Riverside is known for a lot of things—mostly its citrus-packed past and being really far away from anything hip. But with an army of local artists, musicians and volunteers, Riverside resident Alaska (a.k.a. Stephanie Whelan) is trying to create a local artistic institution through the Saturation Fest. And she may just pull it off.
Alaska is an IE native who grew up in the cultural wasteland that was/is Chino Hills, and would often flee her confining confines for what she saw as the artistic oasis of Claremont Village. She often read poetry at now-defunct Nick’s Café, alongside seminal IE spoken-worders Poets In Distress (former member Mr. P performs—not reads, performs—at this year’s Saturation Fest).
After leaving the IE, Alaska spent a few years traveling up and down the east coast, perfecting her writing and competing in poetry slams. Her sojourn eventually lead her back to pre-downtown-arts-walk-era Riverside around 2000, where she noticed that, for a city hosting such a burgeoning, creative art scene, there wasn’t much of a community forum for artists to collaborate ideas and display their creative endeavors.
“I could have decided to stay anywhere,” she says, “but I chose Riverside because I was really young and idealistic and everyone I was meeting there was either a writer or an artist or a musician or all three. There really isn’t any place like it. It’s a really good community of people who are all involved and really help support each other. Riverside is saturated with artists, and they’re all friends. Hence, Saturation Fest.”
To try and fill a community gap that she saw among the city’s creatives, Alaska decided to throw a show that people “would actually want to go see,” and Saturation Fest was born. The first fest in 2001 was only one day long, and she was able to throw it together in a scant three weeks.
This year’s fest is much more ambitious. The 11-day, eight-venue event will host tons of amazing local bands (and some local-ish bands, like über-punks Mika Miko and homoerotic electro-rockers Captain Ahab), gallery openings, workshops and bike rides, along with various other creativity-inspiring activities. She began planning the festival in mid-February and has been working anywhere from eight to 12 hours a day to make sure everything goes well.
Like a huge rolling snowball of awesome, Saturation made gains with both size and momentum over the spring—so much that it caught the attention of Riverside city officials.
“I was a little worried about the city getting involved, because I really didn’t want to compromise the festival’s vision,” Alaska says, alluding to concerns about governmental censorship. “We have the New Motherfuckers and DJ Fuck Sunshine playing, and I didn’t want to change a thing. So I just went through a list of insane demands.” Unlike other local municipalities—shout-out to venue-crushing music haters working for the city Rialto—the city of Riverside decided to help foster the city’s artistic atmosphere and help her out.
Bands playing in the downtown pedestrian mall? Done. Loan us some expensive DVD projectors? You got it. Borrow a PA system? Sure, why not? “The city has been unilaterally supportive of this whole thing—they’ve been really amazing,” Alaska says.
In fact, the city was so impressed with the festival that they decided to give Alaska an award earlier this week, and Mayor Ronald Loveridge apparently said a few kind words. (At press time, the award hadn’t been presented, but the mayor’s speech was slightly mystifying to Alaska, as she had never met or had any correspondence with Loveridge.)
Alaska says she doesn’t see the award as a personal triumph, but rather a nod to the city’s creative community. “I’m really trying to create something organic to the area that will still go on even if I have to walk away from it.” And with the huge number of supporters, promoters and volunteers this year as well as an official nod from the city, her vision for Saturation may be close to being actualized.
“The 11 days barely makes a dent. If I was to include everyone who wanted to be a part of it, it would probably stretch 30 days. At least.
“I just really hope that this draws the city’s attention to a group of residents which the city seems to be ignoring,” Alaska says. “I hope it’s really creating some inroads for all the hard-working bands and artists in Riverside, and hopefully it’ll change some ideas on redevelopment downtown, so that Riverside can cultivate a creative community. No one’s making any money on this thing. We’re putting in all this work just to have this thing, and it’s really cool.”