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Street Scene : 8th L.A. Festival Gets Off to a Deafening Start

Times Staff Writers

A crowd sponsors hoped would top one million danced, ate and generally revelled in the diversity of Los Angeles Saturday, joining Joan Rivers, Stevie Wonder and Mayor Tom Bradley at the first day of the city’s eighth annual Street Scene Festival downtown.

Two men were injured when a 30-foot-high tower of metal scaffolding loaded with heavy lighting equipment crashed onto the Super Stage at Times Plaza about 2:30 p.m.

Police reported about 15 minor arrests but few other problems during the first full day of festivities in the 13-block Los Angeles Civic Center area, except for the customary downtown traffic jam.

The Super Stage scaffolding accident forced the big evening performances--including Wonder and Rivers--onto the smaller stage facing City Hall on Spring Street, leaving many onlookers out of earshot and unable to see.

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Dangling From Trees, Lampposts

Nevertheless, Spring Street was packed before the concert began. Onlookers lined the ledges and rooftop of lower City Hall and dangled from trees and lampposts, while listeners pressed in from north and south to get nearer the stage. There was one scuffle but no major incidents.

And despite conditions, the crowd roared when Wonder finally sang and Bradley, in his usual necktie and business suit, backed him up by clapping in time.

The mayor kicked off the festivities Saturday morning at City Hall, and by that time drum beats from some of the more than 300 live acts scheduled to perform at the festival’s 21 stages had already begun to reverberate against downtown buildings.

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As the festival began, artist Denny Dent, armed with four paint brushes in each hand, entertained the cheering crowd by painting a five-foot-high portrait of Bradley in just over five minutes as the songs “L.A. Is My Lady” and “We Love L.A.” played in the background.

To the delight of the audience, Bradley then took a walking tour of the Civic Center flanked by festival chairwoman Sylvia Cunliffe and entertainment director Jerry Goldstein, who carried a glass case containing a pair of Michael Jackson’s socks, which were to be raffled off to raise money for the Mexican earthquake relief effort.

Band members and salespeople cheered as Bradley strolled past, followed by at least 100 members of the opening ceremonies audience and two Chinese dragon heads dancing to the beat of an Oriental cymbal band that rolled along nearby.

The jubilant crowd, representing a cross-section of the city’s population, swelled to the tens of thousands as the day wore on, packing the streets between the 300 arts and crafts displays and food booths to soak up the sun, the music and the people.

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“This is one of the few opportunities to see people of every race, creed, color and age, from little kids to big people . . . all of them happy, friendly and courteous,” said Hal MacDonald, 56, of Huntington Beach, as he watched a rousing folk dance demonstration in front of City Hall. “I’ve had several people bump into me and say, ‘Excuse me.’ That would never happen in this kind of a crowd without a very special atmosphere.”

Punkers and the Elderly

Children with rainbow-painted faces still wet from an arts and crafts booth, punk rockers with spiked, purple hair and elderly people leaning on canes stood around the stages as such groups as Phast Phreddie and the Precisions, the Aman Folk Ensemble and the Soul Train Dancers performed.

Sales were brisk at most booths, but not at the two booths hawking a recording of “L.A. Street Scene,” a new theme song for the festival sung by Donny Osmond. One sales clerk, who declined to be identified, estimated that fewer than 50 records had been sold by 4 p.m. Producers had hoped to sell 10,000 copies of the song before the festival ends today.

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Police at the special Street Scene command post Saturday night reported about 15 minor arrests for the day, mostly for charges like failure to disperse and throwing objects. Central Division Officer Stuart Foreman reported that traffic was “heavily congested” all around the Civic Center area.

Opera Group Silenced

Competing music from nearby performances plagued the American Theater of the Opera’s intimate performance Saturday afternoon, forcing the eight opera singers and their pianist to stop performing after only 15 minutes of a scheduled 90-minute appearance. The group had similar problems at the festival in previous years but never had to stop its show.

“This was supposed to be a festival of all music,” director Carmela Candela said as she packed up the group’s performance gear at the City Hall Cloisters, a marble, columned area less than two blocks from two major rock stages. “Now it’s only rock, rock, rock. I’m furious.”

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“Tell me, is it necessary to be so loud?” she asked, waving her arm at the huge, 18-speaker stage across the street, where singer Beau Williams was making a deafening appearance with the Children of the World. “We have just two little speakers. How can we even try to compete?”

Bystanders Terrified

The Super Stage mishap, which occurred between performances of two musical groups, Miami Sound Machine and Jo-El Sonnier, terrified hundreds of bystanders and injured two stage workers.

One of the injured, Dave Holcolmb, said the scaffolding “came down in a domino effect,” damaging a set of drums and some loud speakers. Holcolmb was shaken up when he jumped from the platform to escape the falling metal framework.

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Another unidentified man suffered a dislocated shoulder.

Both were taken by ambulance to a local hospital.

‘Whoosh, It Went’

“The wind just came up like a big tornado or something and I heard this crash and everyone screaming,” Ted Gonzalez, who was selling paintings nearby, said. “There was the big (video) screen on top and the wind just caught it and, whoosh, it all went.”

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“Thank God it happened when it did,” said Jami Sonnier, whose husband was about to start performing when the scaffolding fell.

Shows scheduled for the Super Stage were moved, and a spokeswoman said today’s events set for that stage probably would be rescheduled as well, with the new locations to be announced later.

‘It’s Beautiful’

For the most part, however, the crowd was oblivious to any problems.

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“It’s beautiful,” said Robert Green, who came from his home in the South-Central area of Los Angeles to enjoy the festivities. “I’ve tried so many foods and music that I never would have tried otherwise.”

The festival is scheduled to continue until 10 p.m. today, with performances by Jackson Browne, Richard Pryor, James Brown and several “surprise performances.”


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