"It's a beautiful atmosphere," Perkins says of the amphitheater after their set. "It's an awesome experience to get onstage and just sing for pure love and touch people like that."
What brought her band and others to the 1,200-seat space is an annual event called "Koffeehouse Music: An Evening of Independence," which is made possible by a unique summer program to bring local culture to the Ford stage. Just days earlier, singer k.d. lang headlined this same venue for 90 minutes of epic torch and twang, one of the many nationally known acts to pass through the amphitheater each year. But unlike other big stages in the city, the Ford is a major venue with a grass-roots mission. Since 1992, its Summer Partnership Program has opened the Ford to local artists and producers by providing the venue rent-free, plus box office staff, ushers, facility management and more.It's a program of the L.A. County Arts Commission that accepts more than 30 "partners" a year from May through October, filling the old space with homegrown rock, folk, jazz, hip-hop, dance, spoken-word, multimedia and live theater. The program offers instruction on the crucial survival skills of marketing, publicity, budgeting and everything else needed to draw an audience large enough for the Ford.
"Some companies may be able to fill a 200-seat theater, but to make that jump to a 1,200-seat theater is really tough," says Adam Davis, managing director of the Ford. "We bring professionals in to help them."
The main criteria, says Davis, is "artistic excellence. We're looking for the best we can get." Applicants must demonstrate financial responsibility and the capacity to "work and play well with others," he adds. "We don't accept partners if we think they can't hack it."
The successes this season include July's sold-out Flypoet gathering of live spoken word, and a June show by hip-hop dance group Culture Shock L.A. Still to come Oct. 7 is "Chanson d'Amour," a tribute to French songwriters performed by Amanda McBroom and Lee Lessack.
The result is "a diverse program of art and music that otherwise would not be seen on this scale," says Lessack, making his second appearance at the theater. "It's such a magical venue. It's a landmark of Los Angeles County and I'm really proud to be a part of it. Because it's outdoors, there is a vastness to it, but it's so intimate."
A short stroll away from the Hollywood Bowl across the Cahuenga Pass, the Ford Theatre was built in 1920, burned down in '29, and was rebuilt two years later. Towering above the stage are castle-like turrets appropriate to a Shakespearean moment. Back in 1988, the Ramones caused a ruckus when they erupted through 34 speedy punk tunes at the Ford, blaring right across the canyon and assaulting the L.A. Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl. (On the bootleg recording, Joey Ramone can be heard admiring the wide open spaces: "It's fucking great to be out here tonight in the great outdoors of Hollywood, y'know!") For a time, rock music and other noisy genres were barred altogether from the facility.