England’s UB40 and local bar-circuit regulars Billy Vera & the Beaters are among the dozens of pop and rock bands that you can see free today and Sunday during the ninth annual Los Angeles Street Scene Festival.

No one on this year’s bill, however, approaches the commercial standing of a Stevie Wonder, Chicago or Jackson Browne, each of whom has appeared at past festivals.

The city-sponsored Street Scene committee only pays musicians scale (about $100 each), so it has to depend on an artist’s sense of community spirit--and need for exposure. Some years the big names come through; other years they don’t.


Ironically, the one top-level act that had agreed to play at this year’s festival will be sitting across town in its hotel room much of the day. The group isn’t being allowed to participate in the event, which is spread across a 14-block area of the downtown Civic Center.

Run-D.M.C., the New York rap trio whose latest album is No. 3 on the national best-seller list, had hoped to play on the steps of City Hall at 4 p.m. today, but the group was dropped from the lineup on Tuesday. The decision was based at least in part on City Hall uneasiness after gang violence at the group’s concert Aug. 18 at the Long Beach Arena left 40 people injured. “I’ll be damned if we’ll have them,” said Deputy Mayor Tom Houston.

“I think the reason they kept us off the show is politics,” said Run-D.M.C.’s outspoken leader Joseph Simmons, who flew here for a television taping Thursday night. “(The city authorities) don’t want to admit that we have more influence over the kids than they do. But it’s true. Kids don’t care what some old guy says, but they listen to Run-D.M.C.

“They try to make it look like we are the problem . . . the reason for the violence out here. But I wasn’t in town when people (in Huntington Beach) turned over cars (during a Labor Day weekend riot in which 10 police officers and 30 beachgoers were injured). So what are they going to blame that on?”

Though Run-D.M.C.’s album is titled “Raising Hell,” the group’s message is pro-school, anti-drugs, anti-violence. Despite the ghetto association of street-spawned rap music, Simmons and partners--Darryl McDaniels and Jay Mizell--are from middle-class environments. McDaniels studied business administration at St. John’s University.

“I help people so much with my messages,” Simmons said, twisting in a dressing-room chair after the TV taping with the same nervous energy he exhibits on stage. “Kids come up to me all the time and tell me things like, ‘I used to not go to school, but I do now because I know that’s what you want me to do.’ That makes me so happy.


“I thought it (the original invitation to play the Street Scene) was a real positive step for the city. I was planning to go on stage and tell the crowd what I think about gangs. I’d have said to the gang members, ‘You are so stupid . . . there are no gangs around the world . . . including cities with tough reputations, like Detroit and New York.’ That whole scene is played out (over) everywhere else. There’s nothing cool about them.”

Added the trio’s Mizell, “Even if the guys who are deeply into (gangs) don’t want to listen to our message, the kids who were looking up to them will get the message because they look up to us more--and they won’t follow in their (gang) footsteps.”

Milt Petty, director of talent acquisition for the Street Scene committee, expressed disappointment Friday that Run-D.M.C. won’t appear. “I agree with Joseph Simmons that they have a positive impact on an enormous amount of young people in the Central City--and it’s a shame they can’t deliver that message from the steps of City Hall, where it could have a great impact.”

Petty, however, said there will be an “anti-gang, anti-crack” aspect to the Street Scene. The program, being held in association with radio station KDAY-AM, wil be centered at the Go-Go Stage, on the north side of City Hall East, where several local rap bands, including the L.A. Dream Team, will be performing both days.

SOME FESTIVAL BEST BETS--Though this year’s festival lineup has few big-name attractions, there are some choice bands performing. Here’s a personalized list of recommended attractions and where they will appear (programs will be distributed free at the festival outlining exact stage locations).

Today: Noon--UB40, the reggae-accented English rock group that just played the Greek Theatre and headlines the Pacific Amphitheatre tonight (Spring Bowl); 3:30 p.m.: Rank and File, one of the pioneers in the recent hard-edged country-rock revival (Main); 6 p.m.: the Rave-Ups, perhaps the most promising rock band to emerge here since Lone Justice (Main).

Sunday: 11 a.m.: Hank Ballard, father of the “twist” and the force behind such early R&B;/rock classics as “Work With Me Annie” (Main); 2:30 p.m.: the James Harman Band, one of the most entertaining of the Southern California bar bands (Parker II); 3 p.m.: Billy & the Beaters, another highly regarded club favorite (Main); 4:30 p.m.: Johnny Otis, one of the godfathers of Los Angeles R&B; (Main); 5:30 p.m.: Victoria Williams, warm and original, if eccentric folk-pop (Broadway East); 6 p.m. Etta James, the blues stylist (Main); 6:30 p.m.: Untouchables, an always dependable, party-minded group with a ska influence (Times Plaza); 7:30 p.m.: Chris Hillman and Desert Rose, traditional country with a contemporary twist (Broadway).

LIVE ACTION: Genesis has added a fifth show (Oct. 17) to its upcoming Forum engagement. Tickets go on sale Monday. . . . Tickets also go on sale Monday for three other shows: Quiet Riot on Oct. 31 at the Greek, Eddie Money on Oct. 11 at UC Irvine’s Crawford Hall and Motorhead on Oct. 12 at Orange Pavilion. . . . Anita Baker will be at the Beverly Theatre for three nights starting Dec. 26. Tickets go on sale Monday. . . . New Order will be at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre on Nov. 1.