In an oversaturated festival market, the Eagle Rock Music Festival returns this Saturday, October 6. For 14 years it's been creeping up as one of the most ambitious and forward-thinking local festivals, and become tremendously successful. It's got cheap tickets ($10), adventurous local bookings — including The Pharcyde, Imperial Teen, and folks affiated with Mochilla, Dublab, Brainfeeder, Stones Throw — and even unique venues. Experimental music in the local church, anyone?
Produced by the Center For The Arts Eagle Rock, the festival is now helmed by Brian Akio Martinez, a local whose job has become recognizing the connective audio and visual tissue of L.A.'s Northeast district. We recently caught up with Martinez, in the midst of last-minute fundraising and juggling line-up changes.
Are you from the neighborhood?
I'm from the Eagle Rock area, specifically Glassell Park. The area was a little bit rougher back in the late '80s and early '90s. I got a job at the CFAER when I was 18, a gig teaching guitar to kids. Today, the neighborhood doesn't represent one type of person or one scene.
What was Dahlia Days?
It's the original name for our festival. The dahlia's a big flower over here. The CFAER is actually a 1914 Carnegie Library. Right past the Eagle Rock plaza, it becomes Glendale, so this is the fringe of Los Angeles.
The original goal was celebrating art and culture in the community and surrounding businesses. We were putting small groups into venues. A coffee house would have some jazz; a restaurant would have some music, etc. Over the years, people really took to the idea. It was becoming so popular that people would spill out into the sidewalks and into the streets, literally. That became a city concern. We were programming cumbia at Rantz Automotive. I credit Jenny Krusoe, then our director, and Luis Sanchez for the beginnings of the ERMF and having the vision to help us expand it.
When did you begin programming for the Center?
I finally got my chance to start programming about six years ago. The torch was passed. We ended up acquiring a new executive director, Julia Salazar. She really gave me an opportunity to really expand some of those ideas.
What's your relationship with Sunset Junction?
They've always been really great to us, especially in the beginnings, we'd come to them for advice. We were learning as we were growing, much like they. They were helpful with logistics. Obviously, where they fall short is the issues they had last year, it was a financial things plus things inside the community. The staff at the Center are concerned about the community. We want families, teenagers, adults, grandparents. We are constantly thinking about them. If you lose your community, you lose your credibility.
How do you get such a nice lineup for only $10 at the gate?
For me, I play music. I went to school for it. I played a lot of jazz, rock, orchestral. Jazz opened up the gates to me, some obscure rock stuff, some electronic. I play bass and upright bass. That gave me access to all sorts of genres, from electronic to classical to rock groups. Dublab was one of our first partners and one of our strongest to date. The product got more interesting and everyone started paying attention. Then, through The Smell, I met the LA Record guys, then the FYF crew. These partnerships are the backbone of what we do.
Where does the money go?
It's a suggested donation, and we're not going to turn any one away for lack of funds. In a perfect world, I'd keep it free, but the city has a lot of rigid fees.
The donations go back into the center, which go into the arts education. The LAUSD has cut all or most art and music in our schools. It would be amazing to have a budget to have more art classes throughout the year, through performances. The festival is a vehicle to make these projects a reality throughout the year.
What's new to the festival this year?
This is the first time Stones Throw is appearing, who are based in Highland Park. That label is so diverse. There are some amazing special guests that we'll announce the day of.
Also, we got permission to use the church this year, which has a new pastor, Pastor Phil. He's amazing. He wants new ways to connect with the community, and he wants to fundraise. We have Little Faith (a gospel trio), Brazilian guitarist Fabiano Do Nascimento, visual collective Museum of Traffic, Anenon, and Sassas.
How many people are expected to attend this year?
Last year's numbers we were close to 100,000 throughout the day. Around 50,000 at any given time. So, something around there, but the festival is really an introduction to what we do throughout the year. Check out the website. Join our mailing list. We're always looking for volunteers. Drop by the center. We have artwork up for most of the year and have proper shows.