View more photos in the “Nightranger: Sunset Junction Sweethearts & Afterparty Scene” slideshow.
“Is it worth it?” As we strolled through the streets of Silver Lake during the Sunset Junction Street Fair last weekend, this was the fundamental question bouncing around our brains (and popping up via persistent phone texts from pals contemplating parking scuffles and forking over the $20 cover, or considering forging the fair’s new impenetrable — not! — fuchsia hand stamp … security barely even looked at our pink splotch upon re-entry). Though we’ve always been one of SJ’s most loyal supporters, attending almost every year since we were teens, we had to be real: The answer was negative. Living a block away gives us the luxury of checking out the scene at any given time, and the sad truth this year was, despite the cooler weather and attempts by the Sunset Junction Neighborhood Alliance to be more inclusive with the community (the old footprint was sorta reinstated and the boundaries for residents to get free tickets were expanded), it was too little, too late to overcome the hostility generated by the escalating cover and recent contention from not just residents but the city as a whole. We are in the midst of a recession, after all. Day and night, on both Saturday and Sunday, the streets were noticeably sparse. There were fewer vendors selling groovy/unique stuff, fewer people in eye-catching garb parading around, less dancing in the streets (the DJ-heavy Hyperion Stage rarely had more than a few dozen people shaking in front of it at any given time) and there was less jovial spirit all around.
Despite some rousing performances and a few locals doing their part to conjure the creativity the hood is known for, the 2009 Street Fair will likely go down as the weakest ever. The upside was, there was never a line for beer, and traffic was manageable. In some ways, the more mellow vibe harks back to the days when the gathering was a small, strictly local gay/Latino/rootsy rocker hub headlined by acts like Candye Kane and James Intveld. Back then, the area’s funky shops and businesses were as much a part of the event as the fair itself (we know because we worked in one), and discovering a new store or hang was one of the best parts of the experience. This year, at least we got to do that, at the corner of Sanborn Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard, where the new showroom and adjacent outdoor rock garden Mi Alma Designs created their own little bizarre bazaar within the fest, with vendors selling unusual merch, jammy live bands, and even a beer-bust benefit, proceeds of which, garden proprietor Gordon Lee (dressed in a Marcia Brady minidress and go-go boots) announced, will go to “covering this whole area in fabric.” How’s that for arty? By the way, Lee and Mi Alma’s Charles Marder (who makes amazingly ornate lampshades) are full-time Junction jammers; twice a month, they hold an “Art Market” shindig featuring local artists, live music and food. Next one is on Saturday, September 12, and we suggest locals — especially those who boycotted the fair — attend and support. (See mialmacollective.com for more info.)
A very different event-inside-the-event, Antics’/Filter Mag’s after party late Saturday night at Undefeated might have been completely corporate-thrown (it’s a Toyota thing), but it still retained a somewhat organic, backyard-BBQ feel. Patrons partook in mural painting, T-shirt printing and rock band playing, all leading up to a performance by The Knux inside the sneaks boutique, and the New Orleans hip-hop bros (who now live in L.A., not far from the Junction) kicked their kicks up, all right. Chavolot in the parking lot of El Chavo on the other end of Sunset was another Junction-related function that ended up as a weekend highlight. With blow-up pools, beach balls, cheap booze and tasty Mexican food, it was muy festive — and free this time out, too. Hip cumbia kids Very Be Careful offered a nicely spiced set on Saturday, and powwowing with the band as they lit, uh, warmed up, made for a perfect prelude to re-entering the fest for grooving legends Sly & Robbie’s psychedelic reggae head trip at the Sanborn Stage.
This year we pretty much avoided the rock-heavy Bates Stage (Conor Oberst = snooze), though The Sonics pulled out a stompy good one late on Sunday afternoon. The Hoover Stage had some funky-fun moments, such as the dynamic duo of Martin Luther & Cody Chesnutt (the latter didn’t disappoint people-watchers, donning a helmet and cape all day) and Morris Day & the Time, who ran way late and played too many slow jams before finally pulling out the hits near the set’s end. The most memorable music moments for Nightranger were had at Sanborn. Dengue Fever’s exotic rhythms had everyone in the streets moving merrily on Saturday, particularly the colorful lasses in giant pleated wings — sold guerrilla-style by an enterprising couple pushing a rack through the streets (fuck the $500 booth fee!). Perfect garb for upcoming Burning Man. Arrested Development on Sunday were, surprisingly, our favorite fest offering. Who knew the ’90s hit-makers had so much charisma and movement in their shows, especially from the gals in the group? The Afrocentric, pro-woman thrust of A.D. was undeniably refreshing (even if singer Speech was clueless to the double-entendre of his shout-outs to us ladies about “feeling like a queen” — there were a lot of queens in the SJ crowd, and most of them weren’t female). Still, the band’s heartfelt rendition of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” had everyone — gay, straight, black, white, old, young — swaying and singing along as one. It was one of those magical moments you hope for at a gathering in the streets, and it almost made the whole thing worth it after all.