No Sunset Junction? Let’s party anyway

“Thanks to that guy from Sunset Junction for not paying his bills, because otherwise, we wouldn’t be here,” Matt Henderson, lead singer of Manhattan Murder Mystery, said Saturday from the backyard stage of a riotous Silver Lake house party equipped with a makeshift bar, a whole-hog roast and a large baby pool.

The crowd of 100 or so cheered, and Henderson passed around a plastic bottle of whiskey.

They had reason to celebrate, since just days before, Manhattan Murder Mystery was one of nearly 100 bands and DJs out of luck after the 3-decade-old street festival was canceled just days before it was scheduled to start this weekend.

The cancellation — because L.A. officials denied the festival permits after organizers could not pay money it owed the city — set off a wave of spirited activity as shops, venues, bookers and fans scrambled to place the many bands. The result was a new kind of celebration, one that participants said better mirrored the spirit of the community; others likened it to a mini version of Austin, Texas’ South by Southwest music festival, with bands playing for free in unexpected corners across Silver Lake and Echo Park. One gloomy edge to the sunniness, however, was that certain businesses within the fair’s footprint felt the bitter sting of lost revenue.

The festivities included a party at Dangerbird Records, co-hosted by Buzz Bands L.A., where acts including Vanaprasta and Useless Keys played to a full backyard; the 400 Blows record release party at Vacation Vinyl; bands such as Olin and the Moon and the Black Apples at a new bar called What Cheer?; Family of the Year and others at a former beauty school turned budding venue called Sunset Stretch; a ukulele orchestra and mini-street party in front of ReForm School called the “No Function Junction.”


And there was more: shows at the Satellite; a loose-knit series of events dubbed “Echo Park Rising” that included performances by such bands as Clap Your Hands Say Yeah at the Echo and Echoplex, Barrio Tiger at Origami Vinyl, and a slew of performances at the above-mentioned house party, which was hosted by a friend of Jack Martinez, executive director of the fledgling Silver Lake Jubilee festival, which in the last two years has gained attention for being what Sunset Junction once was: a small, inexpensive neighborhood celebration.

“I had a lot of fun at the Junction,” said Mark Thompson, who owns Vacation Vinyl along a stretch of Sunset Boulevard that would have been fenced out of the festival. “But it became a commercial vehicle that appropriated the sense of identity that our community has.”

Sunset Junction had become an incredibly divisive issue in the neighborhood over the years as it grew from a grass-roots, donation-only festival into a behemoth commercial fair that this year was charging $25 admission. Neighbors complained of the difficulty of simply getting around during the weekend, while many business owners felt shut out of the goings-on. Some nearby businesses said they lost money during the annual event because they weren’t included in the festival’s boundaries and customers found it hard to get to them.

For businesses within the footprint of the festival, however, losing the Junction was a heavy financial blow. During past Sunset Junctions, the 4100 bar turned its parking lot into a beer garden and packed the place, said bartender Erik Houg, looking ruefully around the nearly deserted bar Saturday.

“Normally, I would expect to make $2,000 in two days. Now I’ll be lucky if I make $500,” he said. “It’s money I count on. I don’t understand how the city of L.A. can do this in this economy.”

The 4100’s manager, Brandon Karrer, said the cancellation was also unfortunate because it affected all the bar’s vendors too. He had to cancel orders at the last minute for beer, fencing, chairs and extra security, a situation that many businesses found themselves in.

It was a different vibe down the street at the “No Function Junction” party. Pull My Daisy owner Sarah Dale, a vocal opponent of the festival because she felt it had come to champion money over diversity and community, was nothing short of overjoyed.

“I feel like I’m gonna cry,” Dale said happily, pointing to 20 or so people strumming ukuleles on the sidewalk. “Do you see the ukulele orchestra? They’re playing Justin Bieber! It’s just so, so Silver Lake.”

“Like, baby, baby, baby, oh!,” orchestra members sang as children danced and tattooed couples snapped pictures. “Like baby, baby, baby, no.”

That feeling of carefree fun and the diversity of the people taking part were indeed reminiscent of simpler times in Silver Lake before it became known as a hotbed for hipsters and more recently stereotyped as a gentrified home for people who love expensive coffee, push ergonomic strollers and regularly attend yoga classes.

In reality, Silver Lake is much more complex and that so many in the community rallied to help the bands scheduled to play the festival was a testament to the area’s fierce commitment to the arts.

Out on the streets, many speculated on whether Sunset Junction would come back but said that if it didn’t they hoped the Silver Lake Jubilee would set the new standard for festivals in the neighborhood. There also were signs that a cohesive festival might rise from the Junction’s ashes.

For example, at the party where Manhattan Murder Mystery played, T-shirts had been made that read, “Edgecliffe Hog Roast 2011.” Nicole Hilton, who made the shirts, said she sold all 40 of them.

“I guess it’s going to turn into an annual thing,” she said.

Adam Kurtz, offstage after playing with the Damselles, said that it was one of his best shows ever and that the vibe was just right for musicians. “I knew as soon as the Junction was canceled that there were going to be a lot more gigs to play. Now, instead of playing once, we played last night and two shows today.”