This is the time of year when Mike Caccavalla’s blood pressure begins to rise. This isn’t a surprise if you know him; many in San Pedro do.
It’s the beginning of June, and in a few weeks, Caccavalla, 62, will be walking onto the stage at Point Fermin Park in front of more than 2,000 people to introduce the first band at this year’s Music by the Sea concert series. It’s a walk he’s done for nearly three decades as the co-founder and lead organizer of the event, which, for many, marks San Pedro’s “unofficial official” beginning of summer.
“It’s one big family gathering backyard party, is what I call it,” says Caccavalla, who’s also the current executive chef at San Pedro Meals on Wheels.
And he’s right. Since 1995, Music by the Sea has become one of the town’s most beloved annual events and is quintessentially San Pedro. The crowd is always multigenerational and eclectic, ranging from new families enjoying the park for the first time to old timers reliving their glory days and everyone in between.
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but with the Pacific Ocean and Catalina Island backdrop, a constant ocean breeze, and hours of live music, Music by the Sea has always had the ingredients for a perfect summer Sunday afternoon.
FILLING THE STAGE
The problem was simple: the stage at Point Fermin Park was underutilized, and the City of Los Angeles was interested in activating it for local events. What that meant in 1994, no one knew yet.
Caccavalla recalls sitting with a group at Angels Gate Park that year to discuss the possibilities. “We were at the Korean Bell, and somebody had mentioned that back in the 1970s, they used to have concerts [at Point Fermin Park] all the time,” he says.
That idea caught wind, and by the following summer, the City of L.A.’s Department of Recreation and Parks, with the help of Caccavalla and several volunteers, was organizing the newly named Music by the Sea concert series.
“The first year we had it, I think maybe 300 people showed up, and we thought it was the best thing that ever happened,” he laughs.
Also born out of these talks was Shakespeare by the Sea, the summer stock sister company to Little Fish Theatre, founded by Lisa Coffi, who was also involved in those early talks. Shakespeare by the Sea would debut a few years later in 1998 and continues to produce two productions in repertory (this year it’s Twelfth Night and Hamlet) every summer at Point Fermin Park.
“[Rec and Parks] decided that they were going to fund [Music by the Sea]. They were going to pay the bands. Everything was covered by them,” recalls Caccavalla, who once owned Downtown Subs and More and Boca Activewear in Downtown San Pedro in the early 2000s. “They ran it for five or six years, and then the director said they couldn’t afford it anymore. We had a committee of 15 people. Everybody was involved. But when the City walked away, we lost all that.”
Not wanting to abandon the event altogether, the department said if San Pedro wanted it to continue, they needed to do it independently.
“They said, ‘If you want to continue it, then you guys need to take it over,’” remembers Caccavalla. “At that point, it was me, Dean Stuyvesant, and Jerry Butera who decided we wanted to keep it going.”
The concert series has always been a four-to-six-week affair, lasting from the end of June to the beginning of August, depending on the calendar. In the early years, the concerts were the perfect lead-in to the Taste in San Pedro, which the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce used to run every August at Point Fermin Park until 2010.
Picking and scheduling which bands will play the series each year has always been an arduous process. Music by the Sea currently has four bands playing each Sunday. Fortunately for Caccavalla, he switched to a lottery system a few years ago to take the pressure off of picking the bands himself and hasn’t looked back.
“We went to the lottery system and opened it up to everybody,” he explains. “We meet at Godmothers on this date. One representative of the band had to be there. Not your mom, a representative of the band. You filled out a card and put it in the hopper.”
Like any event in San Pedro these days, funding is always an issue, and the concert series is no different in its quest each year to keep the music playing. Although entirely volunteer-run, Music by the Sea is not a nonprofit. Instead, they partner with the nonprofit Unite to Fight Blood Cancers. Any funds left over after expenses are donated to them.
According to Caccavalla, this year’s series will cost $42,000 to produce, including hiring security, paying the bands, and all the ancillary expenses of event organizing. In addition to holding local fundraisers this year, Music by the Sea has a GoFundMe page where people can donate directly to the organization. (See the link at the end of the story.) On concert days, volunteers sell raffle tickets featuring prizes donated by local businesses and “pass the hat” seeking cash donations.
Even though Music by the Sea describes itself as an event for all ages, things have gotten a little hairy in the past. Although alcohol is prohibited in the park and professional security officers are at the event, it doesn’t stop people from sneaking drinks in and overindulging, sometimes causing problems for the people around them.
“Something stupid can bring it down. Especially considering we are now running it,” warns Caccavalla. “It’s a backyard party. And when you’re hosting and people aren’t following the rules….” He doesn’t finish the sentence, but the intonation is clear. If you’re going to come and enjoy the music, come and enjoy the music. Just don’t be a jerk.
LABOR OF LOVE
When asked why he continues to volunteer his time and energy and put himself through the stress and anguish of organizing this six-week concert event every year, Caccavalla self-deprecatingly quips, “Because I’m an idiot.”
Obviously, that’s not the case. As a man who’s been an active member of the San Pedro community since he arrived in 1991, the Brooklyn-born San Pedran found a home here. This is his way of giving back.
“I’m not born and raised here, and it’s really hard to get into Pedro, especially when I got here,” explains Caccavalla. “If you weren’t from here, you were alienated. They let you do things, but you were never on the inside. And then having the two businesses downtown and everything else, and being accepted, I literally turned around and said, ‘I want to do this. Let me do this. It’s something I know how to do.’”
For him, the sense of community generated by Music by the Sea is worth all the hassles. “That’s the best part, is that friends that were together last night are all together again in the park, and they’re cooking, and they’re having fun, and they’re listening to music, and they’re seeing other people that they haven’t seen in a while,” he says. “As I said, it’s one big family gathering backyard party.” spt
MUSIC BY THE SEA 2023 LINE-UP
Sunday, June 25
Dirty Ice Cream
Monsters on Vacation
Sunday, July 2
Hand of Doom
Herway to Hell
Sean Lane & The Hellhounds
Sunday, July 9
The Harbor Groove Band
Sunday, July 16
One Flight Up
Rise Like the Sun
Sunday, July 23
Michael Forbes Explosion Band
Under the Sun
Down the Hatch
Sunday, July 30
In Contempt Revue
11:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. at Point Fermin Park
To donate to Music by the Sea, visit gofund.me/8baa5c03.
Music by the Sea runs Sundays starting June 25 through July 30 from 11:30a-5p at Point Fermin Park (807 W. Paseo Del Mar). For more info, visit musicbythesea.rocks.