Sunset Strip Music Festival: Motley Crue, back on the Boulevard
The glam metal band got its start at the Whisky and the Roxy along the Strip. Now, Tommy Lee & Co. are headlining the street’s annual music festival this weekend.
When Mötley Crüe brings its flashy, fiery show to Sunset Boulevard this week as the headlining act for the Sunset Strip Music Festival, complete with eruptions of pyrotechnics, bikini-clad female fire breathers and Tommy Lee hurtling around in a 360-degree vertical drum roller coaster, it will be a riotous celebration of one of the Strip’s most notorious progeny.
“They might be sorry they invited us. We could be the band that closes the festival down,” Lee joked on the phone from Portland, Ore., last week, one of the dates on the band’s current greatest hits U.S. tour. “I can’t even tell you what everyone has gone through to make this happen on the streets of the Strip. But we got our full show in there and the band is thrilled.”
A three-day celebration of music starting Thursday, the fourth-annual Sunset Strip Music Festival takes over the iconic 1.6-mile stretch of Sunset and pays tribute to the area’s illustrious history and the evolution of music filling the venues.
Mötley Crüe will be acknowledged for its contributions to the Strip’s legacy by receiving the annual Elmer Valentine Award (past recipients are Ozzy Osbourne, Slash and original Strip venue owners Valentine, Lou Adler and Mario Maglieri). It’s a fitting tribute as the band is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and the Strip is an integral part of its history. Mötley Crüe played early gigs at the Roxy and the Whisky (where the group also shot a video for “Kickstart My Heart”) and band members all shared an apartment close by.
“It’s where we lived together, got our start and raised hell,” says Lee. “So to be honored in this way means so much to us.”
Part back-patting and part roast, guests and friends such as Dane Cook, Ray Manzarek, David Johansen of the New York Dolls and Neil Strauss (who co-write a book with the band, “The Dirt”) will pay homage to the group at a VIP event at the House of Blues on Thursday night. “I have no idea what they will say, but it’s bound to be sometimes serious, sometimes funny and also probably shocking,” laughs Lee.
“When Mötley Crüe burst on the scene in the early ’80s, they really helped reestablish the Sunset Strip as one of the top music destinations in the world,” says Todd Steadman, executive director of the music festival. Steadman says the festival — organized by the Sunset Strip Business Assn. in conjunction with the key venues — aims to not only acknowledge the history but also focus on the renaissance of the area.
“It continues to grow each year,” he says of the festival. “It’s not only a community event but also a destination event with people from around the world coming in.”
On Thursday and Friday, the Whisky a Go Go, the Roxy, the Viper Room and the Key Club will host music from legends Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger of the Doors, plus Uriah Heep, indie rock band Dredg and Australia’s the Veronicas, which will be showcasing their new songs.
The festival culminates Saturday with a giant street fest on Sunset between Doheny Drive and San Vicente Boulevard, with 10 bands on two outdoor stages as well as food trucks, beer gardens and interactive experiences. Notables playing Saturday besides Mötley Crüe include a reformed Bush, Public Enemy and Matt and Kim, as well as She Wants Revenge and the reggae rock band Dirty Heads. In all, more than 70 bands will be performing outside and in local venues that day.
For London-born Bush singer Gavin Rossdale, the Strip represents an idealized cultural epicenter. “When we came over in 1995 and played venues like Whisky and the Roxy, you couldn’t help but feel the history in those venues. You knew this was the same stage many of your heroes had played,” he says. After a 10-year break, Rossdale reunited Bush last year, and the band has a new album, “The Sea of Memories,” out in September.
“It really feels like coming home again, being onstage with the band,” says Rossdale.
This year, the festival will also feature several after-parties. Glam rockers Semi Precious Weapons, which has been supporting Lady Gaga on her Monster Ball tour, will transform the Roxy into a risque New York-style art-rock party featuring performers from Voyeur Burlesque and rap fav Rye Rye. “If you think you knew the Roxy, wait until you see how we transform it,” teases Justin Tranter, the gender-bending lead singer of Semi Precious Weapons. “It’s really great they let us create this insane four hours to finish the festival.”
According to Roxy owner Nic Adler, who also co-produces the festival, the eclectic range of music is what it’s all about. “We want this to be a discovery experience. It reflects what I call the iPod generation of music,” he says. “You put it on shuffle and it could be hip-hop or rock or reggae. It’s what we feel really represents the Strip today.”
Where: Street Fest on Sunset Boulevard, between Doheny Drive and San Vicente Boulevard
When: Thursday to Saturday. See website for set times and participating venues. Saturday Street Fest, 1 to 10 p.m.
Price: Club venues are priced individually. The Saturday Street Fest is $55 in advance and $70 that day. VIP tickets (which include all venues and special events), $120. (All tickets are being sold without additional fees through www.ticketweb.com/SSMF)
-- Katherine Tulich
WILD SIDE: Mötley Crüe’s Nikki Sixx, left, and Vince Neil are headed back to the Sunset Strip. Credit: Jake Danna Stevens / Los Angeles Times