Time moves way too fast, doesn't it? Kids are going back to school, television is touting fall programming, and stores are filling up with sweater fashions. Even so, summer doesn’t even start fading till Labor Day in L.A. And if there’s one place to go to slow down the seasonal shift happening right now, it’s the Sunset Strip. All summer long, the West Hollywood Travel & Tourism Board and the City of West Hollywood have been paying homage to a simpler time, the Summer of Love, when peace through music marked a cultural movement against war and division, driven by unity and celebration of life. Thankfully, it's not over yet.
The idea came from West Hollywood Mayor John Duran, who’s been a lifelong advocate for civil rights. According to Ben Reiss, Business Improvement District manager for the Sunset Strip and West Hollywood, paying homage to 1967's Summer of Love, “a cultural creative zeitgeist that was a reaction to the dark sociopolitical forces that were predominant at that period of time,” made perfect sense for Duran and the community. “Similarly, now we are experiencing a new wellspring of artistry, expressionism and music that is being inspired by the current tumult in society, and we want to showcase such energy on the Sunset Strip during this period of revival,” Reiss tells L.A. Weekly.
Just this week, the Standard’s music series Desert Nights referenced ’60s vibes with a Woodstock-themed event to celebrate its eighth anniversary. “One of the main reasons besides the obvious birthday (Woodstock took place on Aug. 15, too) is the eerie resemblance to the current political climate in the United States with all the warmongering rhetoric of the people in charge of running this country,” says Valida Carroll, who runs Desert Nights. “Woodstock was a peace/resistance festival and I wanted to honor its legacy by paying homage to the musical giants who took to the stage on that hot summer weekend in 1969 and used their voices to galvanize the masses for what was then to be the biggest anti-war protest in the history of this country, in November 1969, Washington, D.C.”
Desert Nights itself was inspired by the ’60s and ’70s Laurel Canyon Music renaissance. Showcasing emerging singer-songwriter talent, the event has been keeping the legacy of the Sunset Boulevard as a music hub for West Coast indie folk, alt-country and stripped-down indie rock alive since it began. It has grown to embrace other genres, mainly electronic, blues, jazz and anything really that fits with the hotel’s picturesque cactus backdrop. “When I book artists, one of the things I imagine is whether I would enjoy their music if I were sitting in a tent in Joshua Tree,” says Carroll, who also deejays at KCRW. “If the answer is yes, then I go ahead.”
The Standard, of course, remains one of the Strip’s most popular locales, both for its funky hotel and for its nigthtlife promotions, so it didn’t necessarily need exposure to tourists or locals. But there are other hidden gems on the Strip that this summer’s promotional push has helped to amplify.
The Den, for example, has been one of the Strip’s best hidden secrets for the past several years. Of course, it’s not really a secret for its regulars; a recent Friday night visit saw a line to get in around 11 p.m., as a DJ took over transforming the vibe from date-night chill to wild weekend thrill. The inviting bar and restaurant has been on our radar more and more lately, hosting themed nights centered around music — from “Rock Star Karaoke” on Wednesdays to “’80s Music Sundays.” It also offers a bodacious late-night bingo gathering, hosted by WeHo party promoter Billy Francesca, on the last Thursday of every month. The space, formerly a Japanese restaurant, has been slowly building its a following since it opened nine years ago, and after having happy hour drinks and tasty, comfort food–style appetizers there, we can see why. It’s an atmospheric alternative to the Rainbow for pre-gaming and grubbing before shows at the Roxy, the Whisky and Viper Room.
Both the Den and the Rainbow will, in fact, be celebrating anniversaries timed to the Summer of Love promotion’s end around Labor Day. As for the Viper Room, much has been speculated about the infamous venue since it was announced that Pink Taco’s Harry Morton sold the space, but Reiss tells us the owners will not be shutting the club down as some blogs have been predicting, and that the Viper Room will continue to honor and be a part of the music history on the Strip for the time being.
Despite naysayers' assumptions that the Strip will become nothing but hotels and fancy eateries one day, bringing about more opportunities for live music on the Sunset Strip seems to be a top priority for both the mayor and the Sunset Strip Business Improvement District. “We want to be known as the music capital of Los Angeles,” Reiss affirms. “We have specific initiatives that we’ll be rolling out over the next few months, but Sunset Strip businesses have already taken the lead in driving programming for Summer on Sunset and beyond; filling their bars, lounges and hotels with music, embracing the current spontaneous guerrilla spirit of pop-ups. Live at the Sunset Marquis, band nights at State Social House, DJs at the Den, Desert Nights at the Standard, and they just had a cool jazz pop-up at BOA Steakhouse last week as well. And, of course, all of our historic venues are doing gangbusters still; people love to go to shows.”
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The Andaz Hotel (formerly the Hyatt aka the Hyatt House at Riot House aka the place where Led Zeppelin and many other rock stars partied their brains out in the ’60s and ’70s) is a prime example of a historic rock & roll venue that went upscale years ago but has continued to embrace its past. Like the Marquis (which holds rock star meet-and-greets at its Morrison Gallery regularly), there's always some cool retro-rock display that, after viewing, wouldn't be complete without a visit atop the hotel's roof where so many rockers raged in the past. The hotel is promoting "Sunsets on Sunset," inviting the public to check out its majestic rooftop pool, bar, lounge and view, for the ultimate Sunset Strip viewing experience. Currently, the hotel's second floor features never-before-seen posters celebrating "The Psychedelic Art of the Summer of Love," presented by the Grammy Museum at L.A. Live in partnership with the hotel. Featuring work by noted psychedelic artists including Wes Wilson, Bonnie MacLean, Jim Blashfield, Greg Irons and Stanley Mouse, the exhibit will be up through October.
The West Hollywood Travel and Tourism Board has partnered with the Sunset Strip Business Improvement District for the Summer on Sunset/Summer of Love promotion, giving away a special VIP Pass for discounts all along the Strip. Reiss says they plan to make this an annual promotion that might morph into a proper South by Southwest–type festival in the future. If this happens, hopefully it won't go the way the Sunset Strip Music Festival did in 2015.
In the meantime, Reiss touts upcoming activations, which will amp up as the Summer of Love campaign comes to a close. These include the anniversary bashes at the Rainbow and the Den, a Rock & Roll Pub Crawl on the Strip via the street's new trolley on Aug. 23 (by invitation only), the Andaz exhibit and roof gatherings, and more. "The whole idea is to get Sunset Strip businesses back in the swing of programming to promote the wealth of new neighbors to the Strip," Reiss says. With Fred Segal, Kith, Lazer Kat, Tesse Restaurant and the Jeremy Hotel (and 2 new h.wood restaurants debuting at the Jeremy), not to mention old faves continuing to keep the love alive all year long, it seems the Strip will remain hot long after summer bids adieu.
More info on Summer on Sunset: A Tribute to the Summer of Love events and promotions at visitwesthollywood.com/summeronsunset/.