The reboot of Santa Monica’s Twilight Concert Series brings back a time-honored music tradition

By Andy Vasoyan

Multi-hyphenate artist Jarina De Marco brings her multicultural music
to Twilight’s kickoff

Once upon a time many years ago, there were no concerts on Santa Monica Pier. That’s just the way it was more than three decades ago, before the Twilight Concert Series brought live music into the lives of many a pier-goer.

But by last year the concert series had grown so popular that crowds grew too big for the city to handle. The tipping point came last June, when R&B crooner Khalid attracted over 25,000 to the pier and surrounding beaches, raising concerns about public safety and putting the future of the series into question. Even before Khalid pilgrims overwhelmed Santa Monica’s shores, a city arts commission member called for the cancellation of the series.

Instead, the venerable series has moved to fall, revamped and reimagined under the leadership of new Santa Monica Pier Corp. Executive Director Negin Singh.

“The event had taken on more of a beach party vibe,” she says, “and we wanted to bring the focus right back onto the pier.”

The first and perhaps most conspicuous change — aside from moving the series from Thursdays in summer to Wednesdays in autumn, the kickoff show happening Sept. 5 — is the name. It’s just “Twilight” now, thank you, or “Twilight on the Pier” if you prefer.

Other changes are less cosmetic: music happens on three separate stages, with Twilight’s main stage at the center of the pier, with Pacific Park and the west end also hosting bandstands. The vibes are unique to each location.

“If you want something more chill, you can go all the way to end of the pier,” says Singh. “If you want to check out the new indie band in town, checking them out in Pacific Park will be awesome.”

Getting from one part of the pier to another would be tough on a summer Thursday, hence the elegant solution of moving concerts to midweek in the fall.

“We’re seeing growth at the pier every single year,” says Singh, “so to create space for all the people who want to come for Twilight, we figure Wednesday is a better day. It’s less hectic of a day to have the festival.”

Calling it a festival is not an understatement. Each of Twilight’s five consecutive Wednesdays, plus the series’ grand finale on Sunday, Oct. 7, features a different theme inspired by music cultures from across the globe. Sept. 5 kicks off with “Latin Waves,” while Sept. 12 is dedicated exclusively to Australian artists. Sept. 19 is “Eclectic Indie,” Sept. 26 is “Island Vibes,” Oct. 3 focuses on Afro-rhythms and beats, and Oct. 7 explores “South Asian Sounds.”

On these nights, immersive art experiences replace the usual buskers so as not to compete with Twilight’s music, and the pier has partnered with Smorgasburg, a weekly food and wares market, to bring in vendors that culturally vibe with each theme.

“We’re doing these mini-deep-dives into different music cultures and focusing on broadening our audience’s mind on what these cultures have to offer,” Singh says. “We’re adding cool culturally appropriate vendors for each night, and the installations are going to be great, really just creating this almost-artwalk-like experience.”

Despite all the nice things headed Twilight’s way, whenever a long-running institution is changed, there are bound to be naysayers.

“There were people who were like, ‘There’s gonna be protests on the first Thursday of the summer that used to be Twilight,’” says Singh, “but … no, there wasn’t. People care, and they love Twilight, but we’re not taking it away. … We’re bringing diverse talent from all over the world!”

Parking is a force beyond anybody’s control, however, and for those looking to get a glimpse of the new Twilight, Singh’s advice is simple: “if you are coming from outside Santa Monica, if you’re not walking … don’t drive. It’s a bad idea. Just don’t do it.”

Instead, Singh suggests public transit, ridesharing, or hopping on an electric scooter (considering, of course, whether they remain legally ride-able in SaMo). The Pier has partnered with Lyft and city officials to create a rideshare system to smooth the pickup and drop-off transitions, “so people aren’t stuck in their cars for 45 minutes when they’re one street away.”

Whether going by Lyft, train or scooter, there are so many different cultures one could encounter on the pier that it might be easy just to try a grab-bag approach to curating events on it, and Singh acknowledges that that was, technically, an option.

“You could sort of just grab a bunch of stuff and say ‘it’s all L.A.!’ and throw it in,” Singh says, “but we’re really picking vendors and musicians and artists who have interesting stories, who go with the themes of each night in an interesting way, that we can stand behind and be super proud of. I think people are going to love it.”