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NextFest LA plugs the passion of local music into the L.A. Fair

Every year, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival features over 150 top-tier performers like Tame Impala, Billie Eilish, Harry Styles who fill the desert stages. But what if instead of building their lineups around major pop acts, it focused on local emerging artists?

That’s where NextFest LA at the Los Angeles Fair comes into play, co-founder Lucas Rivera says. The inaugural festival happening every Thursday through Sunday in May at the fairgrounds in Pomona gives artists “the Coachella experience without [artists] feeling like they have to work up to be Coachella artists.”

NextFest LA is an independent indie festival located inside the fair. The festival supports up-and-coming artists as it exposes them to the festival environment, cultivating their talents and helping to build their skillset as they navigate their careers.

The festival will continue to run through the end of the month. Any-day tickets can be bought online for $20 or at the gate for $25.

The first-year festival invites guests to the L.A. Fair to connect with local artists creating original music while immersing themselves in the multiple genres each stage has to offer, including surf rock, indie pop, folk, reggae, Americana and international sounds, to name a few. NextFest LA spreads its performers across four stages (and an occasional fifth stage).

Xella plays at NextFest LA

(Adali Schell / For The Times)

Three matching sisters gather at the NextFest LA

(Adali Schell / For The Times)

From left, Allen Pisco, Karina Guevara, Alexis Pisco and Luis Contreras.

From left, Allen Pisco, Karina Guevara, Alexis Pisco and Luis Contreras.

(Adali Schell / For The Times)

“Most of us don’t get exposed or go outside of [our] little bubble. This kind of forces you to be in someone else’s bubble, because you’re walking by the stages, and our hope is that people take the time to just observe,” said NextFest LA co-founder Carlos Guaico, a longtime L.A. concert promoter. “And if you see someone else fully excited about a band, it kind of rubs off on them.”

Last Saturday, few acts embodied the spirit of NextFest like the band Xella. Specializing in a mashup of soul, funk, indie rock and R&B, the band — formed in the summer of 2019— was one of the newest acts booked to play at the festival. Though it was their first festival performance, their confidence exuded on stage suggested otherwise.

The group walked on stage wearing bold colors, capturing festival-goers’ attention with not only their flare but also their genre-bending sound. A gathering that started as a handful of people grew into a sizable crowd by the end of their set.

“We had so much fun. It’s always like a relief in a good way,” said lead singer Michelle Villegas about Xella’s performance.

Guitar and backup vocals Wynette Manacsa added, “I feel like it felt a little different, it being our first festival too. I feel like our energy was all there, and we really wanted to come out and do our best.”

With myriad performers, the festival has booked around 200 artists — all within the span of two months.

Although the NextFest team is brand new, it wasn’t short on making artists feel seen and catering to their needs.

Cameo Adele plays at the NextFest LA

Cameo Adele plays at the NextFest LA.

(Adali Schell / For The Times)

Fairgoers lie in the grass.

(Adali Schell / For The Times)

The Los Angeles County Fair has a petting zoo and farm.

(Adali Schell / For The Times)

The festival provides a standard equipment backline — a drum set, guitar amps, bass amps, keyboards—so artists don’t have to “bring all the stuff they lug around for all their shows,” Guaico said.

Artists are provided refreshments, spaces where they can relax before and after shows, and receive artist-only service reps to answer questions.

If artists are interested in learning more about stage management or other behind-the-scene jobs, they are plugged into their desired position with help from other staff and crew, like solo-performer and now-assistant stage manager Danie Espinoza.

“I totally was down for the [position] and [Guaico] gave me the opportunity and so far it’s been a blast,” Espinoza said. “Everyone has been super sweet and fun to work with, and it almost doesn’t really feel like work.”

The festival prides itself on taking care of its guests as well as artists. Emerging artists constantly find themselves in less-than-desirable situations because they haven’t reached mainstream popularity. Among the problems they face are scams like false advertising and promises by promoters, disinterested and unsupportive staff, and bad tech teams.

“I don’t always get that [hospitality] at other shows — sometimes it feels like people are doing us a favor,” said alternative soul artist Cameo Adele. “So it felt really good to be respected in my talent by the team. [They were] way more hands on and just made sure that all I had to worry about was performing.”

At other events or venues, sometimes emerging artists are forced to “pay to play,” meaning they are given tickets they must sell or pay for themselves.

Guaico provided artists with 100 comp tickets to share among their friends and family, without any expectations attached. But when Guaico offered artists these tickets, many responded by asking, “Are these tickets something I need to sell?”

Three fairgoers get their feet massaged.

(Adali Schell / For The Times)

Amanda Stevenson.

Amanda Stevenson.

(Adali Schell / For The Times)

Mark Naranjo.

Mark Naranjo.

(Adali Schell / For The Times)

“No, these aren’t for sale,” he told them. “These are your comps so you can invite all your friends and family, and people that can’t [normally] come to see you play like your little nephews and nieces that would enjoy the fair but also get to see their uncle play on stage.”

Guaico was right.

The all-ages festival invites smaller fans to finally see their family members perform live on stage, an opportunity that indie/alternative rock band The Voxes didn’t take for granted.

The Voxes hail from the San Fernando Valley and have been making music since 2013. However, most of their performances have been at bars, clubs and 18-and-over festivals, so their nieces and nephews have seen them perform only on YouTube and begged to go to The Voxes’ next show.

Stepping up the stage to perform at the fest, the band saw a new crowd of eager fans wearing T-shirts with “The Voxes” emblazoned across their chests. The fans knew every word to every song and danced around with one another, taking pictures and recording the performance.

This crowd of people weren’t just super fans — they were family. They had driven from the Valley and were made up of siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews, partners and the in-betweens.

“It’s a very proud moment just to see them out there and enjoy what they love to do. They’ve been doing this for so many years,” said Martin Alcantar, a family member of one of The Voxes. “They’re really pushing and striving because that’s what the family is here for, to give them that extra push to just keep going.”

Between the music, the connections and the exposure for so many talented artists, Guaico says it’s the excitement and enthusiasm from the local music scene that push him and his team to the next level.

“I think that’s the most important thing for all of us is doing work that matters to the artists and seeing them really, genuinely appreciative of what we’re doing,” he said. “Because it motivates us to want to work harder and better for next year.”

Joshua Villarreal and Amia Martinez kiss.

Joshua Villarreal and Amia Martinez kiss.

(Adali Schell / For The Times)

A festivalgoer poses in a pop-up tent.

(Adali Schell / For The Times)

Two people wait outside the Los Angeles County Fair.

(Adali Schell / For The Times)

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