By Jeremy Ogul | Contributing Editor
Less than a year after it opened, Downtown’s new Waterfront Park is set to host one of the biggest outdoor electronic music festivals San Diego has ever seen.
CRSSD Festival will feature 54 DJs, singer-songwriters and producers from March 14 to 15. Top-billed acts include Empire of the Sun, Chromeo, Maceo Plex, Classixx, Jamie Jones, Seth Troxler, Kaytranada and James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem.
It will be the biggest event the park has hosted since its May 2014 grand opening party, which attracted an estimated 10,000 people.
Festival organizers say they hope to assemble an audience of up to 12,000. Already they have sold about 8,000 two-day tickets, ranging in price from the “early bird” tiers of around $115 to the current price of about $175 (including service and facility fees). Organizers say single-day tickets will only be sold later if two-day tickets don’t sell out.
Of course, those numbers are nothing compared to the crowds at Street Scene, which was held in the Gaslamp Quarter or East Village every year from 1984 to 2004. In its last year Downtown, Street Scene drew a record crowd of 105,000 fans over two days.
But that was a rock festival. This is something different.
“San Diego’s undergoing a pretty impressive transformation right now,” said Max Frieser, publicist for FNGRS CRSSD, one of the two production companies that are organizing the festival.
While electronic DJs have historically skipped over San Diego in favor of bigger audiences in Los Angeles and San Francisco, the team at FNGRS CRSSD has helped put San Diego on the map, especially in the underground techno and house music world. In less than two years, the group has quickly made a name for itself by booking a large number of rising stars at Bang Bang, the Gaslamp-area sushi restaurant that doubles as a nightclub.
For this event, the FNGRS CRSSD team is working with Goldenvoice, the established live music production company behind Coachella, Stagecoach, FYF Festival and numerous other concerts and events in Southern California since 1981.
Frieser said the partnership is ideal because FNGRS CRSSD brings its relationships with key underground house music players, while Goldenvoice brings its decades of experience and expertise in putting on large festival-style events.
Shortly after Waterfront Park opened last year, the FNGRS CRSSD team zeroed in on the site as a possible venue for a music festival. They were particularly attracted by the proximity to train and trolley stations as well as to Downtown’s vibrant and burgeoning music scene, Frieser said.
“The venue is absolutely amazing,” he said. “Looking out over the water, it’s cinematic. It’s stunning. And it’s very clean.”
As “San Diego’s front porch” on the bay, Waterfront Park is a unique new venue that has never hosted a ticketed music festival before. For decades the place was literally a large surface parking lot.
Many festival details – security, access, traffic control – have yet to be finalized. Staff from the county, city and Port of San Diego are collaborating with event organizers to develop plans for security, medical emergencies, noise control, community outreach, traffic control, transportation, waste management and restroom availability, said Christine Lafontant, district manager of the San Diego County Department of Parks and Recreation.
The final versions of those plans will be complete by the end of February.
“We’re super excited and we’re working really hard to make sure this is a success not just for the venue and the event but also for the community surrounding it,” Lafontant said.
A few things are certain at this point: The event will be limited to fans ages 21 and up, and the festival will be open from approximately noon to 11 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday, with after-parties at various nightclubs and smaller concert venues in the area.
“Beer gardens have always felt more like cages,” Frieser said, explaining organizers’ decision to limit the festival to the 21-and-up crowd. “So with a focus on craft beers and cocktails, we thought it was really important that people could enjoy those things while also enjoying their favorite artist — not having to trade one experience for the other.”
The age limits and line-up should also appeal to a more mature audience and ultimately better festival experience, he said.
Organizers will pay fees to rent whatever portions of the park will be closed to the public. Fees vary according to what sections of the park are rented. To rent all of the lawns and plazas west of the County Administration Center building, for example, event organizers would be charged approximately $9,500 per day. They also have to cover the costs of the added police and emergency medical personnel that will be on call over the weekend.
Those fees help the county keep the 12-acre park beautiful and open to the public, Lafontant said.
Even those who do not attend the event will benefit. Events on this scale contribute to the economic vitality of the region by creating demand for hotel rooms, taxis, restaurants and other local goods and services, Lafontant said.
Though large, multi-day electronic music festivals in are not new in the U.S. or even in Southern California, Frieser described CRSSD Fest as “a first of its kind festival in America.”
That’s because of its focus on underground tech house deep house artists rather than the big room headliners such as deadmau5, Avicii and Tiësto that are typically featured at electronic dance music festivals.
“There are very few festivals that are curating lineups for this kind of audience,” Frieser said.
In terms of genre and style, the most closely comparable event would be Detroit’s Movement festival, but Detroit has nothing on San Diego’s climate or the one-of-a-kind aesthetic of Waterfront Park, Frieser said.
Indeed, fans are traveling from all over for this show. While many are coming from San Diego, many more have said they are traveling from Phoenix, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Chicago, Boston and various other cities in the U.S., Mexico and Canada.
Those visitors will also get a taste of San Diego’s specialty food and beverage vendors. While vendor lists have not yet been finalized, Frieser said the festival will feature local restaurants and breweries, which is often not the case at music festivals.
San Diego Downtown News will conduct a follow-up feature in the March issue, once more details are revealed.
For more information about the CRSSD Festival or to purchase tickets, visit crssdfest.com.
— Jeremy Ogul can be reached at Jeremy@sdcnn.com.
Editor’s note, Feb. 7, 2015: An earlier version of this article said the maximum capacity of the festival was 15,000. After the article was posted, the festival organizers wrote to us to let us know that while the park may be able to hold 15,000 people, they plan to configure the site to accommodate up to 12,000 people. This article has been updated to reflect that clarification. We have also added quotes from festival organizers about their reasons for making the festival a 21-and-up event.