Shoveling the Great Music at Ya, And Some Lobster Too!

“It started as a lobster fest with music. It’s become a music fest with lobster.” —Mark Sovel, former music director at beloved Indie 103.1, now music curator extraordinaire, expounding on Lobster Fest 2010

It was my first time at Lobster Fest in San Pedro. I’m not much for crustaceans dropped into boiling water. Sounds brutal. But I kept reading the band names. Envisioning them in my head. There’s no way I couldn’t go to this.

Three days of all kinds of fun and frivolity: pirates cavorting, carnival rides, food, drink, lobsters. For me, it was the music that made me drive to San Pedro for two of the three days.

The first night, though curated by Mister Shovel (aka Mark Sovel), had the prominent logo of the Station That Will Not Be Named (aka It Wishes It Were Indie 103.1), so I decided to skip it. Although I’ve never seen Spider Problem, I can vouch for Venus Infers and Saint Motel. Both are bands worth a drive to see.

Indie 103.1 was the kind of station where you wished you could hear every single song played (at least, that was my experience of it). I knew, for sure, that I would want to see every single band on Saturday and Sunday. I truly regret that my schedule didn’t allow it.

On Saturday, I missed Judson & Mary, Leslie Stevens & the Badgers, the Gram Rabbit side project: The Country, and We Barbarians. I am truly sad about that.

I knew that come hell or high speeding ticket, I had to be there to see AWOLNation. The always-must-see band Under the Influence of Giants had morphed into this new band, AWOLNation. Their hit single, “Burn It Down” was burning up the charts. It is one of the most requested songs on my podcast.

They did not disappoint, providing a raucous danceable set. Chairs had been set out discreetly for the crowd to sit and view the bands, but starting with AWOLNation, through all the rest of the bands on Saturday, people wanted to be up and dancing.

The Growlers, another local favorite, got an extended set. The dancing pirates dug them a lot.

Gram Rabbit, themselves possessing a strong local following, did not disappoint. Although for Gram Rabbit’s set, it was a battle of the headgear, of sorts. Imagine a Wisconsin cheesehead, except with lobster claws. Many people were sporting these over the weekend. Gram Rabbit’s signature prop, of course, are rabbit ears. Pretty funny to see the rabbit ears mixed in with the lobster claws in the crowd.

The Gram Rabbit show, which often sports bloody bunnies or bunnies bouncing through the crowd, was a bit subdued this time. They went more for an alien spaceship bunny dancing on stage.

It was about this moment, three bands in, that the feeling set in that remained the entire weekend. Each band was a tasty morsel unto itself. Each band offered a dramatic or fun or interesting stage show. Each band, as they left, you were feeling like you wanted to see more of them.

I have to say that this scenario is unusual for a festival, to say the least. My friend just asked me who was “the best” at Lobster Fest. I was dumbstruck. Running the slides of the bands in my head, it was impossible to choose just one, I was just really really glad I had been there for it.

I need to take a moment here to praise the curator of this festival, Mark Sovel. We’ve had a lot of festivals over the summer: Sunset Junction, for example, filled with bitter acrimony from townsfolk and bands alike. Cries of “overpriced” and “crowded” mixed in with disdain for some of the bands playing. Or the now KCRW “Also I Like to Rock” fest, moniker and vibe borrowed from Indie 103.1, and still it left you feeling like something important was missing. Both of these fests, and others I can think of this summer, all with the same thing in common: the bands are hit or miss. Some bands you like, others so-so, others you despise and won’t sit through.

Maybe it was the sleepy oceanside town of San Pedro, with its gentle wafting breezes. Maybe it was the super delicious food and drink available, with enough time between sets to get some and get comfortable again.

No, I truly believe that the fluke that was Indie 103’s music, a heartbeat crafted by Mark Sovel, was here carried out again at this festival. A throughline of cohesion and care. The music cognoscenti in the audience seemed to agree.

Let me just continue.

Fitz and the Tantrums, all sparkle and shine. Song lyrics in French. Active crowd participation. Way fun.

Dengue Fever, one of the uniquest bands on LA’s landscape, with a Cambodian singer and band members. Rock mixed with Cambodian music from the 50s. Danceable, poetic, so much fun.

Saturday evolved as a rocking good time. I don’t know about anyone else, but I was itching to get back to the music by Sunday morning. Still (sadly) missed Devon Eisenbarger and the Tijuana Panthers (so bummed about that).

Local favorite (formerly known as The Flying Tourbillon Orchestra) Walking Sleep kicked out some jams under the hot midday sun. It was hotter on Sunday, and more crowded.

Miss Derringer, another local band with a strong fan following, had them up and rocking.

It’s really crowded now. Nearly every seat was taken and most of the lawn. Words cannot describe the awesomeness of The Section Quartet, who do Radiohead covers on violins and cello. The crowd was rapt, totally into it.

At first blush, when one heard about “classical music” in the middle of Sunday’s schedule, it might have seemed odd. Maybe we should just learn to trust Mister Shovel by now, because it was just perfect.

It wasn’t even that one band was better than another. It’s just that, on both days, they evolved, of a piece. One into the next into the next. Every next band made sense from the last one. And really, how often to you see that at a festival?

By the time that John Doe and Excene Cervenka of the band X came onstage (to a capacity crowd), I was blown away by the real musical genius of Sovel putting these bands together. Didn’t really get it from reading the poster. But oh, to be there! To be experiencing it! Amazing. Truly amazing.

I support and encourage local music. I try to see it as often as possible, including various festivals. Perhaps John Doe’s words can echo through the community. He spoke of the former “rivalry” of San Diego and Los Angeles in a past music scene, and that he now wanted to extend an olive branch to San Diego: “Cause we’re all brothers and sisters.”

I wish the various people booking festivals around town could extend an olive branch to each other. Lots of great music in this town. It’s wonderful to showcase it. The community is always grateful for your efforts. But you must realize, if you don’t already, that Mark Sovel does music curation better than anyone in this town. Lobster Fest 2010 was proof of that.