In the temperate early afternoon of Saturday, May 4, the SCV Veg Fest took over a back field of Central Park for a day’s worth of, “vegan food, drinks, and information on how to live a truly healthy happy lifestyle.”
Founded by Jess and Nicole Guidroz, this mixed-media party was the first of its kind in this valley, as much an experiment in social event planning on a wide scale as it was a test of its attendees’ personal mindfulness. The co-founders have said that their three main goals were: to “spread the message of compassionate living for the animals & our planet,” to “connect with like-minded peeps to raise the vibration of the city” and to “put vegan on the map for SCV.” Whether or not the Veg Fest lived up to those lofty aims is a question for the Guidrozes, but from an attendee’s perspective, the inaugural festival appeared booming and busy.
At the front entrance, the founders and their families were particularly visible, with Nicole, a registered nurse, helping to pass out commemorative glasses (included in the $45 day-off admission ticket) while Jess, a professional lifestyle guru and teacher, ran constantly between the DJ booth and festival security. Even Ken Guidroz, Mr. Guidroz’s father, offered lime-green tote bags with pouches of protein powder and calendars as schwag.
From the first step inside, the festival grounds looked like Coachella’s if Rick Moranis had zapped them with a shrinking machine. Chain-link fencing formed an oblong perimeter around 50 or so shaded tents, food trucks and speakers blasting dance-pop to the outer edges of the festival. On one side of the field, bounce houses for children were set up. The other was lined with bathrooms and Instagrammable banners, with the official hashtag – #FeelTheVibe – displayed prominently.
The “Veg” in Veg Fest appeared to be a catch-up all term for anything Earth-friendly. As a result, vegan food makers, who were stationed side-by-side to the left of the entrance, made up only part of the vendors’ spaces.
In the center aisle were craftspeople, such as all-natural soap sellers and cruelty-free animal advocates, as well as a prominently placed anti-vaccination-slash-chemtrails truther tent. Along the outhouse fence were local brewsmiths, including Bodhi Leaf Coffee Traders, Newhall’s Brewery Draconum, Agua Dulce’s Reyes Winery, and Bravery Brewing Company from Lancaster, as well as more nationally-recognized brands like GT’s kombucha and Kelly’s Croutons. At the back, festival-selected yogis and health experts spoke on subjects like sustainability, meditation, and animal husbandry at the “Vegspiration” Tent while guests enjoyed the shade.
Only a few small hiccups interrupted the becalmed proceedings between opening time at noon and closedown at 9 p.m. Early on, an announcement was made that those parked on Central Park’s mulch just outside the fencing would be promptly towed; several attendees promptly scurried out in flip-flops and Ray Bans. Then there were the massive pitchers of water, which in the uninhibited sunlight became warm with seven hours left in the festivities. A rookie mistake, certainly, but one almost inevitable at any large-scale event – just ask Ja Rule.
For the most part, however, the festival succeeded where many first-timers might not have. “Unlimited pour” drinks samples were indeed unlimited, and the DJ found the right emotional rhythm about two hours in. The largest – and, for me personally, the most enjoyable – of the festival’s official happenings was its Food Competition, in which I was invited to participate as a judge along with Ken Guidroz, his (other) son, Luke and former culinary student Brandie Taylor.
Together we sampled dishes from every food vendor, each of whom had committed in advance to an entirely animal-free menu. The results ranged from lackluster (a rubbery sausage sandwich’s at Irene’s Food Services) to transcendent (luscious funnel cake a la mode from Scandylous Delights). So much at odds over these diverse results were we that ultimately five prizes were awarded when only four qualifying categories had been publicly announced.
“Most Creative, Surprising, and Delightful” went to the loaded vegan calzone and wonderful summertime rosewater (blackberries, orchid petals, lemon) at Riverside’s Love: An Amaro Pizzeria. I was also pleased to see “Best Drink” given to the handmade hibiscus and passion fruit frescas at the Canyon Country-based Cunchy’s Fruit. The deserving winner of “Best Ice Cream or Sweet” was an almond butter-slathered chocolate ice cream at the Frozen Fruit Co., though a mango flavor coated in coconut flakes was nearly as special.
“Most Savory, Tasty, and Mind-Blowing” – a particularly divisive category – was claimed by a frighteningly (in that it tasted like a certain infamous fast-food chain’s chicken sandwiches) delicious “chicken” patty with creamy coleslaw from Northridge’s Evolution Burger. Finally, we paid homage to the divine faux meat, crema, and avocado-topped Nacho Boat at Cena Vegan by giving it “Snackiest and Most Addictive.” That title appears to have been prescient, as I cannot seem to get the dish out of my mind all these days later.
Ken Guidroz presented the awards with our congratulations, after which the festival returned to its normal schedule of speakers and treats. As the pretty day faded into a calm night, attendees were ushered out the front gate and past the SCV Water Open House across the park (a much more turgid affair). The event was soon declared a definitive success on social media, opening up the possibility that a new annual tradition was burgeoning in Santa Clarita. Three days later, the co-founders wrote via e-mail, “On May 4, 2019, WE made history together.” Just below, they included an offer for Early Bird tickets to the 2020 festival.