Dilated Peoples performed at the 2017 Grizzly Fest, which hosted 8,500 people at its peak. This year, festival staff anticipates almost 25,000 people between two days. The new venue at Woodward Park will not only be able to hold the influx of people, but twice as many vendors as well. Photo by Craig Nakano.
Written by Edward Smith
When Janna Melkonian learned there were no vegan vendors at this year’s Grizzly Fest, she saw an opportunity to get her name out to the public. Not wanting to do the event by herself, she reached out to Ashley Hankins of Eat Figs Not Pigs and Julia Heed of Lively Soul Shop to collaborate and test out their vegan fare before a projected crowd of 25,000 people next weekend.
Grizzly Fest is bringing people to Fresno from across the world May 18-19 to see headliners including Nas, Snoop Dogg, Foster the People and dozens of others at Woodward Park. For local businesses, both inside and outside the festival, this means an opportunity to test new ideas, generate buzz and capitalize on being close to the party.
While Melkonian’s business, Rappit Up, normally does catering and prepared meals for shops including Rio Acai or Collect Coffee Bar, she’ll be trying something new for the music lovers at the festival. Her Grub-wrap is a vegan play on the Crunchwrap from Taco bell with white rice, pinto beans and vegan sour cream. It’s topped with her own Rappit Up hot sauce that she says, “Definitely has a kick.”
Hankins will be doing a deep-friend vegan mac and cheese with a truffle sauce and bacon bits that she insists will fool conventional food lovers.
“If you blindfolded someone and let them taste test I could almost guarantee they couldn’t tell the difference,” Hankins said.
Aren Hekimian, CEO of the I.A.N. Group, which has put on Grizzly Fest from the start, said the new location at Woodward Park is allowing him to bring in 32 food trucks, compared to the maximum of 11 he could get into Chukchansi Stadium, where Grizzly Fest was last year.
“Now you’re able to offer people a variety and kind of create competition within the food trucks,” said Hekimian. “Competition always brings the best out of people.”
Both Bobby Salazar’s and El Premio Mayor will have their food trucks there with award-winning tacos in addition to their usual fare. For Grizzly Fest, El Premio Mayor will also be featuring bacon-wrapped burritos from their secret menu. It’s very popular, according to Bianca Loza, event coordinator at El Premio Mayor.
Pita Kabob will have its food truck there with a new item —Grizzly Chips.
The lineup this year is attracting a worldwide crowd. The I.A.N. Group contracted with Elevate Ticketing, who does reporting for other music festivals like Coachella and Stagecoach.
Tickets are being sold in Great Britain, France, Sweden, Switzerland, as well as the Midwest, and from New York to Florida.
“We’re probably going to bring in 500-plus people from outside the state of California,” said Hekimian.
Hekimian wanted to see the festival grow beyond the stadium, and the I.A.N. Group fought hard to get the city to approve the move to Woodward Park, where he says he can accommodate more than 20,000 people at one time. Last year, at Chukchansi Stadium they had about 8,500 people at their peak.
“You add another 1,000, 1,500 people to that, you can’t move on that field. That’s when you start getting issues,” said Hekimian.
Compared to last year, Hekimian said sales up 50 percent from where they were at the same time last year. They sold out of 2-day VIP passes in two months so it appears the almost-doubled price for tickets hasn’t deterred buyers.
There have been rumblings about the increased price, but Hekimian says the now much larger festival justifies the markup. With live-art performances throughout the park, two multi-platinum-selling headliners and a Ferris wheel, Hekimian envisions Grizzly Fest as a regional music festival rather than just a local one.
“We’re basically producing a festival how a festival needs to be produced,” said Hekimian. “So we can compete with other regional festivals and nationally known festivals.”
The excitement around Grizzly Fest has caused other businesses to recognize the opportunity.
The Standard at River View Shopping Center is partnering with Firestone Walker Brewing Company and El Jefe Tequila — two sponsors for the festival — for a pre-and-post party at the restaurant.
Four golf carts from Central California Valet will run to and from The Standard to the park for people who don’t want to walk, according to Raj Bisla, owner of the restaurant. The party will begin both days at 2 p.m. and pick back up at 9 p.m., going until 2 a.m.
Others, however, are concerned about what the festival will bring.
Bob Sullivan, co-owner of Starving Artists Bistro, is having a musical event he said he booked before Grizzly Fest.
“I wish I could get a noise permit that lets me play my music until midnight,” Sullivan said.
He is worried that the event will conflict with his, especially when it comes to parking.
“If I don’t have parking stalls in my first three parking lines, people don’t come in,” said Sullivan.
He also worries about what large crowds can bring.
“There are people who prey on events,” Sullivan said. Large crowds can mean opportunities for people to break into cars parked in the lot across the street from Woodward.
“I’m a big supporter of anything that brings business without destruction,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan worries that with the recent legalization of recreational marijuana, it will become “Fresno’s first pot-fest.”
“We have established that Fresno has a price and if you kick them some money you can make events happen,” said Sullivan.