Make Music in the Making
Daylong musical free for all is a tall order for tiny team
By Sara Cardine 06/14/2012
Once a year, vital thoroughfares in Old Pasadena succumb to foot traffic and the sweet sounds of festival music as hundreds of musical acts and performers showcase their talents on stages big and small at the annual Make Music Pasadena festival.
The daylong musical free for all, which takes place this Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., is sort of a win-win-win situation — it pleases tens of thousands of listeners without technically costing them a dime, highlights Pasadena as a premier entertainment destination and drives an estimated $1 million worth of business each year into local shops, restaurants and venues on and around festival grounds.
It’s hard to imagine that something of this scope (currently 146 acts on 35 stages, with road closures on Colorado Boulevard, from Fair Oaks to Arroyo Parkway, Raymond Avenue, from Green Street to Union Street and Madison Avenue, from Green to Colorado) is essentially the “baby” of two local employees, who work tirelessly throughout most of the year to bring the whole thing to life.
Josefina Mora, marketing director for the Playhouse District Association, and Kershona Mayo, director of event production and marketing for the Old Pasadena Management District, are charged with screening and booking a majority of the talent, marketing the festival to the media, organizing the day’s events down to the minutest detail and, oh yeah, locating the sponsors to pay for the whole thing so it can be free for all who attend.
“Without sponsorship, we couldn’t have the event that we have,” says Mayo, who joined Mora during a recent interview with the Weekly at Zona Rosa Caffe.
They often work on the festival after they’ve finished with the duties of their regular days, working off the clock to refine plans and find donors and sponsors. It’s that vital fundraising that allows the pair to snag big entertainment fish, like this year’s indie rock band Grouplove, which played at the music festivals Coachella and Bonnaroo and will perform Tuesday on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” and French chanteuse SoKo, who toured with British artist MIA and was featured in a 2007 Stella McCartney fashion show.
“It’s really important for us to be able to raise that money,” Mora says of the team’s constant quest for sponsorship. “But our city deserves it, so why not? Who doesn’t want a free day of music, good music — no, great music?”
Making it evolve
Perfecting Make Music Pasadena has come with a long learning curve, as each year inspires ideas and improvements to be implemented next year. Since the 2008 inaugural event, Mora and Mayo have been streamlining the process and figuring out how to make the next show even better.
Mora recalls the first festival, which brought a slew of performers to stages as tiny and nondescript as street corners. It wasn’t easy for audiences to distinguish the booked acts from those performers who camp out with a cat, a trumpet and a cup full of change on any given day in Old Town.
“There was a lady who showed up in her bathing suit with a guitar,” Mora says. “And we had a lady who just sang about cookies, that’s it.”
Lessons learned from those first few festivals were priceless — now, the pair concentrates its energy on attracting better-known bands, some of whom, like Grouplove, are accustomed to playing circuits like Coachella, where a $399 price tag is the norm.
“It’s the lineup that attracts the most people, so we focus on those bigger acts,” Mayo says.
New features added this year include free, limited edition Make Music Pasadena T-shirts, which will be inked at a silkscreening booth for just 200 visitors, and six exclusive VIP passes that give bearers special goodies, direct access to bands and choice seats at select performances, including headliner shows.
To complement the well-known bands playing at main stage areas — the Old Pasadena Indie Rock stage on Colorado Boulevard, Playhouse District Eclectic Stage on Madison Avenue and Levitt Pavilion Pasadena at Memorial Park on Holly Street — a number of smaller stages in businesses throughout Old Pasadena will play host to local talents.
For example, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Zona Rosa Caffe, 15 S. El Molino Avenue, catch the fusion/jazz/ska stylings of Department of Walter & Power then hop next door to children’s store Little Junebugs and partake in free arts and crafts for the kiddies. At 12:30 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church of Pasadena, 500 E. Colorado Blvd., the Johnny Mercer Children’s Choir, comprising students from LA’s Braille Institute, will sing select tunes.
“Even though the festival gets bigger and bigger, we still hold on to that community component,” Mayo explains.
For the past five years, news of Make Music Pasadena has not only made the rounds among local media outlets but, thanks to the power of the Internet, is being picked up by international entertainment news sources, who recognize and hail it as one American off-shoot of Fête de la Musique, a street music festival that began in Paris exactly 30 years ago on June 21 and is held the same day every year in cities across the globe.
Locally, the festival began when Véronique Maheas and Fanchon Gérardin from the Pasadena school Alliance Française approached the city with plans for recreating the Parisian event in Kendall Alley, where the school is located.
“They were thrilled with the idea,” says Gérardin, now the director of Alliance. “Right away, it was decided that there would be several venues. Kendall Alley could be one, but there could be more — one on Union, one at Memorial Park … And that was the beginning of Make Music Pasadena.”
Today, Alliance is one of a few locations that scout and book their own acts for the festival. This year, it will highlight French-themed performances by gypsy jazz singer Jessica Fichot and accordion virtuoso Nick Ariondo.
Since its relatively humble beginning, Make Music Pasadena has kept much of the spirit of its Parisian progenitor, with some tweaking here and there to accommodate the community’s logistics, Mora says. Today, it is a nice mix of liberté, égalité and fraternité mixed with more American notions of commerce and community.
“The concept here in Pasadena is a little different from Paris, because in Paris there’s music everywhere and impromptu performances everywhere,” she adds. “Here, it would be problematic to close down Colorado Boulevard on a Tuesday.
“For Pasadena, the essence is bringing the community together and bringing this top quality programming to all people, of all ages and all races. We’re all celebrating these things and this music together — and it’s free.”
Making it work
On Saturday morning, as the first wave of visitors begins to trickle onto the city’s streets, Mora and Mayo will already have hit the ground running, skittling from one venue to the next and beyond to make sure everything goes off without a hitch. Keeping on top of things gets tricky, Mayo admits, especially when the day’s a scorcher.
“I almost fainted in 2008. It was scary,” she says. “You’re so hot, it’s just crazy.”
For all their love, labor and planning, neither Mayo nor Mora will actually get to watch the festival unfold. They will more likely catch up with the day’s events on a later day.
“We see photos and videos afterward,” Mayo says. “That’s OK, it’s our baby.”
Speaking for herself, Mora adds, “It really brings satisfaction knowing I’ve worked 12 hours a day and, at the end of the day, it’s brought this many people so much satisfaction.”
Once Saturday is behind them, the pair will be able to breathe easy and settle back into the routine work of their normal day jobs — at least for the next two or three months, until they reconvene at the drawing board and get to work on Make Music Pasadena 2013.
For more information on Make Music Pasadena, including a full schedule of events and venue locations, visit makemusicpasadena.org.
For a complete listing of the 2012 Make Music Pasadena stage schedules, see page 17