Gamblin' on the Blues
Turning up the volume at Ventura’s State Beach
By Chris O'Neal 10/31/2013
Ross Emery has had his fair share of experience getting events off the ground in Ventura. Emery has overseen the creation of the Johnny Cash Music Festival (now the Roadshow Revival) and has thrown his support behind events around the county. Now, with business partner Bill Kracht, the duo hopes to revive a long tradition of beachside festivals with Blues at the Beach this Saturday, an undertaking they hope will spawn more events in the future.
The Blues at the Beach festival features a lineup of well-known blues talent, such as Elvin Bishop, The Mannish Boy Revue, James Harman and special guest Kim Wilson from the Fabulous Thunderbirds, but what makes this festival unique is its location at the San Buenaventura State Beach off Harbor Boulevard and San Pedro in Ventura.
“We’re trying this venue out so that we can try and provide different aspects,” said Bill Kracht, who is also the owner of Players Casino in Ventura. “The state park is willing to work with us on a variety of aspects and this is a great venue for a music concert.”
Kracht and Emery’s business relationship began in 2009 when Kracht sponsored the first Johnny Cash Music Festival. As the festival grew, Players Casino became the title sponsor. It was on June 15 that Kracht suggested the Roadshow Revival go bigger, and he became Emery’s advisor.
“He was at the VIP tent in the heat of the day when there was a maximum crowd,” said Emery. “He patted me on the back and said, ‘You’ve got something here, kid, let’s take it further.’ ”
“It’s been a really good partnership,” said Kracht.
With each other’s respective know-how, they formulated an idea to bring music back to the beaches of Ventura through Emery’s production company, Roadshow Revival. Kat Merrick, event coordinator for Roadshow Revival in 2012, was brought on to assist in getting the festival off the ground — in a little less than two months time.
Emery’s experiences at Dana Point’s Doheney Festival helped shape the image of Blues at the Beach, borrowing from the long-running event its relaxed vibe and careful coordination.
In 2009, Emery approached the state beach officials with the idea for a mini-Doheney-style festival, but it wasn’t until this year that the plans began to coalesce.
If all goes well, the team hopes to put on a variety of events throughout Ventura ranging from world-class boxing to beauty pageants, fully supported by Kracht, who has had a bit of experience in getting big projects off the ground.
Kracht moved his Players Casino from its location on Ventura Avenue, where it had been located since the 1930s, to its current location just off Johnson at the Ventura Auto Mall. Since its arrival in 2011, the casino has undergone several renovations to add more space and a restaurant.
Last year, Kracht, along with partner Alec Benke, formed Top Players Promotions to promote boxing in Ventura County. In March 2014, Top Players Promotions will host a boxing event at Ventura College.
At the Blues at the Beach festival, Kracht will bring Players Casino to cater both food and beverages. He said he sees this as the first in a string of potential events in Ventura with Emery and Roadshow Revival.
With the recent success of the resurrected Surf Rodeo at the Seaward Avenue beach, co-produced by Roadshow Revival, Emery noted that Ventura’s other beaches are underutilized for similar events; and when the Ventura Hillside Music Festival decided to take a year off from production, the team took advantage of the opportunity.
Of the decisions that have gone into making Blues at the Beach a reality, the idea to have it at San Buenaventura State Beach rather than, perhaps, the Ventura County Fairgrounds, where the Roadshow Revival has been since 2009, is a chance the team hopes pays off.
“We know we can make this a turnkey opportunity,” said Emery.
Tyson Butzke, Ventura sector superintendent with the California State Parks Department, is happy about the event taking place at the park.
“We like hosting these events. It’s a good chance for us to showcase the park as well as work with a local promoter,” said Butzke. “It kind of gives them a chance to do something fun for the community. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
As far as future events go, Butzke takes a wait-and-see approach.
“We’ll see how the first event goes,” said Butzke. “This is the first big event of this type that we’ve held here.”
Emery and Kracht said they believe the State Park is the perfect location for a music festival, citing the ample space and relaxed attitude of the neighboring community.
“It’s a more natural arena; it feels more comfortable,” said Emery.
One of the benefits of hosting the event at the state beach comes from the concessions.
At the VC Fairgrounds, alcohol, food and parking are regulated by the board of directors, leaving an event’s host only ticket and merchandise sales. At the state beach, the requirements and boundaries disappear, leaving those who wish to host an event to take in the profits from all sales, needing only the proper permits to operate and sell alcohol.
For the Blues at the Beach festival, a portion of the proceeds will go to the Friends of the Channel Coast and the Boys and Girls Club of Ventura.
Kracht, who has already made his Players Casino a Ventura destination, said he hopes to bring that success to the whole of Ventura.
“We are a hidden little gem, and this venue is the perfect location for downtown, the beach and the harbor,” said Kracht. “For me this is a test. If we can work this out, I’m willing to put together some funds for a perfect show across the board, year after year.”
Blues at the Beach will take place at San Buenaventura State Beach off San Pedro and Harbor, Nov. 2, 10 a.m. Tickets are $25-$100. For more information, visit www.roadshowrevival.com. The line up includes The 44's, The R&B Bombers, Guy Martin Band, Shawn Jones, Mannish Boys Revue and headliner Elvin Bishop.