‘A disgrace to our community’: Fil-Ams lament the failed San Pedro Filipino festival that promised so much but delivered nothing — literally

A promotional poster for FAHM Fest, which was slated for Oct. 16-17 in San Pedro

The highly anticipated FAHMFest was canceled without notifying ticket buyers before the event’s scheduled start

EVERY October, Filipino American community leaders pull out all the stops for celebrations for Filipino American History Month.

Music and culture festivals, like those honoring Filipino artistry and talent, are massive gatherings that mark Filipino American History Month (or FAHM) — which is celebrated every October to commemorate the first known arrival of Filipinos in Morro Bay on Oct. 18, 1587 — and bring together Fil-Ams across all walks of life.

Festivals like these are also meant to introduce Filipino Americans, who perhaps weren’t in touch with the culture, to the eddy of languages, music, food, fashion, and customs that make up the Filipino American and Philippine cultures.

One such Fil-Am is Bobby Hermoso, from Arcadia, California, who was excited to finally experience for himself all the offerings that the month usually provides.

“With all the stuff happening with violence against Asians, I thought it was important to finally get in touch with my Filipino culture and identity,” Hermoso told the Asian Journal in a phone interview, adding that both his parents are immigrants from Cebu, Philippines.

Hermoso had never attended “a proper Filipino American event” (during Fil-Am History Month or otherwise) outside of family parties, but he was excited for the hyped-up, highly anticipated FAHMFest that was scheduled for the third weekend of October in San Pedro, California very near the historic Port of Los Angeles.

Put together by a group of Filipino Americans and Asian Americans, FAHMFest was described as “an immersive festival” that promised “all-time favorite foods, music, art, dance, and fashion,” according to the festival’s event page that made the rounds on social media.

First advertised on Instagram and Facebook in the spring, the weekend festival that was scheduled for Oct. 16-17, 2021 promised an exciting lineup of musical acts from Filipino American musicians, like rapper and activist Ruby Ibarra and internet-famous musicians like P-Lo, Gabe Bondoc, and Jeremy Passion. It was later announced that 2000s R&B cult favorite Shaggy would be headlining the event.

The festival also promised a wide array of cuisine that, for whatever reason, wasn’t just Filipino food but selections that represented the “various districts” of Los Angeles’ Asian community like Historic Filipinotown (called just “Filipinotown” on the event page), Koreatown and Chinatown.

Along with the literal smorgasbord of food, the event also promised “local art, pop-up installations, and cultural performances” held at the 500,000 square foot Outer Harbor/Berth 46 venue near the Port of Los Angeles, making it one of the largest, comprehensive festivals dedicated to Fil-Am History Month.

But on the morning of the first day of the event, would-be attendees were shocked to find that the festival was seemingly non-existent. After all the hype and grandeur that was advertised for the “one-of-a-kind” festival that promised music, fashion, food, art, and dance, Hermoso — and other ticket holders who arrived that morning — was confused.

Hermoso had purchased three morning passes — one for his brother and their friend — for the morning of Saturday, Oct. 16. But when he and his party arrived at what was supposed to be the festival grounds in San Pedro, they found nothing but a huge empty lot.

He checked his emails in case he missed a cancellation email sent beforehand, but there was none.

Regarding what they saw when they arrived, Hermosa said, “There were no tents, vendors, or stages. It was just a huge lot that was empty except for some cars. There were other people we saw there that were just as confused as we were.”

“It [felt] like a low-grade, but equally-as-frustrating Fyre Festival,” Hermoso said, referencing the infamous luxury music festival in 2017 that touted lush accommodations and a high-profile music lineup but ended up being an apocalypse-like disaster with FEMA tents and cheese sandwiches.

“At least they got sandwiches at Fyre. There were no vendors at all when we arrived [at] what we thought was going to be a festival with lots of food and stuff to do,” Hermoso said.

Like Hermoso, Ellie Faustino bought tickets for the first morning of the festival for her husband, Nick, and their two young sons. But when the family arrived, they were surprised to see an empty lot with no indication of a festival, let alone what was characterized as an “immersive” one-of-a-kind festival.

“We’ve been trying to find ways to introduce our two boys to Filipino culture, and we thought this festival would be a fun way to do that! Plus, we were very excited about eating Filipino food,” Faustino told the Asian Journal in an email.

She continued, “We couldn’t believe they had cancelled the entire event without giving us notice. We live east of Los Angeles so this was a pretty far drive for us with two hungry boys in the car. We started getting angry when we realized all these people are here because we didn’t get any notification.”

She added, “BUT there were no vendor trucks there, so clearly the vendors were notified ahead of time, but not ticket holders.”

Faustino said that around 2:20 p.m. she received an email from Fever, the events and tickets marketplace from which ticket holders purchased their passes for FAHMFest, confirming the cancellation and offered credit for the full value of the tickets to use on another event through Fever.

Ticket holders described feeling angry and distraught over the seemingly canceled event — many were notified hours later by the ticket distributor in an email that cited “external reasons” for the cancellation.

Since the fallout of the festival, the event’s social media accounts and website were deleted and the organizers went quiet.

Ticket  holders who were seeking refunds for the event discovered that on Aug. 24, two months before the festival was scheduled, the event planner Big Time Affairs — which was one of the sponsors of the event — reposted a statement from FAHMFest on their Instagram (which has since been deleted) citing the coronavirus as the reason for the event’s cancellation.

“This morning, FAHMfest reached the unfortunate conclusion that the COVID-19 virus continues to be an entity beyond our control,” the post said. “In consideration with the overall safety of all attendees and partners we must postpone the October 16th and October 17th 2021 FAHMfest event to a later date to be determined in 2022.”

However, at the time of that statement’s posting, the statewide COVID-19 case rate had been on the decline, and other massive gatherings and festivals were already permitted with public safety protocol. (California also has the lowest case rate in the nation, according to current case numbers and trends.)

All of the ticket holders that the Asian Journal spoke with said they were unaware of Big Time Affairs’ post, adding to the ire over the event itself going quiet on ticket holders.

“It seems like the organizers were hoping this would fly under most people’s radar — like they were hoping most of us would forget we had purchased the tickets — and they weren’t planning to issue any refunds or credits at all,” Faustino shared.

She added, “It was only when people started posting about it on social media that they sent the email — hours after the event starting time!”

Lack of communication, a quiet retreat

FAHMFest was first announced last spring when the festival’s organizers announced an early-bird promotional price of $20 a pass — this price eventually increased to three figures.

Passes were sold via Fever, which served as the festival’s main port for tickets and helped market the event to consumers. (A representative from Fever told the Asian Journal that the company was not involved in the production of the festival itself.)

According to the event page on feverup.com, general admission cost $115 for a two-day adult pass that allows access to all vendors, activities, and performances. The festival also offered a $250 “VIP 2-Day Pass” for ages 21 and over that included all general admission assets plus access to private, VIP areas, vendors, lounges, and stores.  (It’s unclear how many of each pass category was actually sold, or how many passes were sold, in general.)

The festival touted mainstream appeal with the promise of “influenced food vendors, music artists, art and fashion designers,” according to a pitch deck sent to the Asian Journal by one of the festival’s co-founders in the spring.

That pitch deck also claimed that the event was charitable, suggesting that it was a “festival celebrating Filipino-American History and benefitting our Filipino Nurses in our community.”

A representative from Fever shared that the festival’s production was primarily organized and founded by The Thankful Group LLC, which was incorporated on Jan. 27 in Los Angeles.

A source close to the event’s organization, who requested to stay anonymous, said that despite rumors that FAHMFest would be rescheduled for 2022, there would be no rescheduled event, “as the [event’s] organization have filed for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy and is ceasing operations,” the source said in an email to the Asian Journal.

According to the bankruptcy filing, The Thankful Group, LLC has run out of funds after paying off “administrative expenses.” A report from the Daily Breeze said the company owes between $100,000 to $500,000 to “eight unsecured creditors.”

The anonymous source said that ticket holders should only reach out to Fever, which is “the only company with the access to all ticket buyers’ information.” They also said that “[n]o funds were ever given from Fever to FAHMFest.”

But in a statement sent to the Asian Journal, Fever squares the liability on the event’s founders: “Due to circumstances beyond our control and despite our best efforts, the third-party organization responsible for producing the festival decided to renege on their commitments. After fulfilling our contractual obligations, including marketing and ticketing for the event, the organizers of FAHM Fest breached their contract and failed to respond to our attempts to rectify the situation. They unilaterally canceled the festival without due notice and ceased to communicate with us after that.”

The lack of notification of the cancellation by the organizers and event founders extended to ticket holders, like lyzzandra Avancena who had purchased passes for her and her boyfriend because “despite being Filipino American, I’ve never gone out of my way to celebrate Filipino culture,” she told the Asian Journal in an email.

On July 30, Avancena received an email from one of the co-founders offering a “FREE upgrade” which was essentially a food voucher “equalling the difference between the price you paid and the current price of tickets, plus a commemorative FAHMFest t-shirt” or the option to refund tickets, according to an email shared with the Asian Journal.

Avancena decided to forego those offers, saying she was “excited to support local Filipino food vendors.”

But on the weekend of the festival, Avancena learned that those offers were void when she saw people on social media calling the event “a scam” and received the cancellation email from Fever sent hours after the event was supposed to begin.

Because her passes were scheduled for the second day of the festival, Avancena didn’t have to drive to discover the empty lot.

“I was fortunate enough to learn about the event cancellation early enough for me not to go to the Port of LA. I feel so bad for the people who wasted their time and money driving down there,” Avancena shared.

But the lack of communication to ticket holders before the event, and the lack of clarification since the event-that-never-happened, continues to baffle Avancena, other ticket holders, and members of the Filipino American community, many of whom have been entrenched in discourse over what the hell really happened.

FAHMFest: a scam?

When the social media storm began brewing over what happened to FAHMFest, many scorned ticket holders pondered whether the event was an out-and-out scam. After the event was confirmed to be canceled hours after the festival was supposed to start, automatic refunds were not issued, but ticket holders who reached out to Fever said that they were issued refunds.

Though some of the confusion was cleared, it is still unknown what really happened to the FAHMFest founders and organizers and why they decided to cancel the event (other than the coronavirus claim) — increasing speculation over the honesty (or lack thereof) of the organizers.

Regarding the reason for the cancellation, the anonymous source from the event’s production team didn’t specify a reason for the cancellation, only indicating the fact that the LLC attached to the event would be dissolving.

For Avancena, the lack of communication from the event organizers about the state of the event and its quiet cancellation was among the most frustrating parts of the debacle.

Avancena agreed with the consensus that deems the event a scam: “FAHMFest deleted their social media accounts and website. I called the lack of formal notice ‘negligence,’ but it feels more akin to deception. It was a classic bait-and-switch, whether or not the event was cancelled due to COVID.”

When asked if she would ever attend another festival from these organizers again, Faustino said, “I wouldn’t trust these organizers not to try to scam me out of my money again. Also, even if there ends up being a legitimate actual FAHM event in the future, this whole thing was so poorly handled that I wouldn’t trust the organizers to put on a safe and well-run event.”

Avancena mirrored that sentiment saying that she wouldn’t attend “even if it wasn’t a scam but an honest mistake. If FAHMFest can’t handle sending a few emails, there’s no way in hell they could handle organizing an entire event.”

She also agreed with more glaring assessments on social media that the “organizers exploited Filipino culture.”

For Hermosa, who has yet to receive the refund he requested, the FAHMFest fallout hasn’t jaded him and, in fact, he feels more compelled to become more connected with, not just Filipino culture, but with fellow Fil-Ams.

After he and his group found out that the event for sure wouldn’t be happening, they decided to make the best out of the situation and went to Cavitena Filipino Restaurant in Lomita for lunch, which fulfilled their hankering for a Filipino-themed day.

He said that there, they met a group of Fil-Ams who also tried to attend FAHMFest, and together, they vented over what happened. He said that the group introduced him to organizations like FilAm ARTS, which regularly hosts and curates their own immersive events, like the Festival for Philippine Arts and Culture, that showcase the diversity of Fil-Am talent.

“I know that there’s a lot of great things happening in the community — it just sucks that my first real Filipino American event experience had to be this [expletive],” Hermosa said.

While this hasn’t hampered his desire to engage more with his heritage, it did happen at the worst time, he said.

“We all just kind of sat there and talked about how this was such a disgrace to our community, of whom so many are trying to navigate normal life and celebrate our culture during one of the most difficult times, given the pandemic and the Stop Asian Hate goings-on,” Hermoso shared. “At a time when we’re all hungry for some connection and cultural pride, this happens and it is really a shame.”

Klarize Medenilla

Klarize Medenilla is a staff writer and reporter for the Asian Journal. You can reach her at k.medenilla@asianjournalinc.com.

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