Timing is everything, as they say. I mean, had there not been the recent rioting after the U.S. Open of Surfing, then I'm guessing that the Wet Electric Beach Party may have gone if not unnoticed then at least earned a lot less scrutiny.
If you haven't heard the latest controversy, a big party is happening Sept. 14 at Huntington State Beach. The Wet Electric Beach Party will feature almost two dozen well-known deejays, a slew of giant water slides and rides, zip lines, cabanas, day beds and bars.
It's a 21-and-older event, but like I said, given the recent melee downtown, many people have begun expressing concerns about this get-together. I think it's completely responsible to take a close look at this event.
Some have called for the promoter to abandon the idea, but it's worth noting that the state beach approved this and so the responsibility, in effect, lies with those officials. The promoter evidently applied for and received all the proper permitting, after being vetted by the beach officials.
The Huntington Beach City Council took up the issue Aug. 5. Mayor Connie Boardman told me after the meeting, "There are estimates of up to 10,000 people attending the event at the State Beach near Brookhurst. The entire City Council has serious concerns about this huge alcohol-fueled party on the state beach. From the videos I've seen of events put on by the same organizer in other cities, I can tell this is simply not the kind of event we want in our city.
"The event ends at 9 p.m. on a Saturday night. Where will the revelers go to continue the party?"
I think she makes valid points and I also think it was totally appropriate for the City Council to take this under discussion. But I also wanted to track down the promoter to get his take.
Steve Thacher, 38, runs an Orange County advertising agency. He came up with the idea for the Wet Electric events several years ago as a concept for a water park client of his in Irvine. The event was a smash, and so he began creating similar events at water parks in other markets.
They all did well, and so he thought to evolve the idea beyond water parks to having events right on the beach. He originally approached Doheny State Beach in Dana Point, but scheduling problems did not allow for the event. The officials there suggested Huntington, and so a deal was struck with beach officials in our city (who, it should be noted, are always in the market for moneymaking events on the beach to help offset budget issues).
When I spoke with Thacher, he was well aware of the fears and other negative sentiments being expressed about his event. He was also very candid in expressing his own concerns, things he says he considers with each of these events that he presents.
"We are extremely careful wherever we go," he said. "In this case, because it's the first time we've ever held one on the beach, our plans all along would be extra sensitive to everything. We would have more security than ever, provide shuttles wherever necessary, and make sure the local neighborhoods were not affected in terms of parking."
He also told me he's made every effort to involve local businesses, and he even attended a local Chamber of Commerce breakfast several weeks ago to pitch his event. As it turns out, Wahoo's Fish Tacos will be providing the food, and he is working to secure some other local sponsorships as well (the ski resort Mountain High will also have a presence at the event).
As far as the concerns about drinking and youths running wild in the street, Thacher told me that the events are deliberately for people 21and older, and relatively high ticket prices are charged to weed out potential troublemakers (tickets range from $65 to a $5,000 private cabana). He added he has seen almost no trouble at previous events and that in addition to 2,000 beach parking spaces, he was working to procure some satellite lots and shuttle service for his customers.
"We invest heavily in infrastructure," he added. "We will not over-serve anyone in terms of alcohol. This is about the electronic dance music, the beach, the slides and the rides. Above all we want this to be a unique, safe and fun experience.
"This is not the Coachella music festival or the U.S. Open of Surfing. It's simply a nine-hour event, and since we're located near Brookhurst, several miles from Main Street, I don't think we'll have many people heading downtown after we're done.
"It's been my observation that after our events, people are usually pretty wiped out and tend to go home afterward. We want this to go very well here. We love Huntington Beach and would love to do more business here in the future with a kids beach event that I think would be fun and very popular."
Again, I completely understand the concerns of the City Council and residents I've heard from. But I also know that Thacher and his group have played by the rules. If people want to get mad at someone, I would suggest looking to state beach officials.
But that said, the riots after the U.S. Open may have helped this event in that the promoters will be extra careful to make sure it goes off as well as it can.
While these events are not for everybody, I will say that it's not that far a stretch, in my opinion, for a hyperkinetic, extreme and over-the-top beach party to land in Huntington Beach. Like it or not, the city's culture and attitude lend themselves to events like this.
This is not a quaint, sleepy little beach town. It's a noisy, raucous, complex and diverse destination. Huntington Beach has been marketed as the big time when it comes to beach cities and in a sense, Wet Electric is just as tight a fit as the many additional events added on to the U.S. Open of Surfing.
Thacher and his group have a lot at stake with this event, and it seems pretty obvious that they will do whatever it takes to make it right.
Like he told me, he wants to do more business here. And like everyone else, I hope it goes off without a hitch.
I would be very interested in your thoughts on this.
CHRIS EPTING is the author of 19 books, including the new "Baseball in Orange County," from Arcadia Publishing. You can chat with him on Twitter @chrisepting or follow his column at http://www.facebook.com/hbindependent.