SSMF Street Fest
Saturday, Sept. 12, was the Sunset Strip Music Festival’s (SSMF) Street Fest. I think the best way to describe the show is to say it was completely epic. As lame as that sounds, I don’t think there is a better word to describe a 12-hour festival with bands performing such as Unwritten Law, Pepper, Korn and Ozzy Osbourne. Even though the day had its flaws, it was a good experience over all.
The first important thing to note is the variety of people that came to this event. Watching them walk where Sunset Boulevard was blocked off, I could see all different sorts of people heading to the event. Cultures converged when the old, young, punk and Rastafarian (to name a few) all headed towards the entrance. The one thing that everyone seemed to have in common, though, was a total excitement for the show. There was a powerful energy at the SSMF; everyone was pumped for the show. Two stages on Sunset Boulevard, the East stage and West stage, and bands performing in the Key Club, Whisky A Go-Go, Cat Club and the Roxy Theatre, it was going to be huge and diverse.
Unwritten Law and The Donnas
In the Viper Room, which had been designated for the media, 98.6 LA set up to stream live acoustic sets from bands to their radio station. First was Unwritten Law. They played what can only be described as an amazing set. In addition to their normal two guitars, bass, vocals and drums, they also had a keyboardist, 26 – year – old Kyle Tormey. Tormey’s keyboarding improved the songs greatly. He helped give the songs a new life that only acoustic songs can have. He is a fan of the band and they discovered his talent through a YouTube video.
“Someone found the video and sent it to their MySpace,” Tormey said. “I’ve been into this band since I was 13 and I’m honored, humbled and thankful to be able to perform with them. This is awesome.”
Tormey started performing with Unwritten Law for their tour in Australia last August. As talented as Tormey is, he said his piano playing was self-taught.
“I’ve been playing since I was five,” he said. “My dad has a piano and I sat down and started playing by ear. I started to play bands I liked like Unwritten Law and Blink 182 and then everything else. I don’t know how to read music and play by ear. I only have one ear. I find that ironic.”
Unwritten Law also played an intense electric show. Although not many people had arrived by the time that they went on at 3 p.m., the band still had a ton of energy and kept the crowd pumped. They played at one of the hottest times during the day and while they were sweating alcohol, Unwritten Law still went “balls out” as said by Tour Drummer Dylan Howard. The band played songs like “Save Me” and “Seein’ Red” with great rhythm, loud guitars and complete crowd enjoyment. It was a great show.
This brings me to one of my bigger complaints about the show: they had great artists playing at the same time. A Kottonmouth Kings lover and a Pepper lover couldn’t see the entirety of both shows. With the amazing lineups, it meant people had to choose instead of getting to see it all. While from a logistical standpoint it completely makes sense from the festival planners, it meant I had to make some unwanted choices.
Following Unwritten Law, I went to some of The Donnas performance. It was obvious The Donnas felt right at home on the Sunset Strip. As lead vocalist Brett Anderson said, the SSMF was “more tailored to our taste: trashy.” Although they just got off of a tour with Pat Benatar and Blondie, they were prepared to bring everything to the show.
“It’s nice we don’t have to pace,” Anderson said. “No ballads, we go full force.”
And that they did, from what I saw. The medium-sized crowd was rocking out to their show as the girls played, as bassist Maya Ford said, “as loud as possible.”
After watching some of The Donnas, I went to go watch Kottonmouth Kings. They decided to pall around for a bit to make sure they would begin their set at 4:20 p.m. (instead of the 4 p.m. slot they were given). I can honestly say their show was unlike anything I have ever seen before.
The most memorable, I think, is Hydro-mechanic Pakelika. He wore a jacket that said, “why isn’t pot legalized yet?” and spent all of his time on stage either dancing, drinking Jack Daniels or smoking what appeared to be a blunt. Whether it was or not, I couldn’t tell you, but it didn’t look like anything else to me. Other than performing debauchery on stage, his dancing did create a relaxed vibe after the rapping amped everyone up. In its own weird way, the rapping, electronic beats and random dancing worked together. But I’d definitely never seen something that could work as well but be as different as that.
Their music was great and the awesome beats by DJ Bobby B had the entire crowd jumping in sync with the vocalists. While the show wasn’t completely my style, the music sounded solid and the crowd was really into it.
As Kottonmouth Kings were playing, Pepper opened up on the other stage. Mayor of West Hollywood, Abbe Land, introduced the band by talking about how historic the whole event was. This is the first time Sunset Boulevard has been closed down for a street festival. Whether it was worth it financially we won’t know until all of the numbers have been crunched, but it did bring together many different communities that enjoy many different genres of music. It was totally worth it.
Pepper opened with a witty comment from bassist and vocalist Bret Bollinger: “you guys are no where near as drunk as we are.” His drunkenness provided a huge comedic ice breaker when moments into the first song of the set, he decided that playing on the Sunset Strip meant they should be dirty and began playing a porno bass rift and moaning. Although the set got off to a drunken start, they sounded great. The mellow rock and reggae tones got the crowd into a surprising uproar. The band gave off great energy and kept things electrifying.
Shiny Toy Guns or Korn?
Because Kottonmouth Kings ended super late meant that concertgoers and myself had to make a choice, watch Shiny Toy Guns or watch Korn. Ordinarily it would be no choice, Korn for sure. But after hearing the acoustic song the Shiny Toy Guns played earlier in the Viper Room, it was hopeful that their electronic show was going to be good. Unfortunately, after the first song I was kind of disappointed. While it sounded good and they were attempting for good vibes and excitement, I wasn’t hooked. I suddenly felt pangs of regret for not heading over to see Korn sooner and it was only because my feet were hurting that I resisted my urge to run down two blocks to get to the other stage before the show started. I’m sure if I had stayed for more, it wouldn’t have been so bad.
After running to Korn and getting there late, I got smashed up against the railing at the Key Club. Expectations were high as everyone waited for Korn to get on stage. There were people everywhere; hanging from trees, sitting on rooftops, completely surrounding the stage. It was obvious that this show was a highly anticipated one. Korn came out cussing and head banging. The show started off with a total bang. Lead vocalist Jonathan Davis even rocked a unique silver mike, complete with legs and breasts.
This show was one of the more violent ones. People crowd surfed and were almost dropped. One person came to my side of the stage with blood pouring out of his mouth and nose; apparently he was punched in the face. People were pushing to get closer, and actually further, away from the show but the sheer amount of people surrounding the stage made it impossible for anyone to get anywhere. The guy standing next to me blocked the crowd from me for a while so I could actually enjoy the show without getting pushed around but ultimately it became too much for me to deal with and still listen. The band sounded great. They played old favorites and the crowd was loving it. They even sang “We Will Rock You” for crowd enjoyment. Even though I had to leave after only a few songs due to the crowd, the rock music and the cheers of the crowd could still be heard clearly a block away.
One thing I’ve yet to mention were the venues that were playing music at the same time as the street fest. The bands playing in venues were more local bands. The Cat Club had bands playing all day long but also seemed to be the smallest venue on the strip. While other venues sounded at least decent, the Cat Club was maybe to small or didn’t have the proper equipment. It sounded terrible. The loud music exploded in the club and instead of sounding like audible tones, it sounded like harsh noise. I’m sure some of the bands that performed in the club were really great but I couldn’t stand to sit in there and have my ear drums blasted. Any music that physically creates pain and doesn’t sound good isn’t really something I want to be around.
Hitting close to home
CSUN alumnus Thomas Gilbert is a member of the band Radius, who performed at the street fest. Radius has just finished recording a six song EP and will be leaving in a few months to perform for soldiers in Iraq. While overseas, they will also be performing in Chernobyl, Russia at a benefit concert for the Chernobyl Children’s Project International. The project offers assistance to those in Chernobyl who were affected by a nuclear meltdown in the late 80s.
The band is self-described as hopeful, thoughtful and having a full-bodied sound. Drummer Joe Chavanu said the goal of the band is to share their music and the mission of hope and love around the world.
“[We have a] very big sound that appeals to a big audience,” Chavanu said. “[We have a] Very warm, complete sound. Lower vocals [by Matthew Turbak] and Thomas’ guitar soars.”
Ozzy brings the show home.
After talking with Radius, it was time to head over to Ozzy’s stage. This time I found a seat in the back, which turned out to be smart. Watching people come to see Ozzy Osbourne’s performance was watching people flock in masses. Two and three songs into Ozzy’s set and people were still coming in large numbers towards the stage. It was a complete exodus. If Korn’s show was packed then Ozzy’s show was overflowing. He certainly didn’t let down anyone. Although half the songs were Black Sabbath songs, he performed with vigor. Although I couldn’t see him, I could hear him perfectly and it sounded crystal clear and powerful. Seeing that many people rock out to one guy was an incredible experience.
After Ozzy was over, I wanted to go to the 98.7 after party at the Key Club. However, the amount of people that went to see him perform pretty much ensured I couldn’t make it to any party without waiting. I wasn’t heart broken, though. The crowds that stayed through the show proved that Ozzy Osbourne’s show was one to watch. I couldn’t regret not making it through after hearing such a strong.
The SSMF Street Fest offered a variety of genres, although I couldn’t make it to see Shwayze or LMFAO, and intelligently only placed one band in competition with Ozzy Osbourne’s performance. Although I definitely had a few complaints throughout the day it wasn’t enough to say it was a bad day by any means. It was an incredible experience to see that many bands perform and then hang out at the street fest afterwards. It was an epic musical experience.