On the Way Up: FYF Fest Founder Sean Carlson on LA’s Coolest Festival

The haze of pot rose and meshed with the fog emanating from the stage, orange lights flashing. The crowd sang, danced and pushed through the sea of people. Their eyes focused on the stage. Chaos met zen. It was Kanye West, the memorable, last-minute replacement for Frank Ocean at FYF Fest 2015. To Sean Carlson, founder and booker for the festival, that set embodied what FYF is all about. “I felt like everyone that watched him forgot about their problems, forgot about everything that was going on in their life and [were] just in the moment,” says Carlson of what he calls one of his favorite sets. “ That is the goal of the festival, it’s to get people to be in the moment.”
FYF 2015
Photo by Jose Negrete for FYF Fest

The sudden Frank Ocean drop out had fans complaining on the festival’s social media, some rushed to sell their tickets, others bought them, but regardless of the fans’ reaction the sudden replacement raised a hopeful question for many LA music aficionados: if a festival with such humble beginnings was able to bring on a rapper with such clout as Yeezy, who won’t they be able to book?

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Photo By Tod Seelie for FYF Fest

If you’re an LA native, you’ll remember when the festival was named Fuck Yeah Fest and was held at The Echo before the Echoplex was even part of the equation. You would also remember when it dropped the “Fuck” out and moved to the LA Historic State Park in Chinatown after gaining support from Goldenvoice, a subsidiary of promoting giant AEG Live. Most outstanding, however, was the switch from the Chinatown location to the LA Sports Arena and Exposition Park, a move that had unexpected difficulties and serious trekking from stage to stage. “In 2014, when we had a few hiccups, I read every single complaint, every single one,” says Carlson of the move. “We made notes and put it all together in different Word documents and broke down all the complaints…because we can’t be everywhere, we don’t see everything and so listening to the fans is incredibly important.”

FYF 2015
Photo by Chris Carrasquillo for FYF Fest

By 2015, the festival felt uncomplicated and streamlined. Carlson’s passion for music is what makes the festival so unique, the lineup is curated with the mentality that it is going to be played live and while Carlson has a wide array of musical taste, it is not based off of personal preference but solely for the fan’s enjoyment. “I listen to records all day, I read about music, I’m constantly talking to people about music and it’s not necessarily, in my mind, my favorite bands that I book – I love all the bands that are playing- but [I book] what makes sense in the setting.” mentions Carlson.

FYF 2015
Photo by Carl Pocket for FYF Fest

Twelve years in and the festival keeps bettering itself, constantly evolving. This year’s lineup stretches further from their punk roots, killing the game in the hip-hop and rap scene with LA’s pride and joy, Kendrick Lamar headlining along with Vince Staples, Young Thug, and
Rae Sremmurd following the bill. “The minute that this is boring and the minute that we’re just dialing it in is when we don’t want to do this anymore.” says Carlson, about the broader genre selection. “This is a labor of love and we truly love doing this, we want to constantly be changing.”