In the months leading up to the 2016 debut of Music Tastes Good, Abbie Fischel watched and listened as her husband Josh Fischel realized his long-held dream of mixing cool music and great food to create a new festival in downtown Long Beach.
“I was getting phone calls from him probably every hour for the year,” she says. “You know, ‘This happened! And then this happened!’ But it was neat because every day there was some new addition for the festival.”
Josh Fischel, was born in Orange County, lived in the San Fernando Valley, but truly loved his adopted hometown of Long Beach. He was a lifelong musician who later branched out into promoting shows. And Music Tastes Good was his baby, his most ambitious endeavor, and his joy as it all came together was inspiring to see, Abbie Fischel says.
“Watching him work on it, watching it actually come together, I mean, that dude, he was so stoked every single day,” Fischel says. “It was incredibly stressful and an incredibly big undertaking.
“But Josh tended to dream big.”
The inaugural Music Tastes Good went off to critical and popular acclaim in September 2016, but four days after it ended, Fischel was dead. At 47, the liver disease he’d battled took him years before he and his doctors had expected.
And if Music Tastes Good had died with Fischel a year ago, well, that would have been fitting in a way, the first and only staging of the festival serving as an epitaph for its creator.
But as the return of Music Tastes Good this weekend for a second year proves, sometimes from death a rebirth emerges.
Abbie Fischel met her future husband at one of his solo acoustic shows at a Lakewood bar now long gone on Valentine’s Day in 2009.
“I totally tried to flirt with him in between his sets,” she says. “We ended up hanging out as friends for a couple of months and eventually got together.”
They married on Sept. 3, 2011, and over their years together Abbie Fischel says her husband was constantly thinking of new ways to bring new music and stages to life in Long Beach, such as founding RIOTstage, a music and theater company, and eventually settling on the idea that became Music Tastes Good.
“We were at breakfast one day with (longtime friend) John Molina, and Josh had not given me any pre-warning,” Fischel says. “He always had a million ideas going on, and just started talking about, ‘You know what we should do? We should do a major music festival downtown. And it can be this and it can be that.’
“He’s saying it like it’s nothing, and I’m like, ‘This is a major undertaking, and it’s awesome, and sounds brilliant, you know,’” she says.
As it took shape Josh Fischel excitedly called his wife each day to update her – on the booking of such eclectic acts as Dr. Dog, the Specials, Iron and Wine, and Warpaint, on the increasingly important aspect of food and drink.
“It really was literally watching someone have their dreams realized,” she says. “I felt like that was my biggest role, to be a witness and a supporter of this whole thing for him.”
The inaugural fest closed out with headliner De La Soul on the main stage on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016. Fischel’s death on Sept. 29 was a surprise to everyone who knew him despite his struggles with liver disease.
His medical team had been optimistic, Abbie Fischel says. “They were saying things like, ‘You might not ever need a liver transplant,’ or, ‘It would be 10 years, if ever,’” she says.
“A lot of people have asked me that: ‘Did you guys know but you just weren’t saying anything?’” she says. “I always say, ‘If Josh was dying everyone would know.’ He would have wanted to say goodbye to everybody.”
While Josh Fischel had envisioned Music Tastes Good as an annual event, in the immediate aftermath of his death and the grief that followed no one thought of its future. Then Molina, who had provided some of the backing for the first year, said he’d like to see it continue as long as Abbie Fischel wanted it to.
“I was like, ‘Oh hell, yeah, of course!’” she says.
To do so, Abbie Fischel says they formed “a three-headed monster” to fill Josh Fischel’s irreplaceable role. She handled what she describes as “Josh-vision,” sharing her views on “what would Josh do.” One of his brothers, Zach Fischel, who is also a musician and promoter, brought his experience into the mix. And Chris Watson, another music industry friend and colleague, who’d handled marketing for the first year, took on the role of creative director.
Beyond them, many of the team that worked on the first year stayed with the festival too, including managing director Megan Blome and talent buyer Jon Halperin.
“I can’t say enough about how our team has taken this on,” Abbie Fischel says. “Because it is an immense task with huge shoes to fill, and it’s all laced with grief. They’re all suffering this loss too, and have just taken it on with just huge amounts of loyalty and passion.”
Josh Fischel died a year ago on Sept. 29 and the festival starts the next day, a coincidence of timing that Abbie Fischel describes as bizarre and intense.
“There’s sadness and being overwhelmed with the loss,” she says. “But then just this intense gratitude, because a lot of people have loss and don’t have something like this to carry them.
“They don’t have a team of people working to carry on their husband’s legacy and this beautiful vision that could have died with him.”
This year the fest has fest moved from the East Village Arts District to Marina Green Park, increased the heft of the food components – there’s a New Orleans-to-Long Beach theme in some of the programming – and with acts from the riot girl rock of Sleater-Kinney, the oddballs of Ween, British band Ride, and Southern California legends Los Lobos, stayed more than true to the wildly varied sounds that inspired Josh Fischel.
“Yeah, I think he’d have a pretty big smile on his face right now,” Abbie Fischel says.
She and the rest of the team have talked about the importance of taking time to reflect on both the anniversary of Josh Fischel’s death and the second coming of Music Tastes Good at some point on Saturday and Sunday.
“We need to pause and be like, ‘Holy (bleep), we did this,’” she says. “And I do think that’s one of the best ways to honor Josh. Josh was very intentional about doing that last year. He handled a lot of stress and took it on very well, but I had moments with him that were just beautiful, where we really paused and took it in together.”
And once the weekend is done?
“I literally have no idea,” Fischel says. “I have thought about the week after a lot. I could be stoked. I could completely fall apart. I don’t know!”
She laughs, and says that just as the run-up to the festival has been an intense bag of emotions, so too will be whatever follows.
“Like I’ve said, it’s to his vision,” Fischel says. “I think think we’ll all have something that we’re all going to be really proud of.”
Josh Fischel’s Music Tastes Good
When: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 30 and Sunday, Oct. 1
Where: Marina Green Park, 386 E. Shoreline Drive, Long Beach
How much:GA tickets for music are $75 for single days or $135 for both days. GA tickets for both music and the taste tent are $150 for single days or $270 for both days. VIP tickets which include music, the taste tent and other amenities are $220 for single days or $400 for both days.
For more: mtglb.co
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