On the third and final day of this year's Fest Forums in Santa Barbara, a small army of celebrities turned up for the celebration. It was a full day of films, lectures, food, wine tasting and live music. The morning got off to a sleepy start as vendors began closing down the exhibit hall, and the early birds to the convention sipped coffee and ate fresh fruit and pastries.

There were only a few dozen attendees in their seats when the first lecture of the day started midmorning. But by the time the two elder statesmen of music festivals finished their conversation titled "Glastonbury vs. Woodstock," the meeting room was nearly full. Robert Richards, commercial director for Glastonbury, and iconic music festival promoter Michael Lang, co-founder of Woodstock, engaged in a riveting conversation about the histories of the two legendary festivals. The exchange was moderated by Elliot Lefko, president of Goldenvoice/AEG. The combined company is responsible for some of the most successful festivals in the country, including the prestigious Coachella festival.

While Lang grew up in Brooklyn, Richards hailed from London. But when the young English boy was only 12 years old, he flew across the pond to attend the original Woodstock concert in 1969. Lang was wavy enough to realize that making a documentary film of the event was important, which launched Woodstock into international notoriety. He had worked on a documentary the year before at the 1968 Miami pop music festival.

Richards shared the history of Glastonbury 47 years ago, which started as a money-losing venture. But promoters were convinced that music festivals were a very British thing and that only they were the ones who would put up with the rainy, muddy conditions that are most common in Great Britain. Richards quipped, “The 40th anniversary of the festival in 2010 was the only year it didn’t rain, and fans hated it.” Apparently, it was a record-breaking heat wave, and festival fans preferred the rain and the mud.

Lefko reminded the pair of promoters that both of their festivals initially failed financially, as did the first Coachella. But they were such a hit with music fans that they built a loyal base of followers, and that eventually translated into profitable ventures. Lang also shared the news that there will be a 50th anniversary Woodstock festival in 2019. Richards shared many stories of Glastonbury, including how the founder got T. Rex to play the first festival at the last minute when The Kinks pulled out. The farm owner and would-be music producer paid T. Rex from the profits in the milk from the cows on the farm every two weeks until he had paid the performer back. Now, the festival makes a profit of about 2 million pounds a year. Richards joked, “Yeah, about $2 million,” alluding to the dropping pound. All of the profits are donated to Greenpeace and 750 local charities. Lang talked about how they had to set up a water purification system at Woodstock, and the lake level dropped about 3 feet.

One of the most popular lectures of the day featured a discussion on cannabis and its commercial incorporation into the festival world. One event offered wine and pot pairings to sample different flavors.

But the closing keynote lecture was the one that filled the lecture hall with celebrities and convention-goers alike. Multitalented musician and music producer T Bone Burnett was interviewed about his life’s accomplishments by film impresarios the Coen brothers. As Jeff Bridges and other film and music stars looked on, the brothers coaxed anecdotes out of Burnett about his undertakings, including his collaborations with the Coens. There was a discussion of how Burnett and the Coens have not embraced the transition from analog to digital technology in their respective mediums. “Recorded music is a petrochemical process. Vinyl is the best medium and lasts the longest,” Burnett offered.

The music master also shared some projects on his wish list, including two historic American musical groups that have focused his attention of late. The first, the Fisk Jubilee Singers, are an African-American a cappella singing group made up of students from Fisk University. The group was organized in 1871 to help raise funds for college for young former slaves and their children. Their early repertoire consisted mostly of traditional spirituals but also included some Stephen Foster songs. Burnett also mentioned that when the band toured England and played for the queen in the 19th century, the queen asked where the soulful singers had originated. When they told her they were from Nashville, she apparently gave the Tennessee town the moniker Music City, which has endured. Burnett also revealed that he was inspired to pursue the work of “the father” of American music, Foster. The songwriter who wrote more than 200 songs, some of which are the most popular in American music, started a music school in Nashville in 1932. The school produced some of the most influential music writers in American music, including Woody Guthrie.

The convention ended on a high note with an awards ceremony outside in the hotel courtyard followed by a concert by local pop star Kenny Loggins and English singer Judith Owen. The festival awards honored winners in nine categories and included actress Frances Fisher, T Bone Burnett, Chuck Leavell and Kenny Loggins. Local actor and musician Bridges was the presenter of some of the awards. Earlier in the day, director Susan Kucera showed a preview of her new film, Living in The Futures Past. The beautifully filmed nature film and a documentary on the philosophy of energy consumption were narrated by Bridges. The Academy Award-winning actor has engaged in a number of social causes and charities. He spoke at length about his shared passions when introducing the awards for Loggins and Burnett, both well known for their tireless work on behalf of multiple charity and fundraising events. Both Loggins and Bridges are well known in the Santa Barbara area for their social work, especially providing food banks for needy residents.

As a spectacular sunset painted the oceanfront courtyard in myriad colors, Loggins played a special concert consisting of some of his biggest hit songs. Convention attendees sampled wines from across California while Loggins serenaded them. Tourists passing through the open courtyard were astounded to see the pop star playing for the intimate gathering and took copious selfies.

Loggins told an endearing anecdote about his hit song, “House at Pooh Corner.” He had written the song, but Disney didn’t want his band at the time (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) to record it as they had acquired the rights to the Winnie the Pooh story. "I was going out on a date one night, and I mentioned the song to my girlfriend. 'I'm bummed tonight because I thought I had my first song recorded, and it's not gonna happen. The Disney lawyers put the kibosh on it.'" She looked at him and said, "Disney lawyers? Let me talk to my daddy about that." I didn't know that I was dating the daughter of the CEO of the Disney corporation, Loggins shared gleefully.

Welsh singer-songwriter Judith Owen, fresh off a tour opening for Bryan Ferry, closed the convention with a haunting set of tunes, combining elements of jazz, pop and blues. Now hailing from New Orleans, the influences of the Big Easy could be heard in her music. The singer-keyboardist was backed up by a talented percussionist and three-piece string section that gave an intriguing dimension to her performance.

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributing writer. The opinions expressed are his own.

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