IndyMac, WaMu, Countrywide, Wachovia, AIG, Lehman Brothers, Fannie Mae, Freddy Mac: Times are terrible, and the Eagle Rock Music Festival was not immune to America’s fiscal meltdown, or so it seemed.

Planners learned months ago that several large sponsors of last year’s event — with more than 40 performances, perhaps the largest musical happening in the history of Northeast Los Angeles — would not be returning to support the free community festival this time around.

Though it looked like it was time to panic, these financial challenges actually created an opportunity for the Center for the Arts, Eagle Rock, to reinvent their baby even as it approached its tenth year.
Instead of building a supporting cast of local performers around a crowd-drawing headliner, festival planners assembled as many strong local acts as they could, then grouped performers by style and theme instead of marketing potential.

“It’s an evolution,” said Brian Martinez, 26, a lead festival organizer with the nonprofit Center, which most of the year focuses on providing free or low-cost arts events and education for neighborhood youth. “Last year was such a great success we thought we’d do it again and it would be a lot easier but, because of the economy, we went very local. We kept the sponsors local and the programming local, and the idea of having no headliner came out of that.”

The result of such creative reorganization is an even bigger Eagle Rock Music Festival. More than 60 musical acts will perform from 5 p.m. to midnight Saturday on 18 stages along the half-mile stretch of Colorado Boulevard from Argus Drive to Eagle Rock Boulevard.

“Some festivals fly a band in. Why do we need to do that when we have a thriving music community right here? Localism has always been a thread through the festival, but it’s come out really strong this year,” explained the Center’s Maryam Hosseinzadeh, another key organizer.

In keeping close to home, the Center reached out to Aaron Espinoza, a founding member of Eagle Rock indie rock band Earlimart and founder/operator of Eagle Rock’s The Ship Studios, where a number of area bands practice and record.

Espinoza decided he would not only perform with Earlimart but actually help curate a whole evening of performances, with assistance from organizers of the Eagle Rock Bowling and Drinking Club (based at All Star Lanes on Eagle Rock Boulevard) and Kingsize Soundlabs, another important local recording studio.

“We’re part of the community and so we really wanted to be part of this. It’s very DIY [do it yourself] — a fun, free party at the American Tire Depot … with a family kind of vibe,” said singer/guitarist Espinoza, 33, who founded Earlimart with bassist/keyboardist/singer Ariana Murray nearly 10 years ago. Earlimart’s sixth album, Hymn & Her, was recorded at The Ship, mixed at Kingsize and released this summer.

The joint Ship/Kingsize stage features artists these studios have worked with — including Rilo Kiley bassist Pierre de Reeder, who recorded his recent solo record at Kingsize, buzzworthy Light FM and Oregon transplants The Parson Redheads — plus Bowling and Drinking Club favorites such as downtempo rockers Divisadero.

Ordinarily no fan of music festivals, David Jasso is excited about this one. The 26-year-old guitarist for experimental, instrumental-driven Pasadena band The Antarcticans was attracted to the Eagle Rock Music Festival’s less rigid, more localized makeup.

“One of the things limiting musical expression is the marketing of music. When commercial value is applied to music it fucks everything up. What’s cool about this thing is you can’t really define it; things are opened up. You won’t be able to classify everything you’ll see before you go,” said Jasso, 26, who works retail in Old Pasadena and has enjoyed support from local Poo-Bah Records, which pressed onto vinyl The Antarcticans’ first album.

His band will play the folk / experimental stage outside American Legion Hall with acts such as the softer-sounding Emily Wells (see Into the Nite, page 34) and the Cobra Lilies, a Highland Park-based ensemble featuring members of the Monolators, Bodies of Water, Smells Like Flan, Divisadero, and Ema and the Ghosts, bands who trace their roots back to the scene at Mr. T’s Bowl.

Another Highland Park favorite playing this year’s festival is The Evangenitals, a twangy, joy-infused and playfully irreverent musical collective founded after former boxer and current philosophy student Juli Crockett sang a few songs during a Mr. T’s open mic night.

“My goal was to create something open and honest. When I go to see music, sometimes it feels people are performing at me rather than for or with me. … People see this band and feel like they want to be in a band,” said Crockett, who describes the festival as a tight musical fit for creating that kind of audience rapport.

“It takes over the streets and you get to experience music bursting out of every building,” she said of the festival, adding that it reminded her of a locals-only version of Austin’s South by Southwest.
The Evangenitals are performing on the Emerging Stage (near Shearin Avenue), which in previous years doubled as the festival’s main stage, along with several other notables.

One is Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, the psychedelic desert soul (no, really — check it out on YouTube) side project of Ima Robot front man Alex Ebert.

Others include Crystal Antlers, who recently toured with the Fuck Yeah Fest, and two leading members of the all-ages scene that has developed at The Smell in downtown LA: Abe Vigoda, who pioneered a tropical-infused rock sound (something like Vampire Weekend, who Abe Vigoda recently toured with, but with a much harder edge) and explosive female punk rockers Mika Miko.

But there is just as much emphasis on other styles of music, along with street-side spoken word and visual art.

The Zocalac stage, named for the Highland Park artists collective, features the venerable Aztlan Underground, and Latin music abounds with the inclusion of Domingo Siete, Cava and the bilingual Very Be Careful, which PW Contributing Music Editor Bliss described to this reporter as “one of the greatest dance bands I’ve ever seen.”

Arohi Ensemble, founded by Highland Park resident Paul Livingstone, provides classical Indian music, and Bambu represents the significant Filipino community of Glassell Park and Eagle Rock as one of many acts on a hip-hop, funk and soul stage run by Fidel Rodriguez of KPFK’s Divine Forces Radio.
The event also features Build an Ark, described as a cosmic jazz super-group, the harder-to-define but always fun interactive percussion performance group GLANK, spoken word artists and a classical music performance by students at the Renaissance Art Academy charter school.

Lifelong Eagle Rock resident Martinez and Hosseinzadeh, who grew up in Glassell Park and Pasadena, said they have only two preconceived notions about shaping the festival each year: represent as much of the community as possible and never charge admission.

And so it has become tradition that the reigning champion of Eagle Rock High School’s Battle of the Bands has played the festival. This year Permanent Blue shares stage time with The Beeters, a punk band assembled by former members of The Mormons, who gave an ecstatic performance at last year’s festival.

“Junior year I played in Battle of the Bands and lost; I was so crushed. Senior year we won, but there was no prize or anything so I thought this would be an opportunity for some of the kids. It’s free and all their friends can come,” said Martinez.

“LA in general needs to have more of these kinds of things — families and friends coming down to listen to new music. A 14-year-old kid can’t pay for a $40 Detour ticket,” added Martinez, referring to the LA Weekly event scheduled on the same day as the Eagle Rock Music Festival (for the second year) and sponsored by such corporate goliaths as Hustler Casino, Virgin Megastore and Bud Light Lime. 

“We want to give this culture a place to thrive that isn’t a bar or a club,” said Hosseinzadeh. “The best part is seeing a bunch of kids from the neighborhood just hanging out.”

The Pasadena Weekly is a third-year sponsor of the Eagle Rock Music Festival. For a more complete listing of performers and locations, see advertising content produced by the Center for the Arts, Eagle Rock, on pages 26 and 27.