Like many great ideas, the Echo Park Rising festival was born out of necessity.
In 2011, following the last-minute cancellation of the long-running Sunset Junction street fair, Spaceland Presents talent buyer Liz Garo's phone started ringing. "There were all these bands coming in from out of town," Garo recalls — and they were all frantically looking for someplace to play. "So it was kind of like, 'Hey kids, let's put on a show.'"
Garo booked some of the bands into Spaceland's main venues, the Echo and Echoplex, as well as Stories Books & Cafe, which she co-owns. She also enlisted help from Neil Schield at Origami Vinyl and Jon Gibson at iam8bit gallery, and booked more bands into their spaces. Before she knew it, she had thrown together a music festival.
"It happened so quickly and so naturally and it was so much fun," Garo says now, taking a breather from preparations for this year's Echo Park Rising, which takes place this Thursday through Sunday, Aug. 18-21. "You could just feel the energy; there were so many more people on the streets and everybody just liked the feeling of being able to bounce around. Sunset Junction was such an important part of the whole Silver Lake and Eastside culture. So it was great that we were able to step in."
Now in its sixth year, Echo Park Rising has grown from its hodgepodge origins into the closest thing L.A. has to a true showcase-style music festival, similar in structure and scope (minus the panels and industry schmoozing) to CMJ Music Marathon and South by Southwest. Over the course of four days, EPR plays host to hundreds of bands — as well as comedy, author readings and art and photography exhibits — in more than 30 venues up and down Sunset Boulevard and adjacent streets, from bars and coffeehouses to record stores and even a barbershop.
The festival has gotten so big that Garo isn't even sure exactly how many bands are playing. "I'm in the midst of it; I can give you a number when we're done," she says. "But it's usually about 300 bands."
Among the better-known artists playing this year are Valley surf-punk trio Bleached, psychedelic rock 'n' soul combo Chicano Batman and Seattle post-punk quartet Chastity Belt. But Echo Park Rising doesn't have any "headliners" per se. Garo's primary goal in organizing the festival is to showcase the riot of talent in her own backyard, from more well-established local acts like Meatbodies, Adult Books and Colleen Green to up-and-comers who might still be a year or two away from their first Monday night residency at the Echo.
"Ninety-five percent of the bands are from the neighborhood," Garo estimates. "Some people are like, 'Why aren't you doing more touring stuff?' But at least for now, the spirit of the festival is that it's local."
As the festival has grown, Garo has delegated some of the booking to Spaceland's junior booker, Luke Hanna, as well as partners like Grand Ole Echo's Ben Reddell, Latin music promoter Nancy Ortega and Deserted at the Palms organizer (and L.A. Weekly contributor) Daiana Feuer, "just so it wasn't [all] my vision." But Garo's passion for promoting local artists is still the glue that holds together Echo Park Rising's increasingly diverse programming.
"There's no shortage of good talent, that's for sure," she says of the current crop of bands and musicians based in and around Echo Park, Highland Park, Silver Lake and downtown. "Somebody said to me the other day, and it makes a lot of sense: If the scene that's happening now was happening 20 years ago, when there were tons of record labels out signing bands, probably all of these bands would've gotten at least some major-label attention. It's a different climate, where everything's more indie. But that doesn't mean any of these acts are less talented."
Garo herself deserves more attention than she usually gets, too. A music industry veteran who began booking shows at Spaceland's old namesake venue (at what is now the Satellite) nearly 20 years ago, Garo now oversees talent buying for the Echo, Echoplex, Regent Theater and Santa Monica Pier's Twilight Concert Series, as well as shows at the Getty and the Natural History Museum. In some years, she books as many as 800 events, and has played a pivotal role in helping many a local band hone their live chops and graduate to larger venues and bigger audiences.
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"You see bands growing up," she says proudly. At Echo Park Rising, for example, "The Molochs played Little Joy I think three years ago; now they're gonna be at the Echoplex on Saturday."
In addition to showcasing local talent, Echo Park Rising's other main goal, working with the Echo Park Chamber of Commerce, is to involve more local businesses — as sponsors (which helps keep the festival free), host venues and attractions in their own right. "It originally started as a music and small-business festival," says Garo, who cites Origami, iam8bit and Masa pizzeria (and, of course, Spaceland Presents, itself a locally owned business) as among the first active sponsors and participants. "We've always tried to make sure the businesses don't feel excluded" — a contrast from its predecessor, Sunset Junction, which as it grew began fencing off sidewalks, making it difficult for attendees to hit local shops and restaurants.
But the focus of Echo Park Rising remains its mind-boggling array of local bands — so many that not even Garo herself can claim to be familiar with all of them. "There's a whole bunch of stuff we're booking that I haven't seen, so it'll be good for me to go check it out, as well."
Echo Park Rising takes place Aug. 18-21 at multiple venues throughout Echo Park, including the Echo, Echoplex, Short Stop, Stories Books & Cafe, the Lost Room, Taix Restaurant and many more. More info at epr.la.