Newly appointed Del Mar Fair trustee David Lizerbram says he wants the fairgrounds to host more major music events. That’s just not going to happen, according to promoter Garry Thayer, who organized the Hellbilly Fest Car & Bike Show II, September 24, at the arena on the fairgrounds. Over 1900 people paid $30 to see Wanda Jackson, Junior Brown, Big Sandy, and 14 other bands.
“Every band got paid,” said Thayer, who says his band budget was over $25,000. “We had people from Australia, the U.K., Oklahoma, Nebraska... We had, like, eight or nine car clubs and over 500 classic rods and bikes. There was not a single fight. Not one incident.”
But Thayer says the fairgrounds is not promoter friendly. He had to pay $17,000 to the fairgrounds, which included rent and security. Although Thayer paid for the guards, he says some didn’t care about doing their job. “I know a lot of people snuck in the back gate. They just said they were vendors and they’d let them drive right through. And even though we had wristbands, they would just let anybody backstage [without wristbands].” Thayer estimates hundreds got in for free.
Thayer says the good will from those who attended will help him pack his fest next year, but, he says, the way the fairgrounds does business makes it impossible for outside promoters to make money.
“They have a 100 percent control over everything. They control all the food and beer concessions. No one else can come in. I just wanted a couple food booths, but they told me that all these other people had to come in who took up a bunch of my prime real estate. I didn’t have any say, even though I rented the space.” Thayer says the unwanted food stands took valuable space away from his sponsors and other booths.
But Thayer says the biggest racket was the beer garden, which was slammed all day long. “They killed it. Those people were drinking hard. Pabst Blue Ribbon was my sponsor, but the fair is sponsored by Coors. I had to fight with them just to get them to carry 16-ounce PBR cans, which cost them, like, 75 cents and which they sold for $8.50. I tried to get them to sell tall boys, but they wouldn’t do it. They stocked so little PBR that they sold out by 1 o’clock. So, all these people had to drink Corona or Heineken, which is not rockabilly.
“On top of the $17,000 I gave them in rent, they must have made another $30,000 in alcohol sales. This chick in San Diego put on an anti–Hellbilly Fest party the same night at her house because they didn’t want to pay $8.50 for a beer.”
Thayer got none of the alcohol sales from his show. “A lot of people told me that if I would have gotten a cut, I wouldn’t be owing anybody. As it is, I didn’t make my bottom line. All these people selling beverages wouldn’t even have a job if it wasn’t for promoters like me, and here I go away empty-handed.”
Thayer also had to cough up $1700 to the fairgrounds for backstage catering. “I got chips, salsa, dip, a veggie plate, two cases of Coors and two bottles of wine for Wanda Jackson. I had one guy who was a big Junior Brown fan who wanted to come down from San Francisco and cook 21 lobsters for Brown and his friends backstage, but the fair said no.”
And then there was the Mojo Nixon dictum. “Mojo was the MC. They told me I had to tell him he could not curse on stage. That really put a damper on him. He was not as crazy as he usually is. They even went over my Facebook from my show last year and told me I couldn’t have a T-shirt vendor sell ‘Lucky Fuck’ T-shirts. It’s, like, ‘What the fuck am I paying you all this money for?’”
The event was supposed to raise money for charity. “St Jude’s [Children’s Hospital] got screwed because there were no proceeds. All I got for them was a hollow-body guitar donated by Gretsch and signed by Wanda Jackson and Junior Brown.”
Thayer says he would like to have a local casino host the 2012 Hellbilly Fest. “I had over 2500 people who had the most amazing time.”