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DOWNEY - Planning a music festival is something that takes time and money, two things Carol Kearns and Bea Romano were admittedly short on when they decided to lead the charge on the first annual Make Music Downey, a free music festival taking place in and around Downtown Downey from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. this Saturday.
In those seven hours, 61 bands and musicians will take turns performing at First Presbyterian Church, the Mambo Grill, Epic Lounge, Stay Gallery, Super Stack Burgers, and Downey Music Center.
Some, like headliners Sligo Rags, will be professional musicians, while others will be performing publicly for the first time. One half of the pop duo Betty N Jetty Lag is still in elementary school, while other performers, like Gramps and Amps, are - well, your grandpa's age. There will be protest music, gospel, punk, "western singing cowboy", folk, dubstep (a last minute addition recommended by a local pastor), and every genre in between.
According to Kearns, the musical variety of the festival wasn't necessarily planned, though it illustrates how Make Music Downey has the potential to spotlight the city's diversity and creative talent, some of which has been hiding in plain sight for years.
"We're never going to be able to attract the big names that play in places like Los Angeles and Hollywood, but we can foster our homegrown talent and create a welcoming space for them," Kearns said. "Music is fundamental. It's part of who we are; it's genetic, it's in our DNA. We need music the way we need language and we need to make it communal again. We want families to attend the event and feel inspired and we want musicians of all kinds with all levels of experience to know there is a space for them here."
Make Music Downey is based on France's Fête de la Musique, a national musical holiday that began in 1982. Soon, cities all over the world were following suit, and now these one-day music festivals are celebrated in the month of June by more than 460 cities in 110 countries. Kearns initially read about the festivals in a magazine, whereas Romano, a local musician and one of the forces behind Downey Folk Music Jam, had been participating in Make Music Pasadena for years.
Both women approached the Downey Arts Coalition's Andrew Wahlquist separately, hoping to discuss the possibility of creating a festival in Downey. Wahlquist introduced Kearns and Romano to each other and the rest, as they say, is history.
Romano jokes that she and Kearns were able to accomplish in five months what it takes others a whole year to do, but in reality it's not too far off base. Planning the festival has been a whirlwind, forcing the pair to become overnight experts on everything from social media to talent scouting and many times, it's required the same of their husbands, who've contributed in ways large and small. Needless to say, it's been a labor of love.
Make Music Downey had no financial backers, no grants, no team in place to help sort out the logistics and advertisements and equipment needs. If not for the musicians willing to perform free of charge and a large group of volunteers donating their time, services, establishments, and equipment, the festival wouldn't have happened.
To help with the expenses, which Romano estimates to be around $4,000, the festival has a Fund Razr page, which enables people to make online donations to be used for the event. As of June 5, donations totaling $290 had been made, though Kearns and Romano were hoping for $1,000. The pair encourage supporters to continue making donations, even after the event, so that any funds raised can be used for more local shows and perhaps go towards Make Music Downey 2014.
Kearns and Romano are still unsure if they will move forward with the festival next year. Both say it depends on whether the June 8 event is a success, which to Kearns means having at least 2,000 attendees. If Make Music Downey gets the turnout they're hoping for, Kearns and Romano would like to forge a closer partnership with the city in hopes of expanding the reach of next year's event and creating more opportunities for musicians to perform in Downey throughout the year.
At a recent city council meeting, Mayor Mario Guerra proclaimed June 8, 2013 Make Music Downey Day and in a statement, expressed the city's enthusiasm surrounding the event.
"We are very excited about Make Music Downey. It is a great way to come together as a city to celebrate music," Guerra said. "Our Downey arts community continues to inspire and showcase exceptional talent in our city. I hope this is the first of many more citywide festivals. I am looking forward to Saturday and know our residents will appreciate the effort that Make Music Downey organizers have put in to make this a reality."
Make Music Downey organizers are nothing if not committed. People like local financial investor Nick Smith is not only providing all of the sound equipment for the event, but he's donating his expertise and talents as well: Smith will act as sound engineer for the day and he will perform at the First Presbyterian Church under the name All About Me. Romano and Kearns could still use all the help they can get the day of the event, especially at 7 a.m. for setup and later that evening for breaking down the festival.
One of the more interesting things to emerge from the planning of the festival was the realization that so many citizens have a knack for music, talents that don't really get recognized or utilized during the course of their day jobs. Century 21 real estate broker Steve Roberson will be performing country tunes. Downey's Dr. Bob Flynn doubles as a pianist and will be performing a 30-minute set at Stay Gallery. It could be argued that these are the city's true hidden gems and providing an outlet for them where music can be shared and consumed in a family-friendly setting, free of alcohol and without the expensive, arduous process of having to obtain an entertainment license, will be Make Music Downey's true gift to the city.
"The big idea is free music for everyone and anyone who wants to participate can play," Romano said.
"Music used to be something that people placed a great deal of importance on," Kearns added. "Something that used to be very communal has become very solitary and we want to see that change. People became too inhibited, music became something they were convinced they couldn't do or they'd talk themselves out of wanting to do. Music is vital to who we are as human beings and it needs to be celebrated."
Published: June 6, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 08