Many truly awesome things–restaurants, bars, musicians, music festivals–start to become popular. Sometimes, they become very popular, though the specific mechanism that pushes something from the fringes of popularity fully into the mainstream is not known. And sometimes these things simply become too popular. They become unsustainable in their popularity and they need to be ended or radically re-imagined.
Which is why I welcome the cancellation of the Sunset Junction Music Festival in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles. The 30+ year-old street fair and weekend-long concert series was originally a small, free street fair started to celebrate the Silver Lake neighborhood and local artists and to quell tensions and foster community between the new predominantly gay residents and and the Latino natives of the neighborhood. This year’s Junction was set to be a massive event with a diversity of bands ranging from the Butthole Surfers to Hanson and an admission charge of $25 per day. The city rejected the organizer’s permit requests due to unpaid fees, including a significant increase in the city’s security and clean-up charges due to the increasing size of the festival, the increasing mess it left behind and the resultant increasing complaints from neighborhood residents.
Look, I’m not going to argue whether or not the city was justified in its increased financial demands or in the firm way they treated the organizers. They probably were being overly-strict while at the same time, it sounds like the Sunset Junction organizers haven’t acted in good faith, owing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid fees. But the simple fact is, the Festival had become too big and disruptive and was no longer serving its intended purpose, becoming a concert festival that would be more appropriate at a contained outdoor venue like the California State Historic Park or the Los Angeles Coliseum. I know that would make the festival’s name inaccurate, but hey Lollapalooza stopped being about shooting Chupa-Chups out of a bazooka a long time ago.
Sunset Junction had become so proverbially crowded that no one went there any more. Or rather, it had become a destination concert, not a neighborhood street festival. The Silver Lake Jubilee was started a few years ago at least in part to bring a smaller, neighborhood-oriented event featuring local merchants and bands back to the neighborhood. In the wake of the festival’s cancellation, concert venues in the Sunset Junction area are stepping in and hosting their own concerts, creating an ad hoc festival without necessitating the shut down of a half-mile of one of LA’s most important East-West thoroughfares and the subsequent littering of the streets with striped tank tops, moustache wax and chronic narcissism.
I hope the city next acts more aggressively toward the organizers of Downtown Los Angeles’ monthly second Thursday Art Walk, which has degenerated into a drunken street fair (without the closing of any streets) and has become a nuisance to Historic Core residents and non-liquor dispensing businesses and was the scene of a tragedy two months ago involving the death of an infant who was hit by a car. In a move akin to the founding of the Silver Lake Jubilee, many galleries have begun scheduling their art openings the day before Art Walk, affording those who actually want to view the art exhibits an opportunity to do so without a crushing crowd.
There was an attempt last year to re-create Art Walk as a quarterly daytime open gallery event on Saturdays, akin to similar open studio and gallery events in other Downtown LA neighborhoods, but this plan was never realized as Downtown LA bar owners stepped in to provide the funds necessary to maintain the skeletal infrastructure for the monthly weeknight bacchanalias. But if security isn’t increased and streets aren’t closed during Art Walk, the event will no doubt see another tragedy very soon.
I would also say it’s time for Comic-Con to move to a larger venue, but I think that’s a keg of worms best left untapped.