From the beginning, Music Tastes Good declared itself something different. As the number of boutique music fests exploded in the summer of 2016—each with its own impressive lineup and curatorial angle—the late Long Beach musician Josh Fischel got a team of local culture lovers together (along with a veteran booker and one anonymous financier) to craft a celebration of the city unlike any other.
The inaugural year took over most of the East Village Arts District to the dismay of many residents trapped within its footprint, but no one denied Music Tastes Good was true to its name. Though it would be a few years before the city’s culinary clout caught up with his vision, Fischel pushed for local chefs to hold equal standing with the bands and artists on the festival’s bill. Alongside headliners such as the Specials, De La Soul and Squeeze were chefs Eddie Ruiz, Philip Pretty, Dave McLellan and more creating custom dishes for a VIP Farm to Taste Experience held at Padre. But the fancy-food-at-a-music-festival experiment ran hopelessly behind schedule, and eventually, it was cut short when teams ran out of ingredients before the final seating. (Luckily, there was a food court featuring local favorites such as Robert Earl’s BBQ, Pizzanista and Sophy’s.)
For year two, Music Tastes Good moved the stages to Marina Green and turned the VIP food experience into a roving Taste Tent of demos and talks. For a nominal fee, attendees could get unlimited bites from both local and flown-in-from-New Orleans chefs. (The food court also expanded, Coachella-style.)
Nearly two years after Fischel’s death, just days after the first fest, the homegrown event returns with its best—and most accessible—culinary programming yet.
To support the theme “Import/Export,” organizers hired globally inspired pop-up chef Khanh Hoang to farm the city’s own growing food scene for new faces to include in the Taste Tent. With the tenacity of a music talent buyer, Hoang traveled to port cities along the West Coast and invited 10 big-name chefs—from Wesley Young of Vancouver’s Pidgin to Nancy Leon of Tijuana’s Chan’s Bistro.
Better still: Instead of putting all these important, creative chefs and their food behind a VIP paywall, this year’s Taste Tent will be open to all attendees, with sliding price points for dishes at $5, $10 and $15. The change finally brings Music Tastes Good in alignment with the increasing democratization of food culture, giving options to average consumers who are accustomed to such farm-to-table options being roped off behind exclusivity and eye-bulging price points. Since the vision was for Music Tastes Good to be a festival that held music and food in equal measure, it needed to put its on-tour culinary rock stars on a main stage.
On the festival website, 15 chefs—including five from Long Beach (Dawna Bass from Under the Sun will serve the Taste Tent’s first raw-vegan dish)—are given the same title treatment as Janelle Monae, Joey Bada$$, New Order and other musical headliners. Though instead of high-production promo shots like those of the musical acts, the chefs pose more casually. Some wear their favorite chef’s coat or canvas apron, but all invite you to taste their talents in the kitchen. You really should see them perform live.
Music Tastes Good at Marina Green Park, 352 E. Shoreline Dr., Long Beach; mtglb.co. Sat.-Sun., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. $85-$300.
Sarah Bennett is a freelance journalist who has spent nearly a decade covering food, music, craft beer, arts, culture and all sorts of bizarro things that interest her for local, regional and national publications.