Musician and community activist Josh Fischel pulled off the dream of a lifetime when in 2016 he shut down a number of streets near downtown Long Beach and brought in dozens of bands, including some of his musical heroes, to perform on several stages while local star chefs prepared restaurant quality food from street booths during the inaugural Music Tastes Good festival.
Fischel’s festival, which received critical and popular acclaim in September 2016, felt like an epic street party, but tragically for the then 47-year-old Long Beach resident, his festival also turned out to be one heck of a final party.
Fischel unexpectedly died of liver disease just four days after the three-day Music Tastes Good festival ended. It was a death that came years before he and his doctors had expected.
The last year of his life and his journey to creating a festival that celebrated music and food on the streets of his city are all captured in a new documentary aptly titled “How To Throw Your Own Goodbye Party.”
“As you see us come closer and closer to pulling this off his health continues to decline and it all culminates at this same point in life,” said Lauren Coleman, a Long Beach resident who’s making her directorial debut with the 1-hour, 12-minute film, which is streaming free on Vimeo.
Previously the documentary was screened at film festivals such as the Richmond International Film Festival, the Portland Film Festival, and the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival.
Coleman, a musician who worked on the team that Fischel put together to launch the festival, decided to film a lot of the meetings and some of the other footage seen in the documentary on her cell phone just to keep a record of all it would take to launch a festival.
“I just made a point of capturing these moments,” she said.
Road to music
Despite all the bumps and near disasters along the way, the inaugural Music Tastes Good festival was a massive success with bands like Warpaint, De La Soul, Rival Sons, Living Colour, The Specials and others performing on four stages as food was served by local restaurants including Robert Earl’s BBQ, The Federal Bar, Pier 76, Pie Bar, Working Class Kitchen, Roe Restaurant & Fish Market and Sophy’s Fine Thai and Cambodian Cuisine.
The film focuses on the intense year Fischel and his team of music lovers and locals spent planning his dream event.
Interviews with his mother, brothers, musicians, lifelong friends and Long Beach locals tell the story of the dreamer and larger-than-life figure with a magnetic personality who, according to those who knew him best, had an unstoppable the drive to make his dreams, no matter how outrageous, become reality.
“I think it just captures the balance of the struggle and the beauty of it all,” said his wife Abbie Fischel, who was in the hospital with her husband when he passed away on Sept. 29, 2016, which is a moment she talks about in the documentary.
“What he was facing was real and challenging and hard and I think it’s good that people can see that he created and made beauty amidst his struggle,” she said.
Fischel was born in Orange County, lived in the San Fernando Valley, but considered Long Beach, where he lived for years, to truly be his hometown.
He was a guitarist and vocalist who performed with Josh Fischel & The Fiction as well as the band Bargain Music. He also performed around the world, collaborating with bands such as Sublime, Pearl Jam, Fishbone, Black Eyed Peas, Ikey Owens and others.
And always looking to bring music to Long Beach, he also organized the music and theater company RiotStage and Live After Five music events in downtown Long Beach.
In 2015, Mayor Robert Garcia honored Fischel with a Go Long Beach Award for his work in bringing music and events to the city.
But Music Tastes Good was a lifelong dream come true for the musician, his wife said.
“He was excited, he was just stoked. He couldn’t believe it was real. It really was like a magical amazing thing for him,” she said.
While there were a lot of near disasters during that first festival, including a generator that exploded and a stage that was built backwards, Fischel was rocking out, happy, calm and confident that weekend, rolling around in a golf cart enjoying the music and even jumping on stage to perform a cover of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” with the band Sound of Urchin on the first day of the festival, Abbie Fischel recalled.
Unfortunately he wasn’t able to see the end of his festival because on the final day Fischel was not doing well and left the festival early, just before one of his favorite bands, De La Soul, performed on stage.
“Sunday is when it all started to hit,” Abbie Fischel said. “De La Soul was one of his very favorite bands of all time and he was so stoked when we booked them and they were about to go on and he said ‘I think I need to go home,’ which was completely bizarre and that’s when I knew something was off,” she said.
While the documentary doesn’t shy away from looking at his death, the film ends on a high note with an interview with a smiling Fischel sitting on a stage just as the festival was getting started.
“It’s crazy. I’m insane, I’m totally, I’ve been saying all week I’m (expletive) crazy, I’m totally crazy. But I’m also dedicated and experienced, you know,” he tells the interviewer.
“Let’s party,” he adds with a laugh.
The Music Tastes Good festival went on for two more years without Fischel as the event moved from the streets of the East Village Arts District to Marina Green Park.
For the next two years the festival brought bands like Ween, Sleater-Kinney, Los Lobos, New Order, James Blake, Janelle Monáe and a then relatively unknown Lizzo to Long Beach before the festival was ultimately shelved in 2019.
“I really do want him to be remembered for his vision, for all the beauty that he created,” Abbie Fischel said.
How to watch:
Stream free on https://vimeo.com/587348268