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Mixing it up at the junction

Living art, a carnival and lots of music. Silver Lake's annual street fair takes over a stretch of Sunset.

August 25, 2008|Mindy Farabee | Times Staff Writer

It was a barely noticeable flub. Poppy boy-girl band Castledoor had a slight musical miscue during "The Birds and the Fleas," their opening number at Silver Lake's Sunset Junction street fair Saturday afternoon, and lead singer Nate Cole wasn't having it. "Normally, I would just roll with it, but this is Sunset Junction," Cole explained as he brought the song to a halt. "And we're going to give it all we've got." Heck, they even brought a bubble machine.

What began 28 years ago as a free neighborhood mixer, an attempt to connect longtime Latino residents and their newer gay and lesbian neighbors, has become, well, something much bigger. Its official schedule came festooned with logos from the likes of VitaminWater and "The Office," Season 4. This year, tens of thousands crowded into the five-block stretch of Sunset Boulevard to avail themselves of three stages of nonstop music, carnival rides, shooting galleries and, of course, many, many opportunities to shop.

The weekend fair still draws heavily from the surrounding area, but Toto, we're not in 1980 anymore. To wit, Sotheby's Realty had a booth, ATMs dotted the landscape and a buzzing plane dragged a banner declaring Coors the world's most refreshing beer over festival airspace.

Grumblings over the $20 entrance fee appeared to have thinned the crowd slightly, but many came in the spirit of the old days. Ricky Enriquez, Scott Peck and Daniel Poynter, beating the heat decked out in shorts and matching shirtlessness, drove up from Signal Hill. Thirty-one-year-old Enriquez has been coming on and off since he was 18. "Long Beach has gay pride, but not like this," he said. "This is a carnival."

Indeed, there were flamenco dancers, artists concocting live paintings and one pirate on stilts. There were African masks, vintage clothes and Ricky Martin bags really selling the time-travel theme of the store for 826LA, the non-profit founded by author Dave Eggers. The Hep Team did a brisk business doling out free hepatitis A and B vaccines. In fact, healthcare providers were out in force, tackling crystal meth addiction, offering Narcotics Anonymous, addressing AIDS or simply getting the word out on clinics, leading one to conclude that Silver Lake is one of L.A.'s most aware communities . . . or that you might want to stay out of the port-o-potties.

Meanwhile, families pushed strollers or chaperoned adolescents sporting unnatural hair colors and Obama pins (political diversity, the one variety not so much on display). Then there was St. Mother Mary, a bearded gentleman in a nun's costume, on hand to spread the good vibes. "Have fun, live in the now," he explained.

Others had a different message to deliver. Members of the Silver Lake Chamber of Commerce green committee took turns dressing up as the Bag Monster, a braided mass of plastic bags. "I heard it needs to be aired out a little bit," committee member Michelle Yahn said before donning the get-up. "Why is this not a green event?" she asked. "There's 100,000 people drinking beer out of plastic cups here."

As much as the beer, however, they came for the music. "Twenty dollars to get in, $10 to park and $7 for beer. It's hard because I don't make a lot of money," said Kelly Lavery, 24, who came for the headlining Cold War Kids. "But I love my music. I'll just buy one less pack of cigarettes next week."

As the event progressed Saturday, the crowd flowed freely, in a sampling sort of mood.

Word must have spread about Arthur Adams' gold lame shirt and shiny purple pants. Or else it was his funky blues down on the R&B-driven Hoover stage, because by the time he got around to covering "Land of a Thousand Dances," he'd summoned listeners from all corners.

At the world music flavored-Sanborn stage, everybody was moving to Cava's very L.A. blend of salsa, Afro-beat, ska and rock. "If you live in Los Angeles, you can't help but be influenced by all these sounds," said frontwoman Claudia Gonzalez.

Even though co-headliner Broken Social Scene experienced technical problems -- dead mikes and screeching monitors -- as far as the crowd was concerned, it could do no wrong. Though Canadian in many ways, the members were welcomed like local boys made good.

"Our first gig ever was at the Silverlake Lounge," singer Kevin Drew told the crowd. "So this means a lot." And so it went, from "Pacific Theme," their big, opening horn-laden instrumental, to their closing catharsis.

"This is about letting it all go. It's called therapy," Drew said from the stage. "I know you know about it -- you're from California." In response, a crescendo of deafening screams rang out. And then Drew got the crowd to do it again. And again.

Backstage, Drew said the group turned down a European tour this summer to travel the U.S., playing festivals and encouraging audiences to vote. As for Sunset Junction's balmy SoCal-style intimacy? "It's beautiful," he said.

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