UPDATED: Having Lost Sunset Junction, Can We Now Get It Back?

Photo by Greenplastic875 via flickr Creative Commons.

Updated below on August 24 at 8:50 pm.

As I write this, the fate of this weekend’s Sunset Junction remains up in the air. Supposedly the organizers have the money to pay the city, but the Board won’t make its decision until tomorrow morning.

Had the whole thing happened last year, I might have just said, “Oh well.”

I attended Sunset Junction almost every year during the nineties, occasionally as a musical performer, even in the days when regularly booking band practice at Hully Gully Studios was enough to get you a slot on the Bates stage.  It was always the same groovy acid-carnival vibe, freaks and norms all out with their families,, having a fruity drink in the shade together and checking out each others’ art. It was the kind of event that LA expats would fly home for every summer, knowing everyone they wanted to see would be in the same place at the same time.

But the couple of festivals I attended in the last decade were a whole different story. The headliners kept getting bigger, and the crowds with them.  The result has sometimes been a dense mob of humanity spending their entire night grappling with the lack of facilities, or space on the street to house them.

The lack of crowd control has been frightening at times. Trying to get close enough to see Sonic Youth in 2002, I found myself in a panic attack- inducing crush of bodies before the band even took the stage. The crowd kept its cool that night, but I remember being genuinely afraid for the people at the front.

Admittedly, organizers seem to have recognized the overreach and have generally kept the headliners at House Of Blues- level-famous rather than Palladium- level-famous acts ever since.

But that’s the rub – you can’t raise enough money to pay acts that famous without overcrowding the space.

Make no mistake, $20 at the door is not a lot to pay for a big rock concert. Just the Butthole Surfers & Melvins alone commanded more than that at Club Nokia two years ago, no Tilt-A-Whirls included.

But if watching bands is not on your list of priorities, $20 IS a lot to pay to just go ride the Tilt-a-Whirl, eat cotton candy and be part of the neighborhood fair. If I were one of those people, I’d surely opt out. By losing those people, you no longer have a street scene that benefits the entire neighborhood. And as such, it’s not surprising that fewer of the people who live there are supporting it, or that after years of continual overcrowding, now people are opting to stay away.

I still hope they can pull it off and make this weekend happen. The added focus on upcoming LA artists at the fair is a completely positive development, an acknowledgement of the community that gives this festival whatever spirit it still has. So that’s a sign of things possibly headed back in the right direction.

But if the close call prompts a careful look at the scale and the intent of the festival, and it results in the fair becoming a place where it’s fun to hang out again, it might not be an entirely bad thing.

UPDATE: Wednesday August 24 at 8:50pm – by now you have surely heard, the Junction has been cancelled although contingency plans exist to present at least some of the scheduled entertainment despite the odds – El Cid will keep its scheduled appearances of local bands with additional acts to be announced at nearby venues; we’ll keep you posted.

The LA Weekly quoted Silver Lake Neighborhood Council member Sarah Dale as saying that she hoped a promoter would step up to “work with the community for a free festival without fences… This community will support that.” That rings true, despite the disappointment that I won’t get to ride the Hammer while listening to the Butthole Surfers. But I still might be able to hit up Stone Foxes for that Scorpion Bowl they promised me since they were already on the El Cid lineup.

The quality of entertainment chosen for each year’s bill isn’t the issue- some of the lineups have been utterly epic, X and Love rocking out on the very same street where they made their reputation decades earlier (albeit a few miles west) was a truly great LA moment despite the uncomfortable surroundings.

Unfortunately, the logistics of putting on great bills with bands lots of people want to hear conflict with the logistics of a friendly neighborhood get-together. It was an interesting experiment to see the organizers try to bridge that gap, but it’s obviously no longer sustainable. We’ll have to wait and see what takes its place. 

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