X-Fest hopes to keep the vibe alive in Stockton

Rapper T-Pain will headline this year’s Xclamation Festival, Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016, at the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds in Stockton.
Rapper T-Pain will headline this year’s Xclamation Festival, Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016, at the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds in Stockton. Associated Press file

For the first time in its history, X-Fest won’t be taking it to the streets.

The outdoor music festival moves from its downtown Modesto home to the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds in Stockton this year. But while the location may have changed, Xclamation Festival founder and promoter Chris Ricci promises the same multistage, multigenre experience to concertgoers. Headlining on Aug. 20 will be hip-hop stars T-Pain and Sage the Gemini as well as rock acts Suicidal Tendencies and The Expendables.

“It’s a very convenient location. It’s 20 minutes from downtown Modesto. So it’s easy to get to. X-Fest is still a great, low-cost summer night out with friends,” Ricci said.

The change of venue came after a prolonged permit battle between the city of Modesto and Ricci. The event, now in its 17th year, had been held across several blocks in downtown Modesto since its inception in 2000. It regularly drew 15,000 to the city streets to listen to music, drink and dance.

While Ricci ultimately prevailed and received his permit after a more than four-hour City Council meeting in April, he said new demands from the city on law enforcement and private security levels made costs too high to be workable.

So in June it was announced Ricci and company were moving the party to Stockton. There, he said, he has lower security and logistical costs. The enclosed fairgrounds will have 150 bands playing on 24 stages spread across about 100 acres. Ricci said ticket sales are about on par with where they were this time last year, and he again expects around 15,000 people.

Drawing them in will be a slew of national headliners. Like in recent years, some of the biggest names will come from the world of hip-hop. Rappers T-Pain and Sage the Gemini will play on the main Talk of the Town stage, which will also host rising hip-hop stars Iamsu! and Honey C. But the event is also beefing up its rock lineup, with headliners Suicidal Tendencies and the Expendables on the Hawk Stage.

This year Ricci said he added a handful of additional stages, the result of partnering with Stockton promoters as well as bringing along almost all of his previous stage managers from Modesto.

“We just listened to people, and they wanted more rock, so we made sure to get more great rock headliners,” he said. “We try to listen to our customers give them what they want. I think we did this year.”

The marquee name this year is hip-hop star T-Pain. The rapper has had a string of hits including “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’), “I’m N Luv (Wit a Stripper)” and “Bartender.” He is perhaps best known for his signature use of autotune, a voice processor that corrects and distorts human pitch. The superstar even launched a successful iPhone app allowing people to simulate the effect, called “I Am T-Pain.”

“Yeah, I think people are really excited to see T-Pain. He’s won Grammys and sold multiple platinum records. He is a massive artist and certainly one of the biggest ones we’ve ever had,” Ricci said.

Ricci holding this year’s event in a new venue didn’t impact his ability to book big acts. He said, as always, he picked the artists based on the demographics of the market.

Suicidal Tendencies is a Venice Beach-born crossover thrash band founded by vocalist vocalist Mike Muir in 1983. The band was one of the first punk groups to receive heavy rotation on the then-new MTV. Its singles include “Institutionalized,” “Send Me Your Money,” “Nobody Hears” and “I’ll Hate You Better.” The Expendables is a Santa Cruz reggae rock band that had hits with “Bowl for Two” and “Sacrifice.”

Like in years past, the bulk of the performers will be local and regional bands. Stages will highlight everything from Central Valley-based rock, metal, rap, EDM and beyond.

But music isn’t the only attraction at the 21-and-over event. A professional wrestling stage returns to the event. And this year there will be more food and merchandise vendors to make up for the lack of surrounding shops and restaurants. Ricci also said festivalgoers will notice the new fairgrounds site has easier and plentiful parking as well as existing restroom facilities. Stages will also be closer together.

Still, Ricci doesn’t deny that moving to an enclosed site like the Stockton fairgrounds will change the atmosphere of the event.

“We’re missing all the flavor we had in downtown Modesto with the businesses, and that’s obviously a huge loss for us,” he said. “But I think that people in Stockton are excited to have it there, and people in Modesto are upset it left.”

As for X-Fest’s future, Ricci said nothing has been decided about next year yet. But if the numbers work out, he would be open to moving it back to Modesto.

“I’m not thinking about next year yet. But I am a Modestan, and this is my home, and X-Fest has always been in Modesto,” he said. “So our door is always open.”

Marijke Rowland: 209-578-2284, @marijkerowland


When: 5 p.m.-1 a.m., Saturday, Aug. 20

Where: San Joaquin County Fairgrounds, 1658 S. Airport Way, Stockton

Tickets: General $20 advance, $30 gate; express $30 advance, $40 gate

Online: www.xfest209.com