Eagle Rock Music Festival transitions to series of community events

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Photo courtesy of CAFER

In response to community feedback, the 2019 Eagle Rock Music Festival will be restructured into a series of community-organized events for its 20th anniversary. The event, typically a one-day festival hosted by the Center for the Arts Eagle Rock (CFAER) in partnership with Councilmember Jose Huizar, has animated Colorado Boulevard every October since 1999. Branded with the motto “By Locals, For Locals,” the festival has been promoted by its organizers as a celebration of the diversity of artistic talent in Northeast Los Angeles.

Local resident Kim Turner has fond memories of attending the festival in its early years, where he would watch his son play violin on the street for tips.

“It was wonderful to see the local families with their children watching the boulevard,” Turner said via Facebook. “People dancing in the street at Colombo’s and the Cajun band at the Travelodge.”

Melinda Ann Farrell, the executive director of CFAER, has been involved with planning the festival since 2011. Farrell said challenges arose in recent years as the festival grew in size and prominence.

“The festival, from its root, was a little tiny festival, and then it got bigger and bigger and bigger,” Farrell said. “With that comes logistics challenges because there are more people, more security, more talent.”

In recent years, the festival has garnered criticism from residents concerned about how this growth has led to the exclusion of local talent. Among these residents is Dan Olivo, a local jazz musician and booking agent who played the festival a few times in its early years but has been rejected every year since 2016.

Olivo said that as the festival grew, it got more headliners and became less accommodating of local acts. According to Olivo, festival organizers would take a local artist’s application and fees and then reject them without providing a clear reason why.

“I wasn’t the only one who was frustrated,” Olivo said. “We have a wealth of musicians and bands in this community, and they should find a way to have them play every year. At least one or two stages, where it’s just community.”

Turner echoed Olivo’s complaints, criticizing the commercialization of the festival in recent years.

“It became overcrowded and it lost the small town feel,” Turner said via Facebook. “It was all of a sudden all about the money.”

The growth of the festival also angered local merchants, who were upset about how the street closure and festival food trucks interfered with their businesses. In response to this community pushback, Farrell said the CFAER has restructured the festival this year, downscaling it to a series of music and arts events over several weeks that are intended to make the festival more accessible for local artists.

“The idea is to provide more opportunities for local talents to play,” Farrell said. “When you have more concerts, you have more ability to program more people.”

According to Farrell, the series includes more culture-specific events like the Filipinx Night of Music and Dance Oct. 5 and the Global Rhythm Fest Nov. 10, which will feature global music, arts, and cuisine. Also among the upcoming events is NELA Music Oct. 13, the second event in the “Eagle Rock Music Series,” launched by local musician Dan Marfisi in May. Marfisi said his motivation for this series came from playing music with fellow parents around Eagle Rock.

“We’ve formed a music community — sort of a moms and dads jam band,” Marfisi said. “I saw this community that wasn’t being harnessed, so I put together the first Eagle Rock Music Festival Series.”

According to Marfisi, this series is structured specifically for local artists, and each group performing has at least one member who lives in the Eagle Rock area. Marfisi said he hopes the series can be a community-building endeavor that local parents, kids and community members rally around. Residents and festival organizers alike seem to be pleased with this renewed emphasis on local music. Olivo said he thought this series was a step in the right direction, and Farrell said she is optimistic that the new format will reinvest in Eagle Rock talent.

“It’s an opportunity for the whole community to come together,” Farrell said. “The community becomes the curator.”

According to Farrell, the format of future festivals will depend on community reaction to this series, but Marfisi said he anticipates the one-day format will reappear in the future. Regardless of the festival structure, community members remain more committed than ever to the value of local music.

“I just think it’s a very cool thing that you can go somewhere once a year and see your neighbors playing music,” Olivo said. “It gives them exposure — these local bands that may not have exposure anywhere else.”

Farrell said she is invested in sustaining the folksy, tight-knit arts community in Eagle Rock. This vibrant community is what inspired the creation of the Eagle Rock Music Series, according to Marfisi.

“I just want to serve this community for what I think it’s worth,” Marfisi said. “And I think it’s worth a lot.”

Both Farrell and Marfisi said they were eager to have Occidental students tap into the local arts scene by attending or performing at these events. Whether a student is a musician, artist or audience member, Farrell and Marfisi said they hope to welcome them into their upcoming projects.

“Oxy, you’re invited,” Farrell said. “Let’s do something together.”

This article was revised Oct. 22, 2019 at 11:30 a.m. to correct the gender pronouns of Kim Turner.