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The Center for the Arts in Eagle Rock: A perfect room for Northeast L.A.

July 20, 2010 | 10:32 am

One entertaining sight at Sunday's debut L.A. performance of One Day as a Lion at the Center for the Arts in Eagle Rock was the bobbing head of Tom Morello, guitarist for Zack de la Rocha's other band, Rage Against the Machine, as he rocked out forcefully to his friend's cutting-edge ensemble. The sight of Morello made me realize that this library-turned-community center would be a perfect venue for his own other project, the Nightwatchman -- a folk-flavored effort that puts Morello in Woody Guthrie mode.

That got me wondering about the potential of this venue, which has lately been attracting capacity crowds and media attention with its inventive bookings. I'd also noticed Sean Carlson running around looking harried but happy. The young promoter who's also behind the annual FYF Fest has been instrumental in bringing buzzed-about acts to the room.

Recently, a family show featuring garage rock legend Roky Erikson, several sold-out performances by Ryan Gosling's children's choir, Dead Man's Bones, and the L.A. debut of Jose Gonzales' new band, Junip, have raised the visibility of a space that's dragging Westsiders (and residents of  nearby bohemian enclaves Silver Lake and Echo Park) into a neighborhood known for artists' studios and hip young families, but not so much for music-oriented nightlife.

The Center for the Arts is a special place. The Mission-style building, erected in 1914, houses art camps for kids, regular gallery shows, and ballet lessons as well as musical performances. Its executive director, Julia Salazar, has said that her mission is to support and reflect the diverse community of northeast Los Angeles. Brian Martinez, the director of events who's worked with Carlson on the higher-profile rock shows at the center, started as a teen intern and came up through the ranks; he is a musician and founder of his own festival, the free and locally-oriented Eagle Rock Music Festival, sponsored by the Center.

Eagle Rock and Northeast L.A. in general needs more venues. The Airliner in Lincoln Heights is home to the important Low End Theory experimental electronic scene, and Mr. T's Bowl in Highland Park is a favorite punky rock spot. Still, the many musicians and other grassroots music lovers who call this area home usually have to drive, at least over the Glendale Freeway, to see live music. And there isn't a Troubadour or Spaceland-type spot where history-making shows by emerging artists (as well as more established talents looking for something special) can happen.

It's possible that the Center For the Arts will become that venue. After the One Day as a Lion show, I let my mind wander toward thoughts of what other acts I'd love to see in this room. I'd love it if national-level artists beyond the indie-hipster realm also showcased there. Los Lobos has an album coming out shortly; maybe they could play a weeklong run there. How about Ben Harper, who lives not too far away in Los Feliz? Or a cabaret evening with Margaret Cho?

The family concert concept is a rich one for this neighborhood, too. The Roky Erikson/Okkervill River show at the Center was a major hit (though some locals were frustrated that they couldn't get in). The space is perfect for family events, and Colorado Boulevard is crawling with toddlers in Ramones and Run DMC T-shirts. I'd love to see Jenny Lewis and her partner Johnathan Rice to a kids' show, or how about Busdriver?

In a small room -- capacity 225 -- popular events can be challenging, of course. We NELA residents need to have patience as nightlife changes in the neighborhood. The Center for the Arts is already presenting interesting smaller-scale events like the improvisation-oriented soundShoppe and the Latin-fusion Noches de Trova. Still, the sheer excitement of Eagle Rock getting its due as a music hot spot inspires dreaming. It would be great to see Latin rock artists like Ceci Bastida play in the neighborhood, or witness unusual collaborations by visual artists and musicians. 

What artists would you like to see play in Northeast Los Angeles? How can it happen more frequently? Weigh in with a comment.

-- Ann Powers

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