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Don’t believe what your bitter NYC friends tell you – Los Angeles is magical city. It sprawls magnificently in all directions, hiding its best gems in clear sight. Echo Park Rising is a free festival that offers the best parts of Los Angeles up front: good food, great music, free cold brew, & secret shows in questionable locations.
While the festival technically started on Thursday, I didn’t venture over from the Westside til Saturday. Parking was easy to find, as was the free food. We were offered Stumptown Coffee, RXBARs, and the impossibly good Impossible burgers. I mention this because while I normally leave a festival feeling like my wallet was stolen, Echo Park Rising makes a point of giving attendees value at every turn. The locations easy to walk to, and the drinks were priced in normal LA fashion (“That Modelo will cost you $6”) and best of all, the shows were great. Below are some of the highlights.
Ramonda Hammer @ The Echo
Ramonda Hammer is not a “grunge character study”; the band gives a clear nod to its Nirvana roots in songs like “Bender”, while “If, Then” gives the genre a fresh coat of paint. Lead singer Devin Davis is confident and controlled on stage, her voice fighting against Justin Geter’s guitar riffs. When I recently interviewed Davis, she struck me as a genuine & down-to-earth person; her on stage persona matched our Skype session, the intensity of her voice balanced by soft, pleasant interplay with the crowd in-between tracks. The set ended with Ramonda Hammer covering Nirvana covering David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World.” It was a bit meta, but the crowd was into it.
L.A.P.D. @ Taix Restaurant
Taix Restaurant is a wonderful location for a music festival. The restaurant, est. 1927, is a trip through time, with dim lights and LA street scene photography lining the walls. The Champagne Room is down a long hallway in the back, past tables full of folks eating escargot for lunch. Los Angeles Police Department (L.A.P.D.) is the moniker for Ryan Pollie’s bedroom pop music act. Originally Pollie recorded his music from his actual bedroom in Los Angeles, creating a true lo-fi sound. Pollie talked to Impose Magazine about his writing process, saying “The cool thing about a lo-fi record is that I produced the record and mixed the record and it is all one voice consistently. I think that’s what a good producer does, anyway. There is so much music right now that it is often refreshing to hear something that isn’t from a studio.” Pollie may be signed to ANTI-Records nowadays, but his music continues to have that dreamy, lush, stripped-down sound that fans love.
Sam Morrow @ Little Joy
Upon entering Little Joy, a few things became apparent to me: I didn’t have a beer and I needed to dance. Sam Morrow’s blend of bluegrass and modern country is refreshing in a festival where rock, punk, and dream pop are fairly pervasive. The crowd wore the hipster equivalent of cowboy hats, whiskeys in hand while they shuffle-stepped in time to the music. Raised in Houston, years ago Morrow would have told you that he listens to “anything but country”; after a stint in rehab, Morrow revisited the music of his childhood, finding comfort in the storytelling and soulful twangs. Little Joy is a delightfully intimate venue, allowing the audience to get down right next to the singer himself. It was the perfect way to round out Saturday evening.
Bob Villain @ Little Joy
A man with stark white hair, dressed in a white tattered button-up and a blue hat, brushed past me and made his way to the stage. Bob Villain was running late to his set. It was early in the day Sunday, so I ordered a beer and waited. At 2:55pm, thirty minutes late, a man who I can only say looked like Freddy Krueger walked onto the stage. The man with the stark white hair was Bob Villain; he had put on a dark wig, a bandana, and had tied twigs to his hands. White face paint completed the terrifying look. The set felt like a deleted scene from Twin Peaks. Villain’s “Video Games” cover delighted the crowd and afterwards we sat quietly, dumbstruck by whatever evil magic just transpired.
Latumba @ An Undisclosed Location Off The Grid
After leaving Warm Bodies at The Echoplex (which sounds exactly as advertised), I set off to wander Sunset. I heard some noises to my right, and up a dark set of stairs I found an apartment complete with a bar, transcendental artwork, and a band setting up, especially intriguing due to their numerous saxophones. Latin fusion band Latumba is an experience from the very first note. The crowd rocked, swayed, shouted, strained along with music from this year’s Death By Conga LP, released via LA imprint Pure Weirdo. It’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to experiencing Jack Kerouac’s America: “We fumed and screamed in our mountain nook, mad drunken Americans in the mighty land. We were on the roof of America and all we could do was yell, I guess–across the night…”.
It’s the hidden, secretive nature of Echo Park Rising that makes it special. It reminded me of my early twenties in New York, stumbling upon illegal shows in Brooklyn lofts, hoping that the strange pillow fort in the corner wouldn’t be set ablaze by a still-smoking American Spirit. In between sets, I stumbled upon artist Naia Izumi performing on the sidewalk, her striking voice cutting through the passing crowd. It’s that kind of happenstance that makes Echo Park Rising one of my favorite festivals of the year. It gives its audience what they want: the new, the fresh, the hotness.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]