DEL MAR — A three-day music “voyage” scheduled for September at the Del Mar Fairgrounds seems to have gotten off on a sour note.
Initial reports gave the impression Kaaboo would be the next Coahcella or a replacement for Street Scene, at one time the state’s largest music and food festival with more than 80 scheduled acts.
While many may have fond memories of that event, which took place at various locations during its 25-year run in San Diego until it ended in 2009, others recall it as problematic, mainly due to overconsumption of alcohol.
But according to its website, Kaaboo will be everything a typical music festival is not. In fact, it’s not being touted as a festival, but rather as an arts and entertainment “mix-perience” and a “curated sound voyage.”
Described as an “adult escape” it is geared toward an older crowd. In addition to featuring 100 bands on seven stages — the lineup includes a variety of music genres with acts such as No Doubt, the Killers, Snoop Dogg, Foster the People and Counting Crows — Kaaboo will offer upscale dining, an art fair, massages and hair and nail services.
Single day tickets are not being sold. Prices for three-day passes range from $109 to $2,499, although some of the lower-priced options are already sold out.
A limited amount of onsite lodging also will be available, with prices ranging from $18,000 to $25,000 for three days.
“I don’t think it’s going to be Coachella at the Del Mar Fairgrounds,” Solana Beach Mayor Lesa Heebner said.
“It will be a high-end camping experience,” Marcee Rondan, executive vice president of MSO public relations, said. “It’s for people who want to just arrive and have everything taken care of for them.”
Rondan said those accommodations will be available for only a few hundred people.
When the City Council members and residents in Del Mar and adjacent Solana Beach began hearing about the event, they feared the worst, especially when it comes to the trifecta of impacts generally associated with fairgrounds events: traffic, noise and public safety.
Fairgrounds General Manager Tim Fennell said he asked the organizers to make a presentation to the fair board’s Community Relations Committee, which includes representatives from both cities, but because of scheduling conflicts, the earliest it could be done was March 11, two months after the event was publicized.
“In the interim there’s been a lot of misinformation and just blatantly wrong information about this festival circulating around,” Director David Watson, chairman of the Community Relations Committee, said at the March 11 fair board meeting, following the presentation earlier that day.
“It is designed to appeal to the adult music lovers … those of us that want a finer experience,” he added. “It’s quite the exclusive adult event.”
Watson noted that although the Kaaboo website states the gates to the event will close at 3 a.m., all outdoor music will end at 10 p.m. Comedy shows and a dance venue will be available inside after that.
“The fears of some of the neighbors that there’s going to be wild and raucous music until the wee hours of the morning simply is not true,” Watson said.
With about 40,000 people expected to attend the event daily, Watson said the organizers have been working to address parking and traffic issues.
About 45,000 people attend opening day of the summer horse racing season, but it was noted they all generally arrive and depart at the same time. Kaaboo attendees are expected to come and go at various times throughout the day.
The average daily attendance during the San Diego County Fair is 66,000. Fennell said 40,000 people would be considered a “very, very slow day” for the fair.
“Our staff is very good at putting on large-scale events,” Watson said, adding that the Kaaboo organizers “know what they’re doing” and “seem to be well organized.”
“They certainly have what we believe is going to be a terrific traffic plan, security plan,” Fennell said.
Organizers estimate Kaaboo, scheduled for Sept. 18 through 20, will generate $1.5 million in sales tax revenue, fill 10,000 hotel rooms that will generate $200,000 in transient occupancy taxes and employee 2,500 people. The fairgrounds expects to net about $1 million.
“So there’s a lot of good things happening as a result of this festival,” Watson said.
He said he thought the presentation during the committee meeting “went a long way to assuaging some of the fears and concerns that had been circulating out there.”
“All the issues that we talked about today are issues that are common with the fair and the races,” he said.
When those get worked out, “as they will be,” he added, people will see this is “an unusual, impressive, remarkable, different kind of experience.”
“I think ultimately, as that sinks in, this is going to be something that not only we’re very proud of but I think the city of Del Mar is going to be happy to have it,” Watson said. “It’s just going to be a tremendous economic benefit and the logistical issues are things that we deal with all the time for events. … The two cities are used to working with us on that.”
“It’s like anything else,” Fennell said. “There’s going to be naysayers until they experience it. And once they experience it I think they’re going to go, ‘Great, let’s have these folks back again next year.’”
Heebner said the fact that Kaaboo is targeting an older, more affluent audience and outdoor music will end at 10 p.m. was good news.
But she is still skeptical.
“Despite their very thorough presentation, concerns remain regarding the noise and traffic that will be generated by this three-day festival expected to draw 120,000 people,” she said.
“The Kaaboo team does appear to be very sensitive to our concerns and quite experienced in putting on this type of event,” Heebner added. “Unfortunately they didn’t reach out to our city staffs before they went public with their PR efforts, which caused a lot of consternation for us all. They are aware they have this one time to do it right or they won’t be welcome again.”
In response the event organizers said their team “is committed to continuing these conversations in the months leading up to the event and will work closely with the concerned parties to assuage the unease expressed by the mayor.
“We are working with experts in the fields of event production and want to assure everyone that we have solutions and are sensitive to the concerns of the local communities,” they stated in an email.
Del Mar Mayor Al Corti did not respond to a request for comments. But at the March 2 City Council meeting he said filling “a couple extra hotels rooms and a couple of people in the restaurants doesn’t cut it” for him.
Former Del Mar Mayor Lee Haydu, who was attending her first meeting as a recent appointee to the fair board, said the organizers should have been more proactive by providing the community with information beforehand.
One dollar from each pass sold will be split evenly between four San Diego charities: Feeding America, Operation Amped, Surfrider Foundation and the San Diego Music Foundation.
When asked why they didn’t earmark funds for nonprofit organizations specific to Del Mar or Solana Beach, organizers said they selected groups that “cover a broad scope” to “benefit all of San Diego.”