In the land where publicity stunts are daily fare, it's hard to grab the attention of Los Angeles residents, but messing with traffic (as President Obama recently learned when he was in town) is a start. Add a local music band that decided to park its truck diagonally across three lanes of southbound traffic on the 101 Freeway, hop out and hold an impromptu (free!) concert, and you've got a stunt that, well, stopped traffic.
Three audacious — and now arrested — musicians scrambled atop their truck, plugged in their guitars and launched into a rendition of a song called — wait for it — "Traffic Jam 101."
Fittingly, their concert caused a jam Tuesday just south of the Sunset Boulevard exit. Late-morning traffic slowed to a crawl with only a few right lanes left open to get around the spectacle. Some drivers said the snarl added as much as an hour to their commute and several said they missed appointments.
"This was really bizarre. A rock band blocking one of the busiest freeways in L.A.," said Steve Whitmore, spokesman for the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, who was driving on the freeway when the incident unfolded. "I thought I'd seen everything in L.A."
Authorities say the musicians include at least two members of an Orange County rock band called Imperial Stars — Christopher Wright, a vocalist, and Keith Yackey, a guitarist. A third musician, David Paul Hale, who was arrested, is not listed on the band's website which names five members. The band's management did not return phone messages.
Although the band has played at clubs around the area, the freeway appears to be its biggest and most ambitious venue to date.
Reviews were mixed. And none had anything to do with the quality of the music.
"File under idiotic promotion," tweeted @musictrenches.
Some had advice: "Causing a traffic jam will not get you fans," tweeted @SoCassandra.
Others were kinder, sprinkling their tweets with "LOL"s and rebuking those who were annoyed.
"All those who complained are lame. LA is full of whining people who whine for just about anything," Hollywood Kev posted on the Times' L.A. Now blog. "Imperial Stars just became my favorite group of all time."
They aren't the first music group to perform on a non-traditional stage. The trend began with New Orleans jazz musicians who promoted their shows by playing music on the back of flatbed trucks. Taking a page from that playbook, the Rolling Stones rolled out their 1975 North American tour by playing "Brown Sugar" on the back of a flatbed as it slowly rolled down New York's 5th Avenue with a gaggle of fans, journalists and other curiosity seekers in tow.
U2 played on the rooftop of a downtown L.A. building in 1987 for a music video for the song "Where the Streets Have No Name". During the course of their eight-song set, large crowds thronged the surrounding streets, and police attempted to shut down the shoot for safety reasons.
The freeway musicians didn't have more than about 20 minutes to perform before they were swarmed by Los Angeles Police Department officers, followed by California Highway Patrol officers and Fire Department personnel. The driver of the truck apparently fled the scene with the keys, so the CHP had to call in a tow truck.
A ladder was propped against the band's truck so the musicians could climb down. Northbound motorists crawling up the freeway gawked at the spectacle on the opposite side. A driver in a pickup waved cheerily as he drove by.
The band members were arrested on suspicion of a medley of criminal counts — malicious and willful disturbance by loud noise, willful obstruction of public officers or emergency medical personnel, committing an act injuring the public health, and the old standby, unlawful assembly.
"The Imperial Stars are committed to benefiting the displaced children of America through the voice of music," reads the mission statement on the band's website. (Proceeds from sales of "Traffic Jam 101" go to "helping the Homeless Children of America" the website says.)
Of course, the short concert may have inadvertently displaced more children — those stuck with their parents in traffic.