Joshua Tehee

Grizzly Fest shows a Fresno weekend is more than a one-trick pony

Omotola performs as one of nearly 30 different musical acts on five different stages during Grizzly Fest 2017 at Chukchansi Park in downtown Fresno on Saturday, April 29. Headliners Rapper Lupe Fiasco and Cali rock reggae band Rebelution were set to wrap up the day-long event which featured food, skateboarding demonstrations and local vendors and merchandise.
Omotola performs as one of nearly 30 different musical acts on five different stages during Grizzly Fest 2017 at Chukchansi Park in downtown Fresno on Saturday, April 29. Headliners Rapper Lupe Fiasco and Cali rock reggae band Rebelution were set to wrap up the day-long event which featured food, skateboarding demonstrations and local vendors and merchandise. ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

Aren Hekimian compares himself to Jerry Tarkanian; he says he’s the best thing to happen to downtown Fresno since the legendary coach was putting up wins at the Selland Arena.

If it comes off as boastful, he’s just making a point about a thing he understands.

“If you bring talent, people will come, wherever it is,” says Hekemian, a driving force behind last weekend’s Grizzly Fest music festival, which packed more than 11,000 people into Chukchansi Park (parking issues and street closures be damned).

The concert had more than 30 local and regional acts playing on multiple stages inside the stadium, and before the music even started there was more than a trickle of fans coming through the main gates on H street. By 6 p.m., there were full lines waiting to get in and still a large crowd in front of the main stage to see East Los Angeles Chicano rockers Thee Commons deliver a sweaty and energetic set of garage rock tunes that proved the band is worthy of its status as one of LA Weekly’s 20 Best Live Shows of 2016. Bassist Jose Rojas did some crowd surfing and kept playing.

By the time Rebelution took the stage at 11:15 p.m., a sea of people stretched fully across the stadium’s green and overflowed onto the concourse.

In some ways, the success of the festival was an anomaly.

Fresno is a city where promoters are wary of giving people too many options, and the first step to planning an event is check the calendar for competition.

And Grizzly Fest was up against two biggies, the Clovis Rodeo and Dierk Bentley’s sell-out show at the Save Mart Center. And it still managed to pull in a crowd, (many coming in from Los Angeles and the Bay area) that looked awesome in photos on Instagram.

Imagine the feeling for those who were there, crowded up next to the stage.

Of course, organizers put together a lineup they knew would work; having a laid-back band like Rebelution alongside a major hip-hop act like Lupe Fiasco, whom organizers courted after they couldn’t land Modest Mouse (to give a sense of the type of other bands for which the festival was aiming). Fiasco had a massive hit sampling Modest Mouse’s “Float On,” so it makes sense. As does putting rapper E-40 in a setting that isn’t a random nightclub and filling out the lineup with local talent that included the festival namesake Fashawn.

Also, collaborating with area artists, skaters, boutique owners and food trucks.

“Those parts were most important,” Hekimian says.

“My goal is entertainment for Fresno,” he says, though he’s already looking at ways to bring in more out-of-towners for next year’s festival. Like, maybe a VIP ticket that includes a trip to Yosemite.

The hope is, that someday I won’t have to write about that time Fresno showed up to support a massive arena show (more than one, actually) and a regional music festival on the same weekend.

“This is about the culture of music and art, building that culture.”

Joshua Tehee: 559-441-6479, @joshuatehee

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