Last year, the Growlers frontman Brooks Nielsen wasn’t in a very good place. It was easy to hear the cynicism, anger and distress in his voice as he discussed Growlers Six, which was the name for the band-curated event that replaced Beach Goth, the festival he and his bandmates curated in conjunction with the Observatory and Noise Group over the previous five years. In that time, the event grew from the king of local festivals to one that attracted global artists and attention for its unique flair that blended hand crafted weirdness, blockbuster eclectic lineups, art displays, an array of drag queens and much more.
As successful as those festivals were in furthering the Growlers as a local brand and as festival tastemakers, things operationally with the event weren’t going so great. There was constant griping over the things that make a festival work. As has been written numerous times over the years, the lackluster security, poor parking, the less-than-stellar VIP area along with a mass overflowing of people turned what should have been a must-attend event into a bonafide shit show.
After the 2016 edition, things reached a boiling point. That year’s event should have been the crowning achievement in cementing the Observatory and Growlers as the most forward-thinking bookers and event curators. Bon Iver, Justice, RL Grime, King Krule, Gucci Mane, Violent Femmes and TLC performed on the wildly adventurous lineup in addition to the organizers. However, between all of the organizational problems and finger pointing, friends suddenly became bitter enemies after Jeffrey Shuman and Noise Group sued the Growlers over the rights to the Beach Goth name shortly after that year’s festival.
The suit, which was filed In Santa Ana Federal Court in November 2016 by Noise Group, claimed that the Growlers have infringed on the company’s trademarks, using the Beach Goth name to benefit the band and defendants financially, and sought an unspecified amount in compensation. Nielsen and Growlers bandmate Matt Taylor were named as defendants.
“I didn’t know how this shit worked,” Nielsen says of the suit. “I’ve always known that the industry is cutthroat and there’s a lot of snakes. At the same time, we started this band to throw parties and to have fun, it’s the spirit we’ve always had. The people we worked with, we’re friends with. I really thought we had a friend and it really bit us in the ass. It was depressing and scary to get sued and have to fight back against someone with millions of dollars behind them and we’re just a little old band.”
Nielsen says that there had been trouble brewing even prior to the lawsuit. As long as three years ago, he says that “things started going sour.”
He heard the gripes from the fans about the setup and accommodations, which Nielsen says he brought up with Noise Group, including what happened with the money and why things were happening the way they were. The band felt the heat because it was their name featured prominently on the bill, and thus, received most of the blame. At the time, the promoter and band didn’t have a formal contract and though he pressed for one, the singer says he never received one.
“I should have smelled that there was something fishy going on,” he recalls. “But we’re also preoccupied with other things in our lives — our studio burned down, issues with band members, friends doing drugs — so we overlooked the snake in the grass and we kept being told that we’d never be treated this way and things would be fixed and that we were in this together. He was such a great talent buyer that I overlooked everything else and why we’re in this position.”
Ultimately, the lawsuit happened and sapped everything the band was doing. They were worried about staring down bankruptcy in the face a corporate entity taking them on.
Last year, amid the litigation, the Growlers carried the festival forward, albeit with a different name. Called Growlers Six, the fest moved to San Pedro had a strong bill topped by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, Yeah Yeahs Yeahs and B-52s.
“When you have to be quiet and bite your tongue, I’m not used to that,” Nielsen says, recalling last year’s interview ahead of that event. “To have to be quiet out of fear of getting sued, it’s pretty difficult.”
Though things went alright, Nielsen blames the semi-lackluster experience over the confusion over the name and the location, which couldn’t quite pull fans from Orange County nor attract L.A. folks either.
“We’re just starting over again and want to make some money,” Nielsen says. “We had the balls to stand up for ourselves and we pulled through. It was a few years of our life that sucked and didn’t really make sense. Now that we have it back, I realized how much I missed it.”
Shuman and Noise Group didn’t respond to the Weekly’s multiple requests for comment.
Once things settled earlier this year, the band immediately got to work putting together this year’s event. Taking place at Los Angeles State Historic Park, this year’s Beach Goth is much more scaled down, including a tighter lineup, but still has similar features that have marked previous events. That lineup includes the Voidz, GWAR, Doug E. Fresh and a special set of only Ramones covers by Beach Goth vets Bleached. Saying that she’s happy the band got the name to fest back, singer Jennifer Clavin is excited about their Ramones tribute.
“The Ramones are one of the best bands ever,” she says ahead of the band’s appearance at the fest. “We’d been doing this as the Misfits before, but I don’t know who came up with the idea — either the Growlers or our manager, but it seems great to do here.”
Ahead of the show, the Growlers have a pop-up shop in downtown L.A. that also serves as a museum to the band’s past. The reason to have to have it in L.A. was because the band has relocated there from Orange County/Long Beach.
Originally, this was just going to be a show that the Growlers played independently this summer. But, they reached an agreement and had only two days to launch it. Nielsen also says that Shuman threatened to sue Live Nation — the event’s promoter — over helping set up the event.
“It’s easy, it’s central,” Nielsen says of the event’s third location in three years. “Take an Uber, come get wasted! Come down here, there’s no VIP. This is going to be a really raw, fun homemade festival and the bands are great for what we can get. I’m pumped.”
The Growlers are bringing a version of Beach Goth on tour for the first time, with a scaled-down production that retains the fest’s vibe. Also, the band recently released their first full-length since the ordeal began, including 60-to-70 demos leftover from over the years, titled Casual Acquaintances put out through the Growlers’ own Beach Goth Records.
If nothing else, Nielsen says that being sued and paying closer attention to paperwork that will protect the band has served them well as they’ve battled through this ordeal.
“We’re definitely a little wiser not to get into these situations anymore,” he says. “I don’t wish harm upon my enemies but at the same time, I definitely feel like time will take care of things and people will get what they deserve. In the beginning, I was very afraid of a lawsuit, I was afraid that it would be mafia-style and someone would be after us. But I really don’t give a fuck anymore.”
Beach Goth featuring The Growlers, The Voidz, The Drums, Doug E. Fresh, GWAR and more at L.A. State Historic Park, 1245 N. Spring St., Los Angeles, thegrowlers.frontgatetickets.com, 12:30 p.m., $66, all ages.