After three straight years as an annual springtime attraction at Chukchansi Park in downtown Fresno, Grizzly Fest is moving to Woodward Park in the northeast part of the city – if the Fresno City Council allows it.
Council members will vote Thursday on a $100,000 license agreement with Grizzly Fest promoters to expand the music-and-culture festival to two days, May 18 and 19. This year’s headlining acts – rappers Snoop Dogg and Nas and indie pop band Foster the People – represent a significant step up in “name” entertainment for the expanded festival, and a key component of the festival’s move to northeast Fresno is the city granting an exception to Fresno’s noise ordinance to allow the music to flow until midnight each night instead of 10 p.m.
With two entertainment stages, a Ferris wheel and carnival games, vendor booths for arts and crafts and food trucks, the event will encompass a sizable chunk of the 300-acre park at Audubon Drive and Friant Road.
This year’s Grizzly Fest lineup was announced last month.
The potential effects of noise and parking congestion on nearby residents east of Woodward Park are two issues that promoter Aren Hekimian of IAN Group LLC is managing. The Grizzly Fest will occupy portions of the park west of the Audubon Drive entrance gate – the opposite side of the park from Friant Road, which separates the park from neighborhoods to the east.
“The big difference with our event is that it’s not in the (Rotary) Amphitheater, which is built to amplify sound as noise ricochets off the structure,” Hekimian said. “The way our stages will be set up and the way sound travels, it will dissipate” to below the noise ordinance’s nuisance levels by the time it reaches the neighborhoods. “We’re about 2,000 feet from the nearest homes to the stage,” he added. Additionally, sound walls on either side of Highway 41 and intended to contain freeway traffic noise stand between Woodward Park and Woodward Bluffs residents to the west.
The bigger issue, Hekimian said, is managing traffic and parking. “We’re working to make sure people don’t park in peoples’ neighborhoods,” he said. “We’ve got deals with Uber and Lyft, we’re going to have shuttles to the park from shopping centers, and we’re working with business owners across the street for parking.”
“As long as people don’t park in the neighborhoods, I think we’ll be OK,” Hekimian said.
The first Grizzly Fest was held at the Fresno Fairgrounds in November 2012 by Fresno rapper Fashawn. It was revived as a springtime event at Chukchansi Park in 2015 and has remained an annual event.
But to expand to two days required a different location because of the schedule of the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies baseball team, the primary tenant at the stadium. “Operationally, we’re unable to work at the park because of the baseball schedule and the wear and tear on the field for minor-league baseball,” Hekimian said. There simply wasn’t enough time to hold a two-day event and then bring the stadium’s field before the Grizzlies’ next game.
“So it was either leave the city and the tax revenue the city is going to get, or go to Woodward Park,” he added. “The city manager and council members wanted us to stay in Fresno somehow, and that was the best option.”
In a report to the city council, parks director Parvin Neloms Jr. wrote that in expanding to two days, the promoters hope to put Grizzly Fest “on par with other notable concert events such as in Coachella.” Adding a second day, Neloms added, “will provide job opportunities for various local vendors, contractors and businesses and provide additional sales revenue to the city” from people coming to the festival.
Hekimian said he expects 10,000 to 12,500 people to attend each day of the festival – a combination of two-day and single-day ticket buyers. Among early-bird customers, about half are people coming from outside of Fresno County, he added.
The city’s staff recommendation to the council is for approval of the special-event license agreement with the promoters. If the event goes well, the agreement includes an option for the promoter to hold another festival event at the park in October.
Councilman Garry Bredefeld, whose northeast Fresno district includes Woodward Park, said he plans to vote against approving the agreement on Thursday.
“We’ve had people call us with concerns about the noise and about the traffic, and about actually having this festival at Woodward Park, whether this is the appropriate venue to have this,” Bredefeld said. “I share many of those concerns. Having a music event that goes until midnight doesn’t make any sense … in a park that’s surrounded by residences.”
Despite the arrangements that promoters are making for parking and shuttles, “I’m still worried about people traversing the neighborhoods to get to the park,” Bredefeld added.
Bredefeld, one of the leaders of the city council’s efforts to outlaw recreational-marijuana businesses in Fresno, said his opposition has nothing to do with the booking of Snoop Dogg, a high-profile and unabashed cannabis fan, advocate and entrepreneur. “He and I are not going to see eye to eye on a lot of things, but Snoop Dog has the right to perform,” Bredefeld said. “But whether it’s Snoop Dog or any other performer going past 10 p.m. to midnight, Woodward Park is not an appropriate place for that.”