What to do when your eclectic neighborhood music festival grows so popular that its success threatens to alienate the very people it’s intended to celebrate? In the case of Eagle Rock Music Festival, which launched in 1998, the answer was to regroup, downscale and rededicate.
In recent years ERMF attendance numbers hit six digits, which presented uncomfortable challenges for the community-oriented event. Last year it was postponed as organizers took time out to consult with entities including the Los Angeles City Council, the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council and Occidental College to study various ways to keep it healthy yet still responsive to the local citizens and businesses it was created to serve. Thus the shift from its usual early-October slot to this Saturday — presumably a more family-friendly date — and a strong lineup of mostly homegrown soul, funk, rock and world artists.
They’re headed up by self-described “road dogs” Orgone, a formidable instrumental octet elevated by showstopping frontwoman Adryon de León; her dynamic vocal attack injects human drama into take-no-prisoners soul-funk jammers like “When Someone’s Love is Real” and “Down Down Down.” Orgone shares headliner status with Dengue Fever, one of the most distinctive bands to ever emerge from LA thanks to their inventive crosswiring of surf, psychedelia, indie-rock and pre-Khmer Rouge Cambodian rock, all wrapped in Chhom Nimol’s entrancing vocals.
Also likely to get audiences grooving: 10-piece funk-West African-Caribbean collective Jungle Fire; potent “alt-soul” sextet WeAreTheBigBang; Boogaloo Assassins’ undeniable Latin funk; cumbia ensemble La Chamba, celebrating their trippy Peruvian chicha-style single “Marea de Lumbre”; electronic jazz beat sculptor Mark de Clive-Lowe; gotta-see-’em-to-believe-’em Afro-Brazilian percussion ensemble Batala; and Reverend Tall Tree, the bluesman alter ego of galvanizing soul/R&B singer Chris Pierce, a nondenominational “actual reverend” who was given the name “Tall Tree” as a youth by a Native American elder. Pierce and his rocking trio will be trying out new material for their next album on the Americana Stage at the Women’s 20th Century Club, which will also host don’t-miss sets from Leftover Cuties, kicking up heels to their new single “If You Want the Rainbow,” and acoustic trio Harrison, Lipka & Winsor, featuring Get Down Boys bassist Evan Winsor.
In sync with the spirit of the festival, some groups were brought together by community connections, including Jones, an acoustic trio comprised of National steel guitarist Dan Marfisi, singer/actress Heather Marsden and Pasadena-based cellist Cameron Stone; they’ll be performing on the Blues and Jazz Stage at Colombo’s. Other local favorites: socially conscious “world-soul” collective Cuicani; tasty jazz-funk fusion octet Genr8r; and cosmic-minded harpist/keyboardist Low Leaf, nee Angelica-Marie Lopez. Not often seen on local stages, the charmingly intense Lopez will be joined by the Ascension Crew for one of the festival’s more anticipated sets on the Experimental Stage.
Presented by LA District 14 Councilmember José Huizar and produced by the Center for the Arts Eagle Rock, ERMF remains family-friendly and free. However, a new ticket package signals a desire for the fest to raise more funds for local arts programs. This year, pre-sale and VIP ticket packages offer options such as fast-track entry, a digitally downloaded mixtape, a VIP viewing area and limited-edition T-shirts. All donations — i.e., funds from ticket purchases — will support the “transformative arts experiences” that Center for the Arts Eagle Rock provides for Northeast LA schoolkids, families and residents.
Art and food vendors will be on hand, and this year’s festival will also feature a Comedy Stage at the Coffee Table hosting nine standup comics and comedy writers for shows like “Funny or Die” and “Parks and Recreation.” The ERMF Facebook page also announced that LA Department of Water & Power reps will be converting designated Colorado Boulevard fire hydrants into refilling stations for festival-goers with empty water bottles — itself a cause for celebration in steamy August temps.
The 17th Annual Eagle Rock Music Festival takes place 4-10 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20, at various stages along Colorado Boulevard between Eagle Rock Boulevard and Argus Drive, Eagle Rock. Tickets: Admission is free, but a $10 pre-sale donation gets a fast-track entry pass plus a music mix download, and $20 gains you access to a VIP viewing area plus a festival T-shirt. All donations support Center for the Arts Eagle Rock’s Imagine Studio arts education programs for Northeast LA kids. For more info, visit eaglerockmusicfestival.org.
Orgone, Dengue Fever, Jungle Fire, Tutu Sweeney and the Brothers Band, Swarvy and Batala on the Center Stage
La Chamba, Boogaloo Assassins, Cuicani, Kotolan and Entre Mujeres on the Subtropical Stage
Mark de Clive-Lowe, Low Leaf and the Ascension Crew, Dhara World Music, Genr8r and Sin Color on the Experimental Stage
Reverend Tall Tree, Leftover Cuties, We the Folk, Harrison, Lipka & Winsor and Mostly Kosher on the Americana Stage
Suzy MacReady and the Book She Likes to Ready from Eastside Theater Works, Noches de Trova (“host troubadours” Esteban Leon, Tomas Cadena and Jorge Negrete), Tim Griffin, Dahli Mamas and Dahli Papas on the Family Stage
Strangers on a Saturday Night, Edith Crash, Fernanda Ulibarri, Dan Olivo and Jones on the Blues and Jazz Stage
WeAreTheBigBang, Sugar Rum Tantrum, Paper Pilots, Salt Petal and the V.U. on the Emerging Stage
Erik Escobar, Adam Cozens, Helen Hong, Lou DiMaggio, Greg Santos, Amanda Cohen, Joe Sib, Stephanie Clark and Justin Wood on the Comedy Stage
Plus DJs Phatrick, Seano, Expo and La Junta Sound System