by Chris Peterson
Kahoutek. “Say again?” “I said Kahoutek.” “Oh, I’m sorry. Gesundheit!”
This may sound quite silly, perhaps even senseless. But at one time in this area called the Pomona Valley, the Kahoutek Music Festival at the Claremont Colleges used to be the premier concert event for the entire year. Everybody made an effort to attend.
Nowadays, the general consensus among La Vernians tends to be, “What is Kahoutek?”
“Well, it definitely isn’t what it used to be. The festival used to feature three days of music, vendors and food, all of which was free of charge, with the exception of the food,” said Mike Thomlinson of Santa Ana.
This year, much to the dismay of most in attendance, the festival featured only one afternoon and one evening of music at an insane price of $12 per day for general admission and $6 per day for Claremont Colleges students.
The festival, which has been a hot spot for college students and vendors to come together for a weekend of peace, diverse music and a taste of multicultural ambience, has turned into a security ridden, musically-painful experience.
Hepcat, the headlining band for Friday, the first day of the festival, has been probably the greatest example of a quality ska band to enter southern California’s realm in this decade. They have enjoyed great success at smaller venues throughout the world and sell out at almost every show in which they play.
However, that did not seem to matter to the promoters of the festival considering that there were roughly 200 fans in a grass field area that could hold up to 9,000 during Hepcat’s show.
Hepcat’s disappointment was apparent when they refused to go back on stage and play an encore despite the support of the few die-hard fans in the audience.
Reed Houston, a student at Cal State Fullerton said, “I’ve been coming here for five years. It used to be a lot more fun. They don’t even allow or serve alcohol anymore.”
Despite the small turnout on day one, hardcore Kahoutek followers left Friday’s show with a ska beat in their heads and a feeling of hope that Saturday’s offering would prove to be more reminiscent of the Kahoutek of old.
Faithful festival goers showed up Saturday to the pleasant sight of a rather sizable crowd.
The numbers for Saturday’s shows were estimated to peak at around 1,700, a considerable increase from the previous day.
Day two proved to be more entertaining than the first. There were more vendors, more people, more bands, and more DJ’s, all topped off at the end of the night by MCA recording artists The Roots, a hip hop band made up of instrumentalists and emcees that create and perform all of their own music.
The numbers for Saturday’s show can be somewhat deceiving due to the fact that approximately half of the people in attendance showed up just before The Roots played at 10:30 p.m.
Making the drive all the way from San Diego, Tony Howser, 27, said, “It’s pretty obvious that most of the people here came to see The Roots. There was nobody here before they started playing. And now look, it’s packed.”
The Roots have enjoyed much success in the past few months their album, “Things Fall Apart” peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard R&B top 20, and has reached as high as No. 4 on the Billboard top 200.
Despite the headliner bands and faithful fans, Kahoutek has experienced a decline in popularity over the past few years.
“I really think the festival has gone downhill, there used to be a lot of things that were much better about it,” said Mark Hornaday, owner of The Hemp Shak in Claremont.
“The merchandise sales for my store at this festival have definitely decreased over the past few years. It’s a result of less bands and the price of the tickets.”
Meagan Kilmer, 23, a student at Scripps College in Claremont, had this to say: “Kahoutek used to be Claremont’s answer to Woodstock. Everyone was happy and free. The bands played really cheap and there were way more vendors.
“Now there are only one or two vendors, less bands and worst of all, you have to pay an arm and a leg to get in here.”
It seemed that most of the people that attended the festival were disappointed, there were a great deal that felt otherwise.
Melanie Agrodnyzcak of Upland has been to the festival for the past three years. “I think it’s a blast. I always have a good time here. There is just a lot of good things going on all around you out here.”
“It is a good show. I mean they pulled in a pretty good turnout tonight [Saturday] for a really good band [the Roots],” said Hornaday, whose attendance has been consistent for the past eight years.
“There used to be a much more diverse supply of music here. Now it’s pretty much all the same.”