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Live Oak on the Radio carried on a decades-long tradition with aplomb 

click to enlarge AMERICAN GOTHIC My wife and I stand in front of our 1960 Castle King trailer, where we sheltered in place during the June 20 to 21 Live Oak on the Radio virtual music festival. #LiveOakOnTheRadio

Photo Courtesy Of Chelsea Kidwell

AMERICAN GOTHIC My wife and I stand in front of our 1960 Castle King trailer, where we sheltered in place during the June 20 to 21 Live Oak on the Radio virtual music festival. #LiveOakOnTheRadio

This past weekend, my wife and I would normally have been camped out for the Live Oak Music Festival, spending the weekend with friends watching live music, cooking together, and ushering in summer. Thanks to the global pandemic, however, the long-running three-day festival was canceled ... sort of.

In a stroke of genius, local NPR affiliate KCBX 90.1FM—the organizers of the festival, which is the station's major annual fundraiser—decided to hold a virtual festival that would include archival recordings of past Live Oak performances as well as nine streaming concerts featuring local acts.

As the cherry on top of this virtual festival, Live Oak's longtime emcee Joe Craven came to join KCBX's radio personalities during the airing of the archival recordings as well as introduce the live acts, which broadcast on kcbx.org and bigbigslo.com/houseparty, during their livestreaming shows broadcast from Bill Gaines Audio's warehouse soundstage.

click to enlarge GOOD MORNING Just as we would have done at the actual Live Oak Music Festival, our Saturday morning began with a round of bloody marys. - PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
  • Photo By Glen Starkey
  • GOOD MORNING Just as we would have done at the actual Live Oak Music Festival, our Saturday morning began with a round of bloody marys.

Our little 1960 Castle King canned-ham trailer was already parked in our courtyard, so we pulled out our Blockbuster Bluetooth speaker box, set up our lawn furniture, and commenced pretending we were camped at El Chorro Regional Park for the actual Live Oak Fest. Our feet didn't get as dirty, and the bathrooms were much more conveniently located, but listening to those past performances, some of which we saw live in previous years, was just as relaxing and almost as engaging as being at the actual festival.

We also had a handful of close friends stop by for some socially distanced festing-in-place, and I'm surprised to admit the experience wasn't so far removed from the camaraderie of the actual festival. Thanks to social media and the hashtag #LiveOakOnTheRadio, we were able to see our friends engaged in similar camping-at-home experiences.

Before this experiment in a virtual festival, KCBX had high hopes: "The annual Live Oak Music Festival is a beloved tradition for generations of families," the station said in a press release. "Feedback from annual festivalgoers over the festival's cancelation and subsequent virtual fest has been overwhelmingly positive."

According to KCBX General Manager Frank Lanzone, "It's too soon to know for sure, but it was definitely successful! It's hard to compare to a typical festival, where KCBX ends up in the vicinity of $100,000 to support our public radio operation. This will probably be closer to $20,000 of support. We still have more money to raise to be whole for this year—a combination of cutting expenses and finding new income."

Now that the station has pulled off a virtual festival, any chance of combining the two?

"The issue with virtual has to do with permissions from performers," Lanzone explained. "As time marched on, fewer artists were allowing permission to record their sets, so we have a dwindling supply of Live Oak performances. I'd like to find a way to incorporate video, not only audio, if we can come to terms with our major artists. As far as going live and streaming, we sold more day tickets last year than ever before. The cost of streaming the festival would be significant, so there'd have to be a 'pay to stream' component."

click to enlarge GRILLING AND CHILLING Since we couldn't walk over to the vendors row for chow, we were forced to cook our own, like these veggie and chicken kabobs. - PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
  • Photo By Glen Starkey
  • GRILLING AND CHILLING Since we couldn't walk over to the vendors row for chow, we were forced to cook our own, like these veggie and chicken kabobs.

One thing is certain: The people who were at home but participating, like my wife and I, felt like this was worth the effort to make us feel like part of the KCBX/Live Oak community.

"We sold out of Live Oak on the Radio T-shirts and are placing an additional order!" Lanzone noted. "Live Oakies who called in to contribute all had a story to tell. Nobody wanted to give money and hang up. So many people were invested in this weekend, thankful that Live Oak was there with some of our greatest performances, and KCBX and Live Oak staff and volunteers were all as invested.

"There were groups of people who were planning to get together this weekend to make their own Live Oak celebrations before we announced this," he continued. "The money is needed, but given the state of our country and our citizens, Live Oak on the Radio was an oasis of coming together, remembering, commiserating, and loving. It's something we all needed." Δ

Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey is still hanging out at that oasis. Send palm fronds to gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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