SM PIER — The Santa Monica Pier ramped up its events this year, leading to some successes and a few failures.
The Twilight Concert Series, in its 29th year, was nearly universally praised, while newcomer comedy event Festival Supreme was trashed by many attendees and pier businesses.
City and pier officials, as well as event organizers, are in the midst of determining what’s next for these large scale events.
“We indicated that we would be working on developing revenue sources to cover the rising cost of free and low-cost public events,” Pier Corporation Boardmember Susan McCarthy wrote in an e-mail. “So we encouraged staff to try new partners and strategies for events, promotions and marketing to that end.”
Chair of the pier board, Judy Abdo, said they are currently in the process of deciding what to do next year.
“I guess it’s a test year of seeing what works and doesn’t work,” she said. “When there is a test year then we need to get all the information from all the players about what worked and what didn’t work and then use that for the event guidelines for the future.”
Those guidelines are in the works now, she said.
Festival Supreme, a sold-out comedy event hosted by Jack Black in October, was not well-recieved. It has two stars out of five on Yelp, an online guide that aggregates user reviews. Twenty of the 35 reviews gave the festival one star.
Jackie Fernandez, of Studio City, was one of the one-star reviewers. She’s critiqued more than 100 events and restaurants and most frequently assigns them four and five stars. Her biggest complaints about this event, which she paid more than $100 to attend, were the lines and crowds.
“Getting food was an hour, getting drinks was two hours, on top of the hour that you spent waiting in line to get in,” she said. “It was bad. It was seriously, hands down, the worst event I’ve ever been to and I’ve been to a ton of events.”
Fernandez said people were starting to get aggravated and that she felt unsafe.
Marlene Gordon, who owns the Playland Arcade, said that some events are good but Festival Supreme was not one of them.
“I know we were very upset over some of the events but the Jack Black event, that was horrible for this place,” she said. “They just did not do it correctly. In fact, at one point there were too many people in the tent on the west side of me and the police and I opened up my front doors to let the people out.”
Martin Fleischmann, who promotes many pier events, acknowledged that it was a learning experience. It was no more crowded than the popular Twilight Concert Series events, he said, but the many stages restricted event goers’ movement. He said he would think twice before planning an event with so many stages.
“It would require additional parts of the pier,” he said. “On the parking deck itself? Probably not. Unless you’re talking about smaller acts that could be distributed on smaller stages.”
Way Over Yonder, a Newport Folk Festival event held a few weeks before Festival Supreme, had a few stages and went smoothly, Fleischmann said.
“It melded with the space and was a perfect example of what should happen at the pier,” he said. “We had a stage on the deck and a small stage in the carousel, which proved to be very popular and logistically worked out fine.”
Fleischmann’s highlight this year was Trombone Shorty, a New Orleans brass musician who played during the Twilight Concert Series.
The Twilight Concert Series, which consistently draws larger crowds, has four and half stars after 56 reviews.
While these events don’t necessarily translate to immediate dollars for the arcade, Gordon said, they are good for the pier.
“With that, people go to watch the concert but a lot of those people come back as our customers,” she said. “They love the mood of the pier. They love the concerts and so they return another day to stick around and they’re usually the local people.”
It all depends on the event, Gordon said. It’s during the winter that the pier needs the most help, she said.
“Summer, we always do well no matter what event it is, because of the warm weather and people want to come to the pier,” she said. “We’ll see with the events coming how it affects our business but I really don’t know.”
Fleischmann said the he can tell, anecdotally, that the big events help local businesses. For example, he said, Bubba Gump Shrimp was packed all day during Festival Supreme. Owners could not be reached for comment.
The Daily Press reached out to many pier business owners for this article but few responded.
Pacific Park responded with the following e-mailed statement: “As an amusement park and event venue, we share similar goals with Pier tenants, The Pier Corporation and the City. We want to build upon the Pier’s traditions and remain relevant for the future.”
Balancing the needs of all of the pier’s players has never been an easy task, McCarthy said.
“Some events this year (and some in years past) were embraced by certain stakeholder groups but not by others, or by some individual group members but not others,” she said.
Pier management officials are still evaluating the year’s big events, saying that conclusions won’t be drawn until early January.