Burger Boogaloo Keeps Cooking

Festival founder Marc Ribak talks Iggy Pop, an aversion to clothes, and the power of being weird.

If you’ve never been to Burger Boogaloo, you’re missing out what it means to truly revel in the glory of music. Founder Marcos Ribak, in partnership with Burger Records’ Sean Bohrman and Lee Rickard, doesn’t concern himself with chart-toppers or household names when putting together the festival that will celebrate its fifth anniversary this summer in Oakland’s Mosswood Park.

“We’re booking primal, raw bands,” Ribak says.

Recent examples of how Burger Boogaloo has embraced this philosophy include appearances by lo-fi “budget” rockers The Mummies and the Trashmen-influenced, all-female surf punk trio The Trashwomen — and for 2017, the godfather of punk himself, Iggy Pop.

“I think I’ve asked his agent about doing the Boogaloo every year,” Ribak says of the work that went into getting The Stooges’ frontman on the bill.

While the festival has had its fair share of impressive, if eclectic, artists over the years — including Ronnie Spector, the iconic voice behind The Ronettes, and delightfully filthy filmmaker John Waters serving as emcee for three years running — the Boogaloo has never netted an act with a legacy like Pop’s.

In discussing his place in the spectrum of music, Ribak notes how, following the heavier sound bands like The Sonics and The Kinks occasionally employed, the debut of The Stooges in 1969 was the start of a new kind of music.

“It didn’t have anything to do with peace and love,” he says. “As far as rock ’n’ roll goes, I just think he’s a god of rock ’n’ roll.”

A self-professed dissident of rock documentaries and biographies in general, Ribak recalls being “dragged” to a documentary about Pop and watching him explain to the camera that one of his many stage moves was cribbed from the mating ritual of a primate. That move, which finds Pop hooking one arm above his head and jingling his hand while extending his other arm, was proof positive for Ribak, who used to be in a band, that this was what live music is all about.

“When I used to do a lot of touring, you’d learn the songs and there was a structure to it, but after you’d been on the road for a week, it was almost like you forgot the songs and you were just doing it,” he says. “It’s more like an organism or something. You already knew the music, so then it became the performance. That’s what’s always attracted me to Iggy Pop. Not only is his music loose, but his whole stage thing is performance art.”

Pop should find himself right at home at the Boogaloo, a festival that prides itself on celebrating bands that redefined genres. Ribak’s own path to discovering Pop speaks volumes about how he found his way to where he is today, assembling shows built around the bands he and the people close to him unabashedly worship.

Ribak says he used to go on a lot of trips with his brother and father as a child, long journeys in his dad’s Volkswagen Beetle that were, without fail, accompanied by the earlier work of The Rolling Stones.

“[The Stones] were the first concert I ever went to,” he says. “Then I started listening to Black Sabbath, and the Sony Walkman came out. My dad sold the Beetle and got a Mitsubishi, so then on road trips I’d be listening to Black Sabbath on my Walkman.”

That led to Sonic Youth, and Ribak purchased their album Dirty for $1.99 from the now-defunct mall record store chain The Wherehouse.

“I became this totally Sonic Youth-obsessed, middle-school weirdo,” he says. “You know how people follow the Grateful Dead? I was like a Sonic Youth tape trader when the internet first came out.”

The band’s cover of “I Wanna Be Your Dog” finally introduced Ribak to Iggy Pop, but even if Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon had not laid down their own version of The Stooges’ single, Ribak’s fortuitous relationship to music would’ve inevitably intervened. After all, it brought him together with Bohrman and Rickard when their respective bands connected on tour.

“Our bands joined up in Detroit in 2009,” Ribak says. “We were touring on one side of the country, and the Make Out Party — Sean and Lee’s band — was touring on the other side of the country.”

Crashing at a friend’s house for the night, Rickard awoke from his spot on the floor next to Ribak to discover his bedmate was no longer wearing much of anything.

“I don’t really sleep in too many clothes,” Ribak explains. “I have to shed it all. I naturally reject clothes. I woke up the next morning, and Lee was right next to me on the floor. I think we were head to foot or something, but he was like, ‘Whoa, I remember us going to bed on the floor but I didn’t know we’d wake up so close to each other in our boxer shorts.’ ”

Ribak’s relationship with Bohrman and Rickard strengthened over the next week, when his van got banged up after making an unplanned exit from a drive-through. The Make Out Party offered to drive Ribak and his bandmates around for the remainder of their Midwest dates together, giving the trio ample time to play their favorite tunes and get to know each other.

“We basically lived together in a van for a week,” he says. “You get pretty close with people when you’re living in a van together. Being in a van with friends and listening to music with them — that’s kind of the feeling that we’ve always put into the Burger Boogaloo.”

According to Ribak, there isn’t a lot of conversation required between the three of them when it comes to planning the festival.

“I don’t want to say I never talked to Sean and Lee about anything,” he says, “but there’s kind of a shared consciousness of sorts.”

It’s this shared consciousness that’s allowed acts like NRBQ to join the lineup this year, an act Ribak has been trying to book for several years simply because one of his bandmates has always wanted to see them play.

“NRBQ was his Ronnie Spector,” Ribak says. “That was the reason that I brought her to the Boogaloo. There was a few songs that she did that became these songs for everybody in our band where, when we got a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, we would calm down by putting on Ronnie Spector. It was almost like when people turn to the bottle — for us it was like, ‘I really need Ronnie right now.’ ”

Suffice it to say, Ribak’s personal passions are the bricks upon which Burger Boogaloo has been built. While he tries to cater to all fans of rock ’n’ roll and punk, his presence on the proceedings is unmistakable. Not only is every detail considered, but each one seems to have a story that brings it back to the festival and its purpose.

Take that Sonic Youth CD he bought, for instance. As Ribak discovered several years after purchasing it, some copies of Dirty had a risqué photo hidden behind the plastic tray that held the disc. That photo was taken by Mike Kelley, and a copy of it hangs in John Waters’ San Francisco apartment. While noticing this during a visit with Waters, Ribak was reminded of his own grandmother’s apartment, a place he compares to the Polyester director’s house, seeing as each functions more as a miniature, carefully curated museum than an abode.  One thing Ribak always remembered from his grandmother’s collection was a “black, patent-leather vampire chair.” When his grandmother passed away, Ribak inherited it, and it’s now used each year backstage at Burger Boogaloo.

“It was in John Waters’ dressing room,” he says. “It will be in Iggy Pop’s dressing room.”

While Pop may not be given the opportunity to fully appreciate the backstory of this furniture item, he will surely appreciate being able to perform for a festival that believes trucking in a specific chair will help enhance the experience.

“When I say Iggy is a normal guy, to me he seems like most of the people that are close to me,” he adds. “I just think that we’re all just kind of freaks at heart.”

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