On a recent night in downtown LA, Evan Hagen holds up one of his clear, handmade, oil-projector slides to the lamp in his bedroom. The long hours spent prepping for the final days of the first festival he created are evident in his tired eyes. Wearing a purple hoodie and blue jeans, he sits cross-legged on orange, shag carpet as he rotates the disc-shaped slide slowly in his palms. Within it, globs of viscous yellow and blue paint clash and coagulate as though blooming puddles of rainbow spit. These custom-made discs, he says, are part of what make the shows he throws with Thief Presents—his LA/OC production company—unique among all the laser-light bullshit you typically see at clubs.
“These things have sort of become my calling card,” Hagen says. “Setting the right vibe at my shows is always this art form for me.”
This weekend, Hagen's ability to create an impression on the walls of the Yost Theater is more important than ever. Not only did the LA promoter/Yorba Linda native pick Santa Ana as ground zero for a day-long international psychedelic-rock fest, but it's also happening on Cinco de Mayo.
In the midst of a massive city-sponsored street fair drawing upward of 20,000 people, the inaugural head-banging bacchanal—dubbed Psycho de Mayo—boasts four stages, with bands flying in from all over the world. Side venues for the fest include Proof Bar, the newly remodeled Copper Door and the record store Left of the Dial. Headlined by Canadian drone-pop act Black Mountain, the anticipated, brain-rattling lineup features New York City's A Place to Bury Strangers; LA stalwarts Dead Meadow; and Dead Skeletons, a legendary Icelandic group making their first pilgrimage to OC.
Amassing this arsenal of talent from all corners of the psych-rock world is a bona-fide sign of Thief Presents burgeoning credibility. “It creates a special environment for kids to come out,” says Bret Constantino of San Francisco's Sleepy Sun, also performing on the bill. “They really know how to create a vibe of their own, and it makes it much more cohesive to the way we perform.”
Working as a promoter at Proof several years ago, Hagen, 27, would have considered organizing a festival with more than 40 psychedelic bands a pipe dream. But last fall, he returned to his old stomping grounds. Once a week, Hagen wrangled a rotating lineup of psych bands for a weekly club called Topicali Tuesdays in the upstairs room of the Yost. “The whole time I was upstairs, I was just looking downstairs and thinking, 'Fuck, I wanna use that room,'” Hagen remembers. Six months ago, he approached owners Dennis Lluy and Dave Leon about throwing a festival, and they offered him any Sunday night he wanted. At the time, May 5 seemed the most logical choice.
Coming on the heels of Austin Psych Fest (produced annually in April by Austin buzz band the Black Angels), Psycho de Mayo aligns perfectly with bands looking to stay on tour for an extra week or so. It's also fitting considering that festival's influence on Hagen, who traveled to Texas last year to handle lighting duties for Dead Meadow. It was during that tour that Hagen's eyes were opened to the far-reaching power wielded by the psychedelic scene. “When [Dead Meadow] walked onstage, Jason [Simon] just rolled out this solo. He was frying—he did an eighth of mushrooms before he walked onstage—and there were 5,000 people there,” Hagen says. “It took my breath away.”
One year later, Dead Meadow is also playing the festival. “Evan's festival reflects his taste in music,” says Simon. “It's definitely pulling from that heavy element of the psychedelic scene. [We're] kind of a niche band, so it's been a long road carving out a following. But I think it's cool to get bands that all fit together in some way.”
For the fest, Hagen wanted to distribute talent as equally as possible across all of the stages, he says. Booking sought-after bands such as Seattle's Rose Windows or Swedish act the Orange Revival was a must. “When [some local promoters] book these festivals, they'll book one big band, and they'll put a bunch of shit behind it, and they're not paying any of these other bands,” Hagen says.
Is it novel to think a brand named Thief Presents would go the extra mile to pay all their acts? Perhaps. But for Hagen, the ethos of cultivating a premier psych-rock event is worth the financial hit. “I'm in this to blow people's minds, straight up,” Hagen says. “I want you to come and just be like, 'What the fuck?!' and engrave that in your brain . . . a moment in time you don't forget.”