On Saturday night, the basement of downtown’s Belasco Theater was thick with emotion as patrons, mostly Burning Man devotees, danced to electronic music, all clad in white. While there was no shortage of smiles in the room, the vibe was a mixture of joy and sadness, as March 25 marked the one-year anniversary of the death of DJ-producer Nicholas Alvarado, a fixture in the underground scene who went by the moniker Pumpkin.
Best known as a member of the Pocket Underground DJ crew, alongside Jesse Wright and Sammy Bliss, Alvarado's giant personality inspired people beyond the dance floor. His music reflected his character — upbeat, happy and playful. His remix of Blind Melon’s “No Rain” is an example of his knack for reinventing the spirit of an old song as well as his diverse taste in music. Having performed at events such as Lightning in a Bottle and Coachella, he was a rising star whose death in a car accident last March at age 33 devastated the entire community.
“It’s been a really hard year for me,” says Evan Shafran, or EVeryman, a rapper and DJ who was Alvarado’s best friend and musical collaborator. “I’ve been working on turning this tragedy into a positive thing. It’s really helped me to keep going.”
Pumpkin’s tribute, organized by Shafran, was a part of Opulent Temple’s white party, a yearly electronic music event that encourages its attendees to don all white. The mainstage was headlined by 1990s electronic music pioneers The Crystal Method, while Pumpkin’s party took over the basement with a lineup curated by Shafran. Based in San Francisco, Opulent Temple is a not-for-profit electronic music stage production group known for its grandiose camp at Nevada’s annual Burning Man gathering.
Because Alvarado was so deeply immersed in the Burning Man community, Opulent Temple founder Syd Gris offered to host Pumpkin’s tribute at its event, which fell on the same day as his death. Opulent Temple also donated a dollar of each ticket sold to the Little Giant Acorn Foundation for the Arts, a not-for-profit organization established by Shafran along with Alvarado’s family and close friends as a way for his inspiring spirit to live on.
“Right when he passed, Sammy Bliss and Nick’s parents approached me and asked, ‘What should we do to honor Nick?’” Shafran says. “It immediately came to me, this idea that we should do this foundation. We were lucky to have amazing parents who really encouraged us to be ourselves, and not every child is that lucky.”
The Little Giant Acorn Foundation aims to offer art and music programs to underprivileged children and their families. Starting with the festival community, they will be teaching various skills from dancing to beatboxing at events such as Lightning in a Bottle with the goal of bringing awareness to the foundation. In the year since its inception, they have amassed more than $10,000, not including what was raised from Saturday’s event and a recently launched GoFundMe campaign.
One of the many reasons Alvarado was so beloved by family, friends and fans was his playful personality. He always nurtured his inner child and believed in empowering children through music and arts; in 2014, he DJed a set at Lightning in a Bottle’s Kidzone that included tunes from The Muppets. For Shafran, Alvarado's passion for art, music and youth made creating the Little Giant Acorn Foundation for the Arts an obvious endeavor.
“I feel like I’ve been given a really amazing opportunity to take my best friend’s passing and all the love that he has left in the world and use his name to create awareness for the communities at large and for the world at large,” Shafran explains. “There’s so many kids in L.A. who need help — we start here and then we branch out.”
In addition to the foundation, Alvarado’s legacy also lives on through his music. While his tracks have received millions of plays via SoundCloud, none of them were ever formally released. Dropping on the same day as Pumpkin’s tribute party, EVeryman’s new album, Good Deeds, includes previously unreleased and unfinished tracks by Alvarado. In addition, with the permission of Alvarado’s family, Shafran went through the entire back catalog of Pumpkin’s music and plans to release these tracks on Spotify, iTunes and Beatport.
Last year, Shafran played a series of Pumpkin tribute shows at festivals Alvarado had been scheduled to appear at. Though it was a painful experience, it was also a cathartic one, as Shafran worked through his grief by honoring his best friend’s legacy for heartbroken fans.
Boogaloo Festival, a three-day campout event that takes place in Orange County every April, was dedicated to Alvarado's memory last year and will feature a Pumpkin tribute again this year. Alvarado played an integral role in the festival’s growth by gracing its lineup almost every year and bringing in his arsenal of fans; the festival's organizers, a group called the Dirty Beetles, affectionately refer to him as the "Fifth Beetle."
“Nick always wanted to play a live set but never got to,” Shafran says with a glint of pain in his eyes. “So instead of just playing a Pumpkin tribute at Boogaloo this year, we’re gonna get a bunch of live musicians together and kind of do a whole Pumpkin jam.”
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It was apparent in that basement at the Belasco how important Pumpkin was to his friends, family and all those who loved his music. Paintings of him by various artists decorated the walls, showing that he is still inspiring creativity — a gesture his friend deeply appreciated.
“All that’s left is the good that we’ve done when we leave here; we can’t take it with us,” Shafran says. “You just never know the impact that you may have on a person.”