The Eagle Rock Music Festival is set to soar
Saturday’s lineup includes headliners Flying Lotus and Health. And with the demise of Sunset Junction, this could be the year the northeast L.A. festival breaks from the pack of other local fests.
The biggest story in local music so far this year is a festival that didn’t happen.
The last-minute cancellation in August of Sunset Junction (potentially for good) happened for a variety of reasons — poor permit planning, neighborhood opposition and lack of funds, among them. But it did prove two things about L.A. music: Angelenos are incredibly passionate about local festivals for good and ill, and there is a giant opportunity for an inexpensive, easygoing neighborhood-level show to claim that institution’s mantle.
The Eagle Rock Music Festival may be moving to grab that audience. Since moving out into the streets in 2006, the festival has doubled in attendance annually, last year attracting around 100,000 fans over one day of surprisingly experimental local music. This year’s lineup may be its strongest yet. And even with the solid bookings of Make Music Pasadena, the Silver Lake Jubilee and the Abbot Kinney Festival, this may be the year Eagle Rock codifies its reputation as the must-see local festival. And it asks only for a $5 donation.
The festival, which is produced by the Center for the Arts, Eagle Rock, takes place Saturday along Colorado Boulevard in the northeastern L.A. neighborhood. Headliners include the jazz-infused avant-garde beatsmith Flying Lotus and the deconstructionist noise-rock quartet Health — L.A. natives who have each had marquee billings at Coachella in recent years.
The Low End Theory, a Wednesday club night held regularly at the Lincoln Heights club the Airliner, brings a collective of brain-frying beatmakers to its own stage at the festival, such as Nosaj Thing, Tokimonsta and Gaslamp Killer, with their fractured dubstep and electronica. Other stages will highlight the revival of throwback garage rock with Barrio Tiger and Allah Las. The Eagle Rock music studio the Ship, run by indie impresario Aaron Espinoza, also will host its own stage, featuring widescreen rock such as Shadow Shadow Shade.
“The festival really creates accessibility for these subgenres,” said its chief booker, Brian Martinez. “We don’t fly in national acts, so we can work with local people we think are really important.”
It makes sense that the Center for the Arts, itself home to many worthy all-ages concerts by bands such as No Age and Cults, would spearhead such a festival. Northeastern L.A. has increasingly become a home base for ambitious local musicians priced or spaced out of Echo Park and other club-heavy neighborhoods. Low End Theory founder Kevin Moo recently set up a recording studio in Eagle Rock, and musicians from hip-hop shaman Madlib to Rage Against the Machine singer Zack de la Rocha and the influential Mt. Washington-based label Stones Throw and Eagle Rock’s Not Not Fun label have made their homes between the 2 and the 110 freeways.
“People come for the festival, and then they discover Eagle Rock,” said Renee Dominique, director of development at the Center for the Arts. “Northeast L.A. has a lot to offer artists.”
The festival is the public face of a family-centric neighborhood embracing a new musical culture.
“Last year was our first year with a stage, and it was beyond all our expectations,” Moo said. “We were curious about how we’d be presented, but it was unreal, just bodies as far as you could see. They can do a Coachella in the streets of L.A. there.”
So far, even with six-figure crowds, the Eagle Rock festival has largely avoided the enmity of homeowners along leafy Colorado Boulevard. The lack of imposing fences separating patrons from businesses and no on-site alcohol sales has given it a smoother footprint (don’t worry, there’s a folk stage at the frozen-in-amber Italian joint Colombo’s, and Verdugo Bar and the Black Boar are close by). L.A. City Council member José Huizar has embraced the festival, and his name tops its flier.
Indeed, as Coachella becomes an ever more all-consuming commitment (with its nearly $300 mandatory all-weekend passes) and the much-loved FYF Fest is only beginning to solve its logistics problems to match its booking savvy, the Eagle Rock Music Festival leads a welcome strata of cheap or free neighborhood fests whose lineups, pound for pound, can compete with much bigger events.
“Coachella was really fun, but for a weekend warrior music fan, it does take a substantial emotional and financial commitment to get the best out of big festivals,” said Jake Duzsik of Health, which played Coachella for the first time this year. “I certainly think it's great that there are things like Eagle Rock and FYF happening on a professional scale, but at a local level. Personally, I'm not going back to Coachella until I have perfect washboard abs and can hula hoop while drinking from a keg cup.”
Photo: John Famiglietti of HEALTH plays a drum during a show at the EchoPlex June, 8, 2010 in Los Angeles. Credit: Bret Hartman / For the Times