MODESTO -- The secret to the success of X-Fest, Modesto's mammoth downtown music festival set for Saturday, is that it makes musical changes every year, said promoter Chris Ricci.
Since the annual festival started in 2000, Ricci has dumped blues and acoustic acts and added more DJs and hip-hop, and he's bumped up the classic rock acts from the 1970s to the '80s.
"From other events like the Lilith Fair, H.O.R.D.E. Festival and Lollapalooza, I learned that you must evolve your activities and artist themes to the times," Ricci said in an e-mail. "These festivals were unable to change as the tastes of people moved on to new genres and experiences."
Fans keep showing up year after year to X-Fest 18,000 attended last summer's event. This year's festival features 60 bands on 12 stages between H and J streets and 10th and 13th streets. The 21-and-older event includes reggae, hip-hop, metal and Latin music. It also will have a roller derby, wrestling matches, a female model mud-wrestling pit, a foam dance party and lots of adult beverages.
"It's a great tourist draw and it's a cool way to showcase Modesto," said Jennifer Mullen, chief executive officer and executive director of the Modesto Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Mullen said she starts getting calls months in advance from people in the Bay Area, Sacramento and Fresno who want to know the date of the festival. "We get not just people in their 20s," she said. "We get a little older, also, which is neat."
'Best party' in Central Valley
One of the co-founders of the Los Banos country hip-hop band Moonshine Bandits said Modesto should be proud of the event. Big cities have major music festivals, but fewer cities Modesto's size have them, said the musician, who goes by the stage name Bird and tours with the band all over the country.
"I know people will complain about who (Ricci) brings in, who they got or didn't get," said Bird, who will perform with the group Saturday. "But every year, it's the best party in the Central Valley no matter who plays it. The majority of the bands are great bands. I think it's very special for Modesto to host this event."
Not everyone, of course, is a fan. In past years, merchants have complained that festivalgoers trashed restaurants and bars and that producers failed to clean up the streets the next morning. Some restaurants and shops within the X-Fest borders have closed during the event, and others have said their business suffers that day.
But Modesto hotels love X-Fest, Mullen said. Many offer special packages for the festival weekend and sell out. Reema Chandra, general manager of the Courtyard Marriott Hotel, said she has just seven of 125 rooms open Saturday. The hotel has offered a shuttle to and from the festival for three years. The Clarion Hotel also offers a shuttle.
Richard Perry, program director for the 104.1FM The Hawk classic rock station, which is sponsoring a stage, said listeners look forward to X-Fest.
"It is like the old Graffiti Nights on McHenry you have to be there," he said in an e-mail. "There is something for everyone
and they have kept the price the same the entire time $20 in advance. That is a huge bargain."
Lessons in locale
Ricci said he has learned many lessons about how to run a festival from Street Scene, a summer music festival in San Diego that ran from 1984 to 2009. It was his inspiration for X-Fest.
Ricci thought that festival worked best when it was downtown and fizzled after it moved to Qualcomm Stadium in 2005.
"People that don't understand X-Fest suggest I move X-Fest to John Thurman Field quite often," Ricci said. "This move to Qualcomm ultimately killed the festival. It never really found a home again, moving from the stadium to a corporate amphitheater and then finally back to an urban location, but it never really got traction again."
He said he also learned the importance of keeping a low, consistent ticket price.
"I strive to keep my talent costs consistent in order to deliver customers a reasonable ticket price," he said. "There is always the temptation to spend tens of thousands more for that next biggest thing. The ability to keep control of your budget is one of the biggest challenges to keeping your event successful."
Joe "MoJoe" Roberts, program director of the KWIN and KHOP radio stations, both of which have sponsored stages at X-Fest, thinks the event has succeeded because it offers a good time.
"I think the longevity is due to the fact that we are starved for high-quality entertainment," he said. "We don't have to drive to the Bay Area or Fresno or Sacramento. It's right here in Modesto. I can't think of another big music festival in the area that would even come close."
Gates open for X-Fest at 5 p.m. Saturday in downtown Modesto. The music begins at 6. For details, look in today's Scene section or visit www.xfestmodesto.com.
Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan Renner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2313.
For coverage after Saturday's X-Fest, check www.modbee.com for video, photos and more. On Twitter, follow Lisa Renner (@MilleganRenner), who will be tweeting live throughout the night from downtown Modesto.