//Free the Festive Grizzly

Free the Festive Grizzly

Getting to know the man behind Fresno’s highly anticipated Grizzly Fest

By I. smiley G. Calderón | smileygcalderon@gmail.com

I was pretty damn lucky to be able to schedule a recent sit-down interview with Fresno’s original guru of Grizzly Fest himself – the man, the myth, the legend – Mr. Aren Hekimian.  To say that he’s busy at this time of the year is a serious understatement.  Most people just don’t know or appreciate the incredible amount of work, skill, and time that go into planning and executing a successful live music and arts festival – especially one like Grizzly Fest that brings only the best and most exciting musicians and artists from around the country straight to small-time Fresno to entertain thousands.

And, it’s no easy feat, either.

I could feel the palpable aura of hard work and sacrifice emanating in the room while sitting in Mr. Hekimian’s makeshift office inside the small Grizzly Fest box office at the River Park mall.  Behind the curtain where we sat, I was surrounded by boxes upon boxes of Grizzly Fest material and paraphernalia.  Blood, sweat, and tears were all I could think of as I listened to Mr. Hekimian passionately recount the exciting origins of Grizzly Fest and the eventful journey that finally led him and his team to Northeast Fresno’s Woodward Park – the most strategic and best venue in the Central Valley for his event.

And, Mr. Hekimian is the perfect man for the job, too – a young Fresnan professional that genuinely understands Fresno’s unique culture with its vibrant emerging art and music communities.  In fact, with his specialized entertainment experience and business acumen, you might even say that Mr. Hekimian is Fresno’s only man for this Herculean task of meeting Fresno’s rising demand for world-class live entertainment.  His goal for Grizzly Fest is simple and sweet, too: To bring culture, art, and music to Fresno.  Who can argue with that?

Believe it or not, there are some in the city who have dedicated themselves to doing just that.

Incredible as it may seem, it’s no secret that some Fresnans don’t feel at ease with having such an innovative and dynamic show in town.  Certain Fresnans are uncomfortable with Grizzly Fest and don’t want its youthful excitement anywhere near them in their backyard – specifically at Woodward Park.  Instead, they want to keep the Grizzly caged downtown.  Even city Councilmember Garry “No Grizzly Fest” Bredefeld, who represents Northeast Fresno, acknowledges that “it is a wonderful event,” but in the same breath insists that he doesn’t “believe it belongs in Woodward Park.” Instead, he asserts: “I believe it belongs downtown…”  But why?

The noise.

Really?  Is that how Councilmember Bredefeld truly sees world-class music and entertainment – as noise?  He said he received about 100 complaints from his constituents last year about the event and he is committed to having the festival moved out of Woodward Park for the future.  Clearly, Councilmember Bredefeld sees Grizzly Fest as a nuisance and wants it and the kinds of people who enjoy its brand of music out of his district – for good.

But that’s why I highly esteem Mr. Hekimian, a very personable and respectful guy who probably would be a little bit irked that I keep on referring to him as “Mr.” when he casually introduces himself as Aren.  In response to the complaints of loud music late at night during last year’s Grizzly Fest, Aren personally proposed and requested to modify this year’s festival to end an hour and a half earlier – at 10 pm instead of at 11:30 pm – to purposefully and directly address the late-night noise complaints.  Wow – talk about considerate professionalism!  Aren doesn’t ignore community complaints about his event, like other businessmen in his shoes might have done – instead, he listens and takes action.  What an example!

And that’s how I first met Aren.  I attended the City Council meeting on April 4th, and as I typically do, I sat in the back on the first floor.  And, right next to me, sat Aren.  I didn’t know who he was – I didn’t even know what Grizzly Fest was at the time.  (I’m new to town and am slowly getting to know Fresno).  But then when Councilmember Caprioglio of District 4 invited Aren to the podium to talk about the economic benefit of last year’s Grizzly Fest, I was shocked to see the guy sitting right next to me casually walk up to the microphone and respectfully address the council.  He explained how last year’s Grizzly Fest impacted Fresno’s local economy to the tune of 3-6 million dollars and that at least 16,000 people attended the event.  What a success!  Yet, he warned: “It’s not logistically possible for the festival to continue operating downtown.”  As a businessman, Aren knows that numbers don’t lie.  The best place for Grizzly Fest is Woodward Park.  Period.

Hell, if Woodward Park itself could talk, I’m sure that it wouldn’t be able to stop talking about the sizzly Grizzly and all of the fun and excitement that he brings when he’s around that one weekend out of the year – the cool music and good vibes – not to mention the incredibly fresh food and drinks.  Grizzly Fest is a family affair, and all ages are welcome to attend – and everyone knows that Woodward Park loves families.  The best event for Woodward Park is Grizzly Fest.  Period.

Still, as an excuse to conceal his disdain for the kind of music that Grizzly Fest will exhibit and the types of people that it attracts, Councilmember Bredefeld had this to say about his colleagues: “I think the council turned their back on helping downtown by not having it there.”  If anything, Councilmember Bredefeld should thank Aren for bringing Grizzly Fest to his exclusive district.  District 6 could use an extra dose of culture, art, and music – even if it is only for a couple of days out of the year.

Yet, Aren keeps a positive outlook about his interactions with the city.  In our interview, when I asked him if he felt if the city was making it hard for him to produce successful Grizzly Fests, he disagreed.  “I believe we have forward thinking people on our city council – everyone wants what’s best – and I respect that,” he told me with conviction in his eyes.  He understands that the council only wants to ensure that Fresno is host to the very best possible event – one that’s safe and fun for everyone.  And Aren agrees.  “For us, we just want to provide something the city can be proud of,” he said with a smile.

At the end of our interview, I could tell that Aren had another long day and night ahead of him as he tirelessly works to finalize any last-minute details to make this year’s Grizzly Fest as perfect as possible.  It’s exhausting, but he reminded me: “It’s a shame if you got the tools to do something great but don’t use them.”  Exactly.  And, it’s encouraging that the city is finally recognizing Grizzly Fest for the wholesome family fun event that it truly is.  Mr. Aren Hekimian, the Grizzly incarnate, is ready and willing to put in the work to get Fresno on the entertainment map of California – all we need to do is free this Festive Grizzly and let him do what he does best: bring culture, art, and music to his hometown.