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Glam Skanks, performing at Lot 1
Glam Skanks, performing at Lot 1
Suzanne Alison

The Unofficial (and Official) Side of Echo Park Rising

For the eighth year, Echo Park Rising will see bars, stores and other businesses in the Echo Park area join forces for a free festival that celebrates, for the most part, local music, art, culture, food and so much more. EPR has fast become a highlight on Los Angeles’ musical calendar and, based on the lineup of talent performing this year, the 2018 event raises the bar yet again.

Something interesting happened early on, though. Much like SXSW, and even Coachella, the “official” festival has attracted a series of “unofficial” pop-up gigs in and around the route (Sunset Boulevard, Glendale Boulevard, Alvarado Street, Echo Park Avenue). Some of these have been embraced by the organizers, while others remain notably absent from the festival website.

Even more fascinating is the fact that the line between “official” and “unofficial” is so blurred that some of the actual venues don’t necessarily know what their standing is. They start things off of their own volition, do their own thing. Then one year, they find themselves on the official poster, with their featured artists profiled on the website. It can feel like officialdom is something that the venues slide into organically. Thankfully, Colette Von of the One One Six Two Gallery is able to clarify things in that regard.

“Echo Park Rising is put on by the entire neighborhood,” Von says. “There are over 100 participating businesses, and some of them are booked through Liz [Garo, of the Echo]. A lot of people book on their own. But essentially, the official Echo Park activities are any businesses that paid their Chamber [of Commerce] dues and operate within the parameters of what the event is. So it’s kind of a SXSW situation. I think what confuses people is that there are a couple of outdoor stages. The chamber has two stages, a beer garden, vendors and things like that. But in terms of being official, all of the businesses up on the Echo Park Rising website, and a few others just because they didn’t submit, are actually official.”

* * *

The Echo Park (Up)Rising show, held at Lot 1 Cafe on West Sunset, is booked by owner Eileen Leslie with Eddie Lopez of In Fuzz We Trust. Leslie is keen to point out that Lot 1 has been part of EPR since the very beginning, and that she does have official standing, though the booking of the bands is done independently of the organizers. Lopez usually books rock & roll and punk bands to play the Redwood Bar & Grill in downtown L.A. 

“Echo Park Rising is great and I hope it keeps going," Lopez says. "Anything I can do to assist, I will. That’s why I’m glad to help Eileen.”

Lopez believes that the best stuff is happening on the outskirts of the main festival, much like at SXSW, and that’s why these unofficial pop-ups are so valuable.

“It’s all the little parties where you discover bands you fall in love with and you love for the rest of your life,” he says. “You meet cool people — it’s like this great coming together. It’s like a family reunion of sorts. Every year, I feel like there are all these cool bands missing from this thing. This year we got most of them in at Eileen’s awesome venue. It was very important that we help. It’s a small operation, not a big corporate thing.”

Lopez recently moved back to Echo Park after 10 years in Silver Lake, so he’s grasping with both hands the opportunity to promote his locale. The “(Up)Rising” part of the name that he’s bestowed upon Lot 1’s little part of the festivities is appropriate considering the plethora of filthy rock and wonderfully dirty garage punk that’s on offer.

“A lot of these bands are friends or family, or bands that have been playing my bar the Redwood for a while,” Lopez says. “Bands that we put our brand on. I called Uncle Jesse [Hughes], and the Eagles of Death Metal have some shows coming up but it fit right with his schedule so he’s stoked to play. I got my pal Labretta Suede from New Zealand flying in to do this on Sunday. Glam Skanks are on there — they’ve been touring with Adam Ant. We’ve got some oldies, too — Motorcycle Boy and The Alley Cats. Some newer stuff like The ModPodz. Lijurgia is this cool band from Argentina. The more gigs we book for them, the longer they can stay in the country. We’re all connected, all family.”

* * *

Gabbi Green books the bands to perform at Spacedust, the Sunset Boulevard art and clothing retail store owned by musician Michelle Jupiter. Green admits that she doesn’t know what constitutes official, either.

“I think this year’s the most official we’ve ever been,” she says. “But I’m not sure how official we are.”

Spacedust’s story is a fine example of what we detailed at the top of this feature. It basically started out as a pop-up, and slid into official status.

“As our lineup grows and gets bigger artists, we’re more accepted,” Green says. “The first year, we weren’t on the website or the map or anything like that. I think the second year, our lineup made it on the website. I know this year, we have artist profiles for all our artists. That’s pretty cool. I think this is the first year that’s happened. I handle all the booking, and we buy all the supplies ourselves. We tried getting alcohol sponsorships and stuff in the past, from the festival, and it hasn’t worked out because we’re such a small venue.”

Coma Girls perform at Spacedust.EXPAND
Coma Girls perform at Spacedust.
Katie Hynson

It is another great lineup at Spacedust, with the likes of Justus Proffit, LunchLady, Momma and Coma Girls all performing. Green believes that proximity to the festival, just because so many businesses are right in the middle of it, encourages so many pop-up shows.

“Spacedust is at the end of Sunset, and the first year that we booked we were definitely the furthest out,” she says. “But I notice now that more venues are getting into it, like Cosmic Vinyl next door, and maybe others even further down. It’s just fun. It’s fun to have bands, it’s fun to have more people in the shop, it’s good for businesses. Michelle is a business owner and she appreciates the extra business.”

Naturally, transforming a retail store into a makeshift music venue does present its challenges, especially when large pieces of furniture, and boats, have to be shifted out.

“Last year, I didn’t know why but we ended up getting ready right up against the clock, and some of the bands were arriving while we were getting ready on the Thursday,” Green says. “We have this giant gondola that has clothes in it, and I guess it didn’t fit out the front door. It was literally stuck in the front door. People were waiting outside, and everyone was putting in their input. Like, ‘You have to take the door off.’ All these bands trying to help. It was pretty funny.”

There can be concerns about permits and brushes with the law, too, but Green believes that even the cops get caught up in the positive vibes.

“For the four days that the fest happens, people put everything aside and really appreciate the music,” she says. “Last year, after our showcase, I ended up going elsewhere, and the people putting it on were scared that they would get shut down by the cops. But I felt like it didn’t get shut down, the cops were chill about it, because it was good vibes in the neighborhood. Everyone wants to appreciate the music, and have a good time.”

LunchLady perform at Spacedust.EXPAND
LunchLady perform at Spacedust.
Grace Pickering

A good time, it seems, will be had by all. In the process, some great causes will receive much-needed help. One One Six Two will have 45 bands performing at its new space, which was acquired last year, and funds will be going to local charities.

“This will be our second Echo Park Rising, though our first official Echo Park Rising because we weren’t officially part of the group yet,” Von says. “I do a lot of charity work through the gallery. Most of the shows raise money for organizations we work with, like the Downtown Women’s Center, we’ve worked with the L.A. LGBT Youth Center, and our Echo Park Rising weekend is dedicated to RAINN [Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network] — they help victims of sexual abuse and violence with counseling and resources. We want to make sure that people are being respectful, because it’s pretty grim right now.”

Official or unofficial, that’s what neighborhood events like this are all about.

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