Echo Park Rising: Rebirth of Sunset Junction

Emily Olson

It is humid and dark in The Echo, a venue in downtown Echo Park, as the Herbert Bail Orchestra sweats under the unnatural purple stage lights. People trickle in from the street where the hot August sun is melting and the walk from venue to venue requires sunglasses. Echo Park Rising is in full swing. The free festival is one of several happening in Los Angeles this summer, but definitely one of the best on a budget.

Walking along Sunset Boulevard, the festival is clearly drawing a crowd. The tiny record store next to The Echo, Origami Vinyl, has a crowd spilling out onto the sidewalk. Down the street at Taix French Restaurant, an outdoor stage hosts bands and DJ’s flooding the summer air with sound, while inside the champagne room hosts a stage with hand-picked acts.

Standing on Sunset Boulevard’s sidewalk outside of Taix is Eli Presser. Presser, 32, entertains a passing crowd by expertly pulling the strings of an agonized puppet set atop a makeshift stage of stacked suitcases. A mini-speaker croons the sounds of Louis Armstrong over the noise of the band playing on the outside stage. The music festival is as much a stage for Presser to display his art as it is for the band his speaker is fighting. “The festival environment is always great for street preforming,” said Presser. “People are open to seeing art that comes out of their neighborhood. It creates a community feel.”

With two full days of music and comedy on 20 stages, Echo Park Rising bears comparison to the once infamous Sunset Junctions grass roots start, bringing together a community with local art, music and comedy.

The once popular Sunset Junction music festival went bankrupt in 2011 when a judge ordered that they pay the debt owed to the city or forfeit their permits for the show. Having already booked top-notch acts such as Clap Your Hand Say Yeah and K.D. Lang, as well as presale tickets being sold, the festival was forced to cancel last minute, causing the organizers to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2012.

Despite the upset from concert goers, parts of the community were not unhappy with the lack of street closures and large crowds. Looking through the comments on Echo Park’s Patch, several members of the community met the cancellation with a “good riddance.” Over 30 years, the once call to unify a community had become a concert that drew thousands to see nationwide touring acts. The cost of the permits for street closure and security being one of the main items of debt owed to the city.

“Sunset Junction brought people from all parts of the city,” said Presser. “Sunset Junction was an institution, and Echo Park Rising just isn’t there yet.”

Echo Park Rising is clearly not planning on making the same mistakes of its predecessor. Though there has been growth since its forming in 2011, one of the best parts of the event is that it is mostly indoors. Venues scattered throughout the neighborhood allow patrons coming off the street to witness the music or comedy acts within. Permits for many of these venues are already intact before the festival, and even the outdoor stage blocks no traffic tucked back behind businesses. And unlike Sunset Junction, who at the end was charging upwards of $30 per day, Echo Park Rising is free.

As the institution of Sunset Junction fades in Angeleno’s memories, Echo Park Rising will hopefully fill the hole in their hearts.