NORTHRIDGE — An eclectic blend of jazz, classical, reggae and rock 'n' roll will usher in a new era of live music Sunday at Devonshire Downs, at one time the site of a long series of rock performances from Jimi Hendrix to Jane's Addiction.
On Sunday, local acts Dread Zeppelin, Wild Colonials and Quarks will perform at the "Sunfest Alternative Music Fair" in a venue now renamed The Downs, at the far northeast corner of Cal State Northridge. The bands will be joined by outdoor booths featuring tattoo artists, a psychic, food and merchandise, in a kind of small-scale rendition of the popular Lollapalooza Festival.
This onetime equestrian site and concert venue has been largely dormant since the end of the 1980s, when most activities there were halted to make room for a development project that was eventually abandoned.
Before that, Devonshire Downs had been the site of a 1969 two-day rock festival that featured Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Creedence Clearwater Revival and, in more recent years, concerts by Belinda Carlisle, the Untouchables, X and Jane's Addiction.
"It's been a long time since the university has permitted events like this on our campus," said Debra Chambers, events manager for the CSUN School of Humanities, sponsor of Sunday's concert. But, she said, university President Blenda J. Wilson has brought "a change of philosophy," with hopes that live musical events will also serve the neighboring community.
The next show is not likely to be scheduled until February, Chambers said. "The purpose of the concerts is to raise money for student programs," she said. "But the success of this first event is going to determine the direction that we're going to take in the future."
The next show will probably again feature modern rock acts, but other forms of music will also be presented, Chambers said.
To that end, it's perhaps appropriate that Wild Colonials is part of Sunday's lineup. The quartet recently finished a debut album for Geffen Records with the same mix of jazz, classical and pop elements that have already earned the band fans on the Los Angeles club circuit. The album will be released early next year.
Wild Colonials were created soon after the arrival two years ago of Scottish-born Angela McCluskey from London, where she had often found time to sing in one band or another. With violinist-pianist Paul Cantelon, keyboardist and horn-player Scott Roewe and a guitarist calling himself Shark, the band supplements a largely acoustic sound with tabla, African talking drum and Duane Eddy-style electric guitar, among other elements.
"It's something that really shouldn't work," McCluskey said. "You know, classical, jazz, a rock 'n' roller--it should be a big mess, really."
That "mess" has earned the band some airplay on the eclectic public radio station KCRW-FM (89.9) and the Geffen recording contract, all as a result of six months as the regular Tuesday night entertainment at Cafe Largo on Fairfax Avenue earlier this year.
"I was actually worried a bit," McCluskey said. "Gosh, are we ready?"
She added: "It just happened--right time, right place. I don't think anybody in their right mind would pack up a suitcase and say 'I'm coming to L. A. to become a musician.' The competition is phenomenal."
Sharing the Downs stage with Wild Colonials on Sunday will be Dread Zeppelin--known for its irreverent reggae versions of Led Zeppelin's hard rock songs--and Quarks, a modern pop act. They're to perform in a room now certified to hold 1,538 people, although Chambers said she is hoping that the fire marshal will allow that number to rise in the future.
After all, she added, the west San Fernando Valley has long been in need of a large music venue. "Even on campus, our Valley Master Chorale (now renamed the Angeles Chorale) has complained that they've not had a large enough place to perform in the Valley," she said. "They're a 150-voice choir, and they often have to go out of the Valley to perform.
"If we open up our stadium, which we hope to do with that 20,000-capacity, we're hoping that we will be able to pull in some bigger talent in the spring or summer."
Where and When What: Sunfest Alternative Music Fair, with Dread Zeppelin, Wild Colonials and Quarks. Location: The Downs (CSUN's North Campus), at Zelzah Avenue and Devonshire Street, Northridge. Hours: 5:30 p.m. Sunday Price: $15, includes parking. Call: (213) 480-3232.