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[whitespace] Nowhere to Rave

Squeezed for venues, promoters of all-night dance parties eye SC locations--but they don't like what they see

By Rob Pratt

HARMONY PRODUCTIONS' GREG SANDLER has a tough sell ahead of him as he walks around the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds shortly after noon on June 21. The fairground's board of directors had taken hits from local media for letting Sandler promote Harmogeddon there on New Year's Eve. But even though Sandler and his partners lost in the neighborhood of six figures on Harmogeddon, he still thinks the fairgrounds are a great place for all-night dance parties. With an item on the agenda for the board's monthly regular meeting, Sandler hopes to persuade the fairgrounds to let him promote another event there.

It's a sunny day, and to kill time before the board meeting, Sandler takes me on a tour of the buildings just behind the fairgrounds offices. "This place is perfect," he says. Three buildings clustered together around a central, grass-bordered quadrangle--the Santa Cruz Fairgrounds is a much nicer spot than almost any other Bay Area dance-party venue, Sandler explains. Squeezed for venues as Bay Area municipalities lately have become skittish about permitting electronic-dance music events, the raver underground recently has started looking closely at spots in Santa Cruz that might host large-scale all-nighters. What do they see? There's no "there" down there.

Though a much-desired spot, the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium is hounded by a reputation among rave promoters for being a consistent money-loser. Even legendary civic raves, like Funky Techno Tribe's landmark 1995 Area 51 event, have left skilled dance-party promoters in the red at the end of the night. According to Civic manager Andi Botsford, costs to rent the civic for an all-night dance party run to about $8,000, and the venue restricts capacity to 1,200. Adding to venue costs the expenses for a sound system, lighting, props and DJ talent, and then trying to keep the individual ticket price affordable, leaves promoters with some tricky math. Sandler says he won't even consider the Civic unless the venue will permit more than a 1,200 capacity.

For now, the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds' policy requires that all shows end by 2am. Sandler's Harmogeddon only went all night because fairgrounds staff approved a contract for the event without getting the board of directors to sign off on a policy waiver. Faced with breaking the contract and ending up in a costly legal battle with Sandler and his partners, the board of directors decided to let Harmogeddon happen despite the policy violation.

THE TIMING OF SANDLER'S proposal could have been better. His address to the Santa Cruz Fairground's board of directors last month came less than a week after Metropolis, which drew 24,000 people to the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds and launched a media outcry against rave events. The San Jose Mercury-News' portrayal of violence, rampant drug use and chaos at the biggest-ever Bay Area all-night dance party was at the forefront of the group's concerns.

"After what happened in San Jose last week, you don't think we'd be so stupid as to allow another rave here, do you?" asked a board member, swiveling around in his chair to address Sandler, who had just finished spelling out his proposal.

"No, I hope you won't be stupid," Sandler replied. "I hope you'll think about how well our last one went and consider letting us do another one." After half an hour's discussion, the board decided to revisit the issue in October (after the conclusion of this year's county fair) to consider changing its policy on all-night events.

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From the July 19-26, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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