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Answer to a local call

August 21, 2003|Steve Hochman | Special to The Times

On any given day you could walk the Silver Lake and Echo Park neighborhoods surrounding Sunset Junction and encounter some of Los Angeles' top up-and-coming rock talent -- playing at one of the area clubs, rehearsing or having a bite to eat.

The 88, Earlimart, Rilo Kiley and Moving Units, among many others, are all locals, as are such veteran independent music icons as the Circle Jerks and former Afghan Whigs leader Greg Dulli.

So this weekend won't be much different from normal. Well, it won't be if you take away the carnival rides, food and merchant booths, the thousands of people gathering on a blocked-off stretch of Sunset and the stages from which all of those and other musical acts will be performing.

The Sunset Junction Street Fair, now in its 24th year, has evolved into one of L.A.'s biggest annual festivals. On Saturday and Sunday, on three stages, it will present an eclectic lineup of music representing the community's vast diversity. And within that, the fair has emerged as a strong showcase for talent in the local rock scene.

That latter aspect has galvanized even more since 2001, when the operators of Silver Lake rock club Spaceland became co-producers of the event, in particular booking music acts for the stage located near Bates Street toward the west end of the fair. All the bands mentioned above are on the bills, along with other L.A. acts: Midnight Movies, Silversun Pickups and the Tyde, with only Ohio-originated indie-rock icons Guided by Voices (Saturday's headliner) and Oregon's Dandy Warhols (Sunday's closer) not having local addresses.

"I don't think we've ever had such a strong bill," says Jennifer Tefft, Spaceland talent buyer. "It's the biggest percentage of big L.A. bands we've been able to get. Moving Units, Rilo Kiley, the Tyde -- these bands are getting national and international recognition. And there will be Greg Dulli's new band, the Twilight Singers. A lot of people are also excited about us having the Circle Jerks. I've been trying to get them for three years."

Todd Clifford, owner of Sea Level Records a little farther down Sunset in Echo Park, believes the lineup reflects a current vibrancy in the neighborhood's music world.

"It says something that there's not a set sound to any of it," Clifford says. "With New York bands and the Brooklyn scene these days, there's a New York sound. But here you have bands that hang out together but sound completely different. Midnight Movies and the 88 are two of the more popular, and they're completely unlike Moving Units, and Rilo Kiley has been doing their thing forever. It's incredible that they all live within half a mile of each other but are doing very different things."

If the local scene is so rich and strong, though, why go outside the 'hood for each day's headliners?

The reason, explains festival founder Mike McKinley, is that the event is not just about showing off entertainment from the community, but bringing entertainment to the community. McKinley himself books the stage at the corner of Edgecliffe Street, the eastern end of the festival, and this year has Phoebe Snow headlining Saturday, with Isaac Hayes closing on Sunday.

Also appearing at Edgecliffe on Saturday are Carlos Guitarlos (a punk-era veteran returned to L.A. after a sometimes-homeless life in San Francisco) and R&B duo Leata Galloway and Tata Vega. Sunday's bill includes blues guitarist Arthur Adams and, continuing McKinley's tradition of hosting performers connected with Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Former Ladies of the Supremes, featuring two women who were in later versions of the act. The third stage, at Sanborn Street, will have performers ranging from the Ritmo Flamenco dance troupe to DJ Jason Bentley.

"There are a lot of low-income families, a lot of people who couldn't go to the big venues to see these people, and they love it that we can bring them here," say McKinley. "Part of it, yes, is celebrating the artists in the neighborhood, but it's also trying to bring people they wouldn't see to their doorstep."

That speaks to the origins of the festival, which McKinley started to help fund and expose Sunset Junction Youth, a program to help at-risk young people. The fair and the youth program are both part of the Sunset Junction Neighborhood Alliance, a nonprofit organization that also operates the weekly Silver Lake Farmer's Market and the Tsunami Coffee House.

Last year, with input from Spaceland, indie-rock titans Sonic Youth were brought to Sunset Junction, the first time a major, nonlocal act had played, as the biggest rock name. And McKinley had Chaka Khan, among the other acts. Tefft says that in such cases, the acts may not be from here, but they fit the community's vibe.

"Guided by Voices and the Dandy Warhols both make sense," Tefft says. "Both were on our original wish list in 2001. They're not from here, but they have a lot of ties here. They fit in with the Silver Lake scene."


Sunset Junction Street Fair

Where: 3600-4400 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake

When: Saturday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m.-10 p.m.

Cost: $7 donation

Bates stage schedule

Saturday: Nick Name & the Normals, noon; Glen Meadmore, 12:45; Lisa Marr Experiment, 1:30; Metric, 2:15; Kennedy, 3; Icarus Line, 3:45; Brian Jonestown Massacre, 4:30; Greg Dulli and the Twilight Singers, 5:15; the Muffs, 6:15; Circle Jerks, 7:45; Guided By Voices, 9.

Sunday: The Nervous Return, noon; the 88, 12:45; Midnight Movies, 1:30; Alaska!, 2:15; Silversun Pickups, 3; the Tyde, 3:45; Earlimart, 4:30; Rilo Kiley, 5:15; Moving Units, 6:15; Phantom Planet, 7:15; the Dandy Warhols, 8:15.

Info: For schedule on Edgecliffe and Sanborn stages and more, visit

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