Rooney PHOTO: Drew Reynolds

The New Faces of Indie

Now in its 13th year, Eagle Rock Music Festival (re)introduces music to the masses

By Sara Cardine 09/29/2011

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On Sunday morning, if you listen carefully enough, you may hear the largest collective sigh of relief in music festival history. Its source will be the hundreds of organizers, arts promoters, nonprofit organizations and volunteers behind the Eagle Rock Music Festival, who have lovingly nurtured the event through its glorified block party status to the music colossus it has become in recent years.
 
This Saturday marks the 13th year the Center for the Arts, Eagle Rock — a nonprofit organization that employs a regular staff of just five people — has showcased diverse local musical acts in a community street fair. Since 2005, LA City Councilman José Huizar, whose Council District 14 includes Northeast Los Angeles, is a co-presenter of the event. 
 
In 1998, the nascent festival featured about 10 bands playing mostly for the benefit of families in the neighborhood. From 4 to 11 p.m. Saturday, tens of thousands of music lovers will turn out to hear more than 60 diverse musical acts performing on 12 stages, some of which are housed in local businesses on or around Eagle Rock’s Colorado Boulevard.
 
“I’m honestly shocked that it’s gotten to this level,” says Brian Akio Martinez, lead organizer for the event. “Now there’s like 100,000 people in the streets of Eagle Rock. But I feel like the core of it is still the same. We want to make sure it keeps that charm.”
 
Each year, planning begins in April with calls to the city, requests to artists and collaboration between Center for the Arts, Eagle Rock and the nonprofit partners that help its year-round educational efforts. Their work culminates each October in a music–driven street fair. Admission is free, but participants are encouraged to donate at least $5, so the group can cover the cost of the festival and continue many of the arts and music programs it runs for area schools, according to Development Director Renee Dominique.
 
“The fact that we can pull this thing off is close to a miracle every year, because we have the support of so many people,” says Dominique, who came on board in 2006, when organizers began making arrangements with the city to close a half-mile section of Colorado Boulevard to accommodate increasing foot traffic. “You have all these people from different backgrounds, and everybody can get together and have a good time. That’s like the American dream.”
 
In addition to collaborating with nonprofit arts and education groups to plan the event — like LA-based nonprofit Internet music broadcasting group Dublab, punk rock fan zine Razorcake and two nearby recording studios — Center for the Arts members solicit sponsors and supporters from throughout the Los Angeles area to help cover an annual bill that averages about $140,000, according to Dominique. This year, more than 100 businesses, groups and individuals have supported the festival with sponsorships or personal donations. 

It takes a village
Center for the Arts organizers say they have been inordinately blessed that this flagship event has managed to sail smoothly, maintaining its authentic local flavor despite rapidly rising attendance figures. This is especially true following last month’s cancellation of the Sunset Junction Festival, an event that had been ongoing for 30 years, which came after organizers were refused a permit from the city for failure to pay nearly $100,000 for services rendered the previous year.
 
“It was heartbreaking,” Martinez says of the announcement. “They’re like an establishment in LA. It’s just sad to see that happen to something you grew up with. It got pretty big, though — it may have almost gotten too big.”
 
That’s not likely to happen anytime soon in Eagle Rock, Dominque said, stating that the Center for the Arts, Eagle Rock pays for all city permits and services, including on-duty police officers and paramedics, on an upfront basis. Making those arrangements is only a fraction of the planning, and organizers rely heavily on the relationships they’ve established with city officials in recent years. 
 
Shortly after he took office in 2005, Huizar and his office began helping organizers prepare for the festival by assisting with permits, city street closures and outreach. The artistic value the event brings to the community is undeniable, Huizar says, but there’s an additional benefit as well. 
 
“A wonderful byproduct of the festival’s popularity is that it has become the single biggest business day of the year for our local restaurants and shops,” Huizar adds. “Tens of thousands of people will travel from all over Southern California to visit Eagle Rock on Saturday, and that has made the Eagle Rock Music Festival a great day of artistic expression, as well as an economic driver for our local economy.”

Magic in the making
Setting up the Eagle Rock Music Festival means transforming Colorado Boulevard, its common areas as well as some of its local stores and businesses into a walkable gallery of stages set up for diverse musical acts. 
 
“It’s not just one genre of music,” Dominique says. “If you come to our festival, if you don’t like the music, just walk a block and it will be something different.”
 
This year’s lineup of performers represents a wide range of cultures, ages and musical tastes. The Razorcake/Zocaloc Stage at the American Legion Hall, 2109 Merton Ave., is dedicated to punk and hard rock acts, including LA-based punk outfit French Exit performing at 5:30 p.m. and garage punkers Barrio Tiger, whose work has been described as “blazing,” “blistering” and “bombastic.” They take the stage at 9:30 p.m.
 
Because the event has such a strong community focus, there are always special performances and activities designed for children and families. This year’s younger attendees can take part in an interactive art creation at the Family Stage, on the corner of Merton and Caspar avenues, led by Center for the Arts Director of Education Laura Marchetti. Acts here include a 5 p.m. magic show by Micah Cover, an 8 p.m. presentation by the Ukulele Orchestra of the Western Hemisphere and a 9 p.m. Neil Diamond tribute performance.
 
The festival’s Emerging Stage features acts that bring an indie rock or punk flavor, including a 10:15 p.m. performance by the band HEALTH, whose members come from Echo Park. The group regularly tours throughout Europe, playing the festival circuit, but this Saturday will be the outfit’s first appearance at the festival, according to HEALTH bassist and percussionist John Famiglietti.
 
“We play a lot of big festivals, so playing to a big crowd is not really a novelty,” Famiglietti says. “We thought this Eagle Rock festival would be a cool thing to play because it’s free — and it’s so close.”
 
Appearing at Dublab’s Low End Theory Stage on Colorado between Highland View and Hermosa avenues are deejays Gaslamp Killer and Flying Lotus, two performers under the local record label Brainfeeder. Influenced by Northern California’s DJ Shadow, Gaslamp Killer makes his third appearance at the festival. 
 
“I remember going as a fan in 2008, then Dublab asked me to do an all Middle Eastern set in 2009 then playing our Low End Theory stage last year was amazing to say the least,” he says. “Now it’s almost that time again, and we are all very, very excited to rock it for our community in such a big way in 2011.” 

Free parking and shuttle service will be offered at Eagle Rock Plaza, 2700 Colorado Blvd. For more information, including a lineup of all musical acts, visit centerartseaglerock.org or call (323) 226-1617.

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