Street fairs stand to remind us of two thing: 1) People love grilled meat on a stick; and, 2) teenagers love to try and have sex in public. Saturday's first day kickoff of the Sunset Junction was no different. Those who came during the day, the ones willing to shell out the twenty dollar fee, were greeted with smoke inhalation and horny hipster nineteen-year-olds running around in their American Apparel spandex and tights.
Gone are the days of warm Leather Daddies and local families co-mingling in awkward harmony. The condoms were still there, the boutiques and restaurants were open (and suddenly cash-only for some reason), but the old timey feeling of the fair, complete with carney rides and curious cholos, seemed to be a memory.
There was an audible amount of commenting on how empty the fest was, each stage like a beach awaiting an open tide. That is, until Dengue Fever played the center stage around three, the one truly raucous, exciting show of the day. The crowd swelled to Dengue's sounds as they carried over the meat stands and Ferris wheel.
The curious thing about the day's musical sets was how long they seemed to last. Most festivals limit the performances to 45 or so minutes, but not Sunset Junction. Dengue was no different, welcoming in the evening with Cchom Nimol's voice. She and the band nearly single-handedly turned the event like a giant ship toward uncharted waters. Their refreshing sound of indie and world beat spurred the crowd to dance.
After dark, the festival started letting people roll in for free who couldn't pay earlier, and Sunset almost immediately came to to life with foot traffic and locals, began to vibrate with the energy of real Los Angeles. More DJ's played the front stage, families danced together with their giant ears of corn, and homeless veterans walked with their dogs on leashes, holding signs.
Teenage girls walked around asking when — and where — Bright Eyes would play since (frustratingly) the fest didn't offer a pocket schedule handout this year. This small oversight might have helped these eager and confused young ladies realize that in fact Conor Oberst was playing and not Bright Eyes. But, then again, Oberst is probably why they wanted to come in the first place. The Port-A-Potties grew frightening. The sounds of the different local jam and hip hop bands floated through the crowd as the volume and human density increased to a deafening (and suffocating) level.
Finally the moment arrived for those young nubile ladies as Conor, on the West Stage, took to the crowd. In pained, time-weary, depressed tones, he warbled about life and changes and all the sad things he likes to warble about. A small shriek rose up from the crowd; one wild, insane looking sixteen-year-old squeezed her shirt so tightly into a knot of angst that it seemed as if she might squeeze blood from it. She looked at Oberst and with all the earnesty youth can muster, mouthed, 'I love you' to no one in particular. Except maybe the food vendor/mom-of-three who looked on confused from her spot on the corner, where she was grilling Dodger Dogs, a Los Angeles culinary specialty, and from the look on her face, wondering who the hell all these people were. But she no doubt recalled that this is a big ass crazy city, so who the hell cares who they are? They all love meat on a stick.