On the Phenomenon of Burger Boogaloo — and the Oakland Couple Who Makes It Happen

The annual punk, garage, and trash rock festival goes down this weekend at Mosswood Park.

“Alien autopsy Passover Seder” is a phrase likely never uttered in the history of humanity before it emerged from Burger Boogaloo impresario Marc Ribak’s mouth. He said it on a recent sunny Thursday, over a cup of green garlic soup at Beauty’s Bagel Shop. Said ceremonial religious dinner — which incorporates his girlfriend Amy Carver’s love of Area 51 theories and Ribak’s own Jewish heritage — was just one stop in a meandering story regarding the flamboyant stage design planned for this year’s Boogaloo festival. Ribak wouldn’t reveal many details for how the 2017 stage will look, only to say it involves a fetish that thrice-returning Boogaloo host John Waters refers to as “shrimping.”

His tale of the Seder — which involved a fog machine (also likely a first), a tinfoil-coated apartment, and a fake alien corpse — boasts a dark-edged whimsicality that perfectly encapsulates the spirit of Burger Boogaloo, the two-day music festival that Ribak puts on in Oakland’s Mosswood Park each July. Now in its fifth year, this weekend’s Boogaloo is poised to make the leap from DIY, small-time punk-fest to for-real music gathering, with headliners including Iggy Pop, the Buzzcocks, and X.

Attendance this Fourth of July weekend likely will out-number previous years; Ribak estimates 5,000 bought tickets each day last year, and the park can hold up to 10,000. Yet the Boogaloo remains very much a family affair, with Carver handling the hospitality, and Ribak’s musician brother, mother, and neuroscientist father even fulfilling various duties.

His dad, Chuck Ribak, even stepped in to emcee the second stage three years back, when the planned host didn’t show. His combination of dad jokes — “How much does a hipster weigh? An ‘insta’ gram!” — and enthusiasm won over the crowd, and he’s now a mainstay.

Ribak announced his bigger ambitions for this year’s fest with a splash: a giant Boogaloo billboard featuring Waters, the “Pope of Trash” himself, at the corner of Telegraph Avenue and 40th Street. Increasingly, mainstream publications and even TV news have come calling for coverage of Ribak and the Boogaloo.

Is this family affair ready to hit the big time?

A Burger Fest is Born

After bagels, Ribak headed to Piedmont Copy & Print, a shop that he frequents often near Mosswood Park. Not only does he get all the festival’s posters, handbills, and flyers printed there, he literally visits almost daily: Ribak puts on one of the biggest deals in town, but doesn’t own a printer to run-off posters and fliers.

As he placed four printouts into a Garbage Pail Kids folder and paid the $1.44 bill with his card, the woman at the counter bemusedly chided him about the $10 minimum, and how he’s going to miss the shop if his girlfriend buys him a printer, as she’s promised.

After parking his ’84 white Volvo wagon downtown, Ribak next visited Oakland’s Fire Prevention Bureau, to turn in festival maps and file for permits. He again showed an easy rapport, this time with office assistant Hilda Ortiz, who mentioned that she would have liked to have seen Ronnie Spector, who headlined the Boogaloo in 2014. Ribak shared a story of how he put his arm around Spector, to pose for a picture, and described how “she has the softest skin of anyone” he’s ever met.

“She told me I was handsome, and I almost died,” he confessed, adding that a “port-a-potty nightmare” almost caused him to miss her set. (He now pays to have the waste cleaned out between Saturday and Sunday, one of many hard-learned lessons.)

Ribak takes these lessons to heart, and the Boogaloo’s chill vibe reflects his learning curve. “Why a lot of events fail is that people who are putting it on aren’t thinking about making the people at the event comfortable,” he shared of his philosophy. “Amy makes fun of me, ‘You’re so much like Larry David, all these little stupid things bother you — so you’ve thought of them all.’”

For instance, one snafu he hadn’t envisioned last year led to long entrance lines on the festival’s first day, which prompted grumbling on social media. (Carver testifies that they’ve addressed this by splitting the queues this year into VIP and regular, and that they’ve got “the line thing figured out.”)

Once inside, attendees will again find an abundance of affordable (by festival standards) food and drink in addition to tunes, including downtown’s cult Japanese fried chicken spot Aburaya and West Oakland’s Stay Gold Deli. This year, the KronnerBurger booth will serve the meatless “Impossible Burger.” An emphasis on veggie and vegan fare stems from Carver’s influence; her day job is at PETA. There will also be vintage-clothing booths and plenty of candy-colored Burger Records merch.

The Boogaloo is an arm of influential Orange County cassette label Burger Records, but the brand and store’s founders, Sean Bohrman and Lee Rickard, are not overly involved in its day-to-day planning. Reached by phone while haggling over the price of a record-player stylus, Rickard called Ribak “the secret weapon of the Boogaloo.”

“[He] does all the heavy lifting, and all the financial responsibility and logistics go on him. … I don’t know how he does it. It’s all just magic to me,” Rickard praised.

The acclaim is mutual. Ribak met Rickard when they were both Southern California teens trading mixtapes. But the relationship was cemented when his band, the Rock N Roll Adventure Kids, went on tour with Rickard and Bohrman’s band, Thee Makeout Party, in the mid 2000s. “It was refreshing to be on tour with Sean and Lee,” Ribak reminisced. “In the Bay Area there was so much shit-talking and so many egos.”

As the Rock N Roll Adventure Kids toured almost continuously in the mid-to-late 2000s, including in Europe, Ribak expanded into booking tours for other artists. An opportunity to book a tour for Burger artists King Tuff, Audacity, and Apache further strengthened Ribak’s Burger bond.

Shannon Shaw, the charismatic frontwoman of Oakland-based Shannon and the Clams — who are also on the bill for this year’s Boogaloo — was the first to ask him to put on gigs. She characterized Ribak for the Express in “Muppet measurements”: Namely, that he is “one part Scooter — gets shit done — and five parts Animal — makes sure it’s a fun and wild party.”

At this same time, Ribak started to book multiday music festivals called Total Trash Fests at various small venues around San Francisco and the East Bay (his production company is called “Total Trash Productions,” and he prefers the term “trash rock” over “punk rock” to describe his musical aesthetic). The scene started to build, Ribak said.

“All the sudden, I was doing two or three Total Trash Fests a year. I was booking all these tours for people,” he explained.

He also started to help Bohrman and Rickard out with the early incarnation of the Burger Boogaloo, which initially was booked at SF venues The Knockout and Thee Parkside. Ribak had already completed the lengthy application process to hold an event at Mosswood Park, and organized a Total Trash show there in 2011, so when a “parting ways thing” happened with the booker at Thee Parkside, it cleared the way for the 2013 Boogaloo to be held at the park.

Says Ribak: “At that point, I basically put the Total Trash Fest and the Boogaloo together. … Sean and Lee were so positive about so many things. You need some positivity to put the Boogaloo together. You have to believe that things are going to work out. … You have to work with the cops.

“You have to ditch the ‘fuck you’ attitude.”

An Absolute Favorite

After the fire permits, Ribak evinced this “no fuck you attitude” during an hour-plus wait — on a different floor, in the same building, and solely to update the address on his business license.

He did gently bemoan the Catch-22-esque game of permits and documents required to put on the festival each year in Oakland, and specifically cited four permits, and how “you need all of them, at the same time, to get any of them.” Ribak described spending weeks running back and forth between offices, “trusting that it will work out,” but conceded that, during Boogaloo’s first year, it almost didn’t happen.

“The day before the Boogaloo, I was getting those four permits,” he recalled.

Ribak paid the $50 address-change fee at a window, and visibly perked up after an exchange in which the cashier shared that he used to put on reggae festivals in an Oakland park in the Eighties. The clerk reminded him to “just have fun with it.”

The shade-dappled Mosswood Park was Ribak’s next destination. He counted off steps along the park’s perimeter and made back-of-an-envelope calculations to determine whether there was adequate space to double last year’s attendance, if Iggy Pop proves to be the draw that he’s hoping.

Ribak gestured to the former location of the recreation center, which burned down in late 2016. This year, the first week’s sales of the Boogaloo were donated to a fund to rebuild the center, to the tune of $15,000.

This goes along with Ribak’s ethos: “The Boogaloo is a community event. It’s a DIY event. It’s not a rock-star event,” a sentiment that the artists who play there — some year after year — echo.

This year will be Justin Champlin’s third year performing the Boogaloo as Nobunny, a character clad in a filthy bunny mask and underwear and who sings catchy-as-hell, lo-fi bubble gum power-pop songs, backed by a full band.

Although he’s lived in Chicago for the last three years, Champlin called the Bay Area home for eight, at one point just a block from Mosswood Park. The Boogaloo has become a touchstone event for him and other artists.

“It’s really like a rock ’n’ roll family reunion. You see all of the homies and all of the weirdoes. It creates a lot of good memories,” Champlin told the Express.

Hailey Chase, a performance artist known as MOM, hasn’t gigged at the Boogaloo yet (her act sometimes involves bodily fluids and might be a bit too dark). But last year, she took part in a revival of the late-1990s, anything-goes SF burlesque review Stinky’s Peepshow. In a sticky, humid tent situated in the beer garden, Chase and other sequin-and-fishnet clad, non-traditional lovelies danced and encouraged members of the crowd to chug ranch dressing and snort Pixie Stix off exposed flesh.

Asked about the meaning of the Boogaloo, Chase marveled at its growth. “It’s crazy to see … how much bigger it’s gotten. It’s kind of mind-blowing to me,” she said. “Young kids are into it. It’s almost like another generation, there are all sorts of different people that go to it now.”

After a thorough tour of the park — not unlike one he gave a day earlier to his new security company (Google poached the one he’d used in past years) — Ribak met Carver for post-work vegan tacos at a bar just steps from PETA’s offices across from Lake Merritt.

Normally a carnivore, Ribak is on a month-long “late Lent,” eschewing both booze and meat, he says to build the stamina he needs for weeks of working 16-to-20 hour days in advance of the Boogaloo.

Carver is petite and girlish, with a turquoise bob and neon-green nails, and serves as a calm counterpoint to Ribak’s occasional flights of fancy. While snacking on tacos, she admitted to some nerves regarding interfacing with Saturday’s headliner Iggy Pop.

Luckily, Ribak has some pros on the Boogaloo team, as well, including Janette Lopez, a seasoned veteran of backstage hospitality and production management for LiveNation and AEG Live. She’s worked with Pop many times, as “the backstage girl,” and introduced Ribak to Pop’s manager, Henry McGroggan, thus planting the seed for the Boogaloo booking. (Pop was previously aware of Burger Records, however, and has mentioned the label and associated store in the press several times.)

Addressing whether this little DIY production is ready for primetime, Lopez explained how “Iggy comes from Detroit … and he has played around the world. He’s going to come with a professional attitude whether or not the veggie tray is on time.”

She continued: “We have security. We’re organized. Plus, he’s going to be in Mosswood Park; that’s a part of Oakland history. It all comes down to the roots, and I believe he thinks that, too, or he wouldn’t have said ‘yes.’”

On working with Ribak and the Boogaloo, she further enthused: “Seeing these crowds of people there for the music — not to be seen, not to show off the clothes they bought at the mall — these are the kinds of fans that come to this festival and it’s exciting. It’s such a rare experience. I guarantee that there’s going to be a line of people who are going to want to perform, not just attend, because of what [Ribak] has put together, the music and art, and just raw spirit. It’s beautiful.

“I’ve done a lot of festivals in my day and this is my absolute favorite.”

Better Than Chocolate Cake

As Ribak excitedly narrated favorite moments from years past, it’s clear that the music and the family feeling, not any acclaim or money, motivates.

Consider his dad’s passion for the Boogaloo: He’s already planning the all-denim “Canadian tuxedo” he’ll be sporting this year — and kvells when asked about his son. “He wanted to give something back to the community of garage-rock bands, and this is his way of doing that,” the elder Ribak explained. “He makes the bands his No. 1 priority.”

His father, a successful neuroscience professor, says that, when he sees all it takes to put on the two-day festival, it astounds him. “He’s doing more than I did in my career.”

And his mother, Julia, also crowed. “I knew when he was a tiny little boy he was going to do amazing things in his lifetime. He’s better than chocolate cake!”

Indeed, Ribak’s eyes light up when he speaks about classic Boogaloo moments: When Waters and former porn star and Cry Baby actress Traci Lords introduced the Nineties-era, all-female band The Trashwomen. And how “eight to 10 women got up onstage, dancing — it was a rock ’n’ roll riot!”

But what he refers to as the “crowning achievement” of the Boogaloo occurred last year, when Eighties “budget rock” legends The Mummies got their signature Mummy-mobile (a ’63 Pontiac Bonneville ambulance) and drove it across Mosswood Park to the stage, preceded by a marching band.

Figuring out how to accomplish this safely was quite a “fun challenge” for Ribak, equivalent to the task of booking bigger artists like Pop, X, and The Buzzcocks. And the planning never stops; he’s already thinking about artists and other fun challenges for the 2018 Boogaloo.

Burger boss Bohrman planted the seed of inspiration: “Who are the artists that you’d travel to the moon to go see?” Ribak was impassioned: “That’s why I love working with Sean and Lee and the Boogaloo.

“Anything is possible!”

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