Oceano Music Fest could bring electronic festival to the dunes
Picture hundreds of people in colorful festival-garb dancing all day and night to electronic beats on the wind-swept Oceano Dunes for four days.
Add in volleyball and a slack line, glamping in designer tents and vintage Airstreams, trippy art projections, self-empowerment and sustainability workshops, yoga, and beach photo shoots — and you might begin to have an idea of what’s planned for “California’s only overnight beach music festival” — and it could be the first of many.
The Oceano Music Fest plans to bring up to 2,000 guests, more than 70 hours of continuous house and techno music with dozens “of the best underground music artists from North America and Europe” to Pismo State Beach and Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area from Oct. 11-14.
The park will still be open to off-road vehicle riders, campers and all other visitors. But tickets during those days have to be purchased through the event website, so visitors know what will be happening down the beach.
There’s a small buzz about the event on Facebook and Instagram; A few hundred have indicated they’re going to be there, including one guy who asked if there was somewhere to land his helicopter, as he’ll be “coming from a secret project with some angels.” Tickets range from a three-day pass for $147 (plus $22 fee) to a $4,888 glamping package (regularly, camping there is $10 a night).
But there’s one key issue still at play: The festival backers don’t technically have a permit yet.
That won’t be issued until after a public comment period closes on State Parks’ analysis of environmental effects of music festivals, in general, at Oceano Dunes and Pismo State Beach. Those events would be held between October and February in designated 15-acre event areas between marker posts 3.5 and 4.5. Officials expect to issue permits to no more than two a year.
Dena Bellman from the Oceano Dunes District Office said it’s not uncommon for State Parks to host festivals, and “this is probably on the smaller side.”
Michael Stackhouse, co-founder of the fast-approaching event, said in an email to The Tribune that “the producers of Oceano Music Fest are nature lovers. We are producing a leave-no-trace event and will leave the beach cleaner than we find it.
“Our mission is to create beautiful experiences, enrich lives and make a positive impact; this includes our relationships with members of the local community,” he said.
Concerns in Oceano
Some community members are not stoked about the idea.
“We don’t think that the community of Oceano has really been considered in this. The whole process is being rushed through. The public comment period ends on Oct. 5 and they’re already selling tickets,” said Cynthia Replogle, president of the Oceano Beach Community Association.
The state agency plans to issue a “mitigated negative declaration,” a document that’s prepared under the California Environmental Quality Act when an agency determines there is no substantial evidence that a project could result in significant adverse environmental impacts.
Oceano Dunes has been a battleground of park users and local businesses against environmentalists and some community members. Legal fights over endangered birds and poor air quality have plagued the park for years.
A State Parks study of the potential impacts determined that the few concerns found could be mitigated with specific permit conditions.
To ensure noise doesn’t cause impacts, for example, all speakers have to be pointed toward the ocean. Parking will be available on- and off-site, and shuttles will be run from private rented lots in nearby communities, like Branch Street in Arroyo Grande, and Bellman expects there actually will be less vehicle traffic than on a normal summer weekend of Dunes visitors.
“Basically, we worked with the event promoters to identify the typical issues, and there is mitigation in place for some of the concerns that we would have, as well as those that the public may have,” Bellman said.
Festivals on the dunes
This wouldn’t be the first time State Parks hosted a rave on the dunes.
Pismocean, a similar festival held in 2016, was “one for the record books,” promoters said. A second was planned in 2017, but promoters canceled after a pop-up event in Southern California drew big names and the potential crowd.
Stackman co-produced that event and said, “there were no fights, arrests, excessive traffic, or trash left on the beach.”
The 2016 event is how State Parks officials learned how far sound from a festival would travel in the area before blending into background noise: A noise study determined it’s at 1,000 feet.
Bellman said it’s not likely that the permit will be denied.
“At this point, probably, for the most part, yes, it’s happening. Technically, we haven’t signed on the dotted line, no,” Bellman said.
That’s what seems to irk Replogle, who’s heard concerns about traffic on Highway 1, litter in the community, and potential noise impacts to migrating humpback whales and dolphins.
“(State Parks) don’t consider the community at all, as usual. State Parks treats Oceano as the doormat of the dunes,” she said.
Bellman said there is plenty of opportunity for people’s issues to be heard and addressed.
“If folks do have concerns, there is an opportunity though the process so we can hear what those concerns are, hopefully to address them,” Bellman said.
Comments on the State Parks plan to issue music festival permits must be received by 5 p.m. Oct. 5 and can be emailed to Dena.Bellman@parks.ca.gov, sent via fax to 805-773-7176, or mailed to Attn: Dena Bellman, Oceano Dunes District Office, 340 James Way, Ste. 270, Pismo Beach, CA 93449. Documents about the proposal can be viewed at ohv.parks.ca.gov, click on the CEQA/EIR notices link.
Local news matters: We rely on readers like you more than ever before, and we currently offer free access to five stories a month. Support us further with a digital subscription to help ensure we can provide strong local journalism for many years to come. #ReadLocal