I’ve seen this scene before.
After a day filled with sunshine, stimulation from illicit substances and a procession of preternaturally cool bands, there’s a young concertgoer in the parking lot having a hard time. Her flower crown is crooked, her overly done makeup is smeared, and she just really, really needs to go home.
But I’m not standing outside a polo field, speedway or warehouse. I'm at a picturesque preschool in Silver Lake. My 5-year-old daughter’s “spider butterfly” face paint is ruined — making her look like a tiny, sad goth — and it’s possible she had too many rainbow cupcakes (at the risk of sounding like Los Feliz Daycare's Twitter feed — yes, sugar is usually forbidden on school grounds).
Los Angeles Family School (LAFS) is having its annual fair and music festival; for the past several hours, a preschool has been one of the hottest spots in the city for live music, featuring performances by Dam-Funk, Deap Vally and Mr Little Jeans — who all recommitted after a massive tree unexpectedly toppled into the schoolyard hours prior to the originally scheduled event in May.
Cancellation was casually discussed but never seriously considered. It’s difficult to overstate the importance of these types of annual fundraising events for schools — yes, even Silver Lake preschools — as they try to stay true to their mission statements.
“The net profits raised from our fairs allow us to maintain economic diversity at the school by funding tuition grants to families who are unable to meet the full financial requirements,” says Lissett Avila, interim co-director at LAFS.
These types of “so L.A.” (or, as this one was called more than once, “so Duplass”) events surround us at all times, often semi-hidden. First-time visitors were flummoxed by the deceptively large grounds, as close to bucolic as “right off Hyperion” gets, and the seemingly incongruous sight of Dam-Funk slinging his keytar or Deap Vally smashing out songs about making money and taking walks of shame while preschoolers charged around playing homemade Plinko, smashing confetti-loaded eggs on one another and flying down a zipline.
Up on the stage, the day began with the school’s house band, the Shiny Shirts, tackling old standards and goofy novelty hits such as Benny Bell’s “Shaving Cream.” Kelly Jones and Rich Hinman played an easygoing acoustic set for the lunchtime crowd, like a high-end version of what you may typically expect to hear in the background of a community event.
Then things took a turn for the eclectic. Mr Little Jeans got the crowd moving — young, old and in between — with an assist from James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins, A Perfect Circle) on guitar. An energetic run-through of her best-loved electro-pop songs whetted the parents' appetite for new music; highlights included her name-making cover of Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” and “Oh Sailor,” which originally featured the Silverlake Conservatory of Music Youth Chorale sounding so sweet that you almost forgot they were singing about death.
When you’ve warmed up a crowd, there are few better to pass the baton to than Dam-Funk. Dubbed a “true hero of modernity” in these very pages last year, he brought the audience along on a city-skipping, genre-traversing narrative, peppered liberally with happy shoutouts to L.A. Family School. Seeming to relish his midafternoon spot in the sunlight and in front of all the kids, he danced and fist-bumped with parents, and built toward an awesome finale on his shoulder synth.
Finally, lo, there was rock, from the garage straight to the school sandbox, courtesy of Deap Vally. The L.A. duo is gearing up for the release of a new album, Femejism, in September, and it sounds like a scorcher. With a few lyrical edits along the way, they ripped through the declarative new single “Smile More,” alongside past hits like “Gonna Make My Own Money.”
A funny thing happened early in the Deap Vally set. My daughter, unbidden, prior to the meltdown, came and sat right next to me and watched singer-guitarist Lindsey Troy with a focus she usually reserves for Elsa and Anna. Finally, she turned to me with a big grin. She wasn’t alone, either. It may have been an afternoon that launched a dozen buzz bands in 2028.
The moment was not lost on Troy.
“Kids are so cool because they haven’t yet learned how to be pretentious or uber self-conscious. Their reactions are very authentic,” she tells me later. “Having my rock & roll female icons as a young girl was such an important part of what made me who I am, so it genuinely feels so rewarding to be that for young kids. And there is something particularly touching about performing to young kids while they are with their parents, seeing them both experience the show together. It was a very powerful performance for me to give.”
It’s hard to get people to attend a school fundraiser, and there is a certain oft-unspoken competitiveness among preschools within the same area, who are vying for some of the same dollars and donations. LAFS is hardly the only preschool that puts on a buzzworthy concert; headliners elsewhere in recent years have included Dave Grohl, Slash and even Korn, the ol’ softies. A mom named Beyoncé made national news by singing at a fundraiser for her daughter’s preschool; Will Ferrell and Billy Crystal emceed.
There’s no competing with Beyoncé, but LAFS takes a different route by assembling lineups that feel both for and from the neighborhood; previous headliners have included Moby, Andrew Bird, Laura Marling and Lisa Loeb, most of whom are locals. And while “fun for the whole family” sometimes means “hopefully you like what your kids like,” this fair tries a different tack.
“I think the other fairs and fundraisers within our neighborhood are comparable to one another in terms of design, layout and gimmicks,” Avila says. “What makes ours at L.A. Family School unique are the families that bring in their various talents and expertise. Our parents envision an event that will appeal to children and adults alike and they bring that to life.”
This year, the proof of that success was the sprinkling of trendy-looking singles and childless couples strolling affably around the grounds, bobbing along to the music, eating food from Eveleigh and sipping drinks from Silverlake Wine.
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“So this is what it’s like, huh?” one asked me. “It” meaning fatherhood. The future.
And yes, it is. It’s a different kind of party, but a party all the same.