A Play By Play Account of Trying to Busk at Abbot Kinney’s First Friday Event

9 Aug

By Thu Tran of Ampersand

(Note: All times are approximate)

8:00pm – We arrive at Abbot Kinney’s First Friday.  The street is crowded with cars, tourists, drunks, food trucks, etc…  We pull the car off to the side and unload our equipment in front of The Place LA.  Melissa and I set up while Rachel goes to find parking.

8:10pm – It is loud.  The sidewalk is so crowded that it is hard to walk.  I am carrying a guitar, a microphone stand, an amplifier, and a suitcase; trying to join the flow of pedestrian traffic feels like jumping in on a game of double dutch.

8:13pm – I see Will Forte (SNL, MacGruber) walk by singing Jay Z’s “Empire State of Mind”

8:15pm – Our set-up is modest: a two channel amp, one microphone on a boom-stand, and one guitar.  There is so much foot traffic, though, that it’s difficult to find any place to set up without blocking the sidewalk.  So one of the gracious guys from The Place LA goes into a neighboring shop and asks if we can set up right under their overhang and play a little music.  The lady in the store says, “yes.”

8:30pm – Melissa is setting out the usual promotional material for Stop & Listen LA and Rachel is still looking for parking.  I play a few warm-up songs to test the sound.  Throngs of people rush by.  Some people give an occasional glance and smile.  I finish my first song and Dave from The Place LA turns to me and says “That was great!”

8:35pm – Midway through my second song, a man comes out of the store and says, “Hey you can’t play here, we’re going to get a ticket!”  I tell him that a woman in the store said it was okay for us to play here, but we would be more than willing to stop playing and leave.  I believe I made this very clear to him.  He says, in a less than cordial tone, “The cops are going to give us a ticket if you don’t leave right now!”  I tell him to calm down and that we are leaving.  He says “Good, then get out!” The man was almost a caricature of himself: a burly shop-keep angrily shooing away those pesky hippie-kids who are always strumming their damned Indigo Girls songs in front of his store!  Anyway, I obliged and said politely, “No need to freak out, man, I just told you that we are leaving.  Sorry to cause any inconvenience.”  He repeats himself, “Well get out, then!”

8:45pm – Rachel is still looking for parking.

9:00pm – Melissa eats a pastrami sandwich while we try to decide if it was worth the 40 minute cross-town drive to play music for 5 minutes.

9:10pm – Ah ha!  Melissa sees another one of SaLLA’s affiliated food trucks, WorldFare BusTaurant, and runs across the street to ask if we can play at their truck.

9:25pm – Rachel comes back from looking for parking.  She is, understandably, frazzled.  We proceed to lug all of our equipment across the street, weaving through traffic, a la Frogger.

9:35pm – World Fare is a double-decker food truck that is hoping to one day operate the top level of their bus as a sit down patio.  They are figuring out some logistics to making that happen, and, though they can’t have customers on top of their bus yet, they allow us to play music on the top level.  The owner lowers the stairs down, and people start to crowd around, demanding to go up to the second level.  He calmly explains that he can’t have customers on the bus yet, but that musicians will be going up there to entertain them as they eat.  The crowd parts as someone in the crowd yells, “Move! The musicians are coming through!”  For a brief moment I feel special.  Not paparazzi-celebrity-special.  Just the kind of special you feel when you are driving by in the carpool lane while everyone else is stuck in traffic.

9:50pm – We are on top of a double-decker bus looking down at Abbot Kinney.  There are crowds of people as far as the eye can see.  There is a gridlock of cars beneath us.  From up here, the commotion becomes a distant buzz.

10:00pm – We set up the amp and start to play from atop the World Fare Bus.  People look up and point.  They take pictures.  A few people dance.  Our 45-watt, acoustic amplifier is cranked up to compete with the live DJ pumping dance tunes from the club across the street.  We are mostly drowned out by the noise of the crowds and the music from the DJ and the honking car horns, but we reach a few people, and that is satisfying.  I think people mostly liked the sight of someone playing guitar on top of a bus.  It was very U2 (but not), you know?

10:30pm – Someone from the World Fare Bus comes up and tells us that the cops are shutting the bus down for having a live band without a permit.

10:45pm – We are in the car, all of our equipment re-packed in the trunk, and we are driving home.  We are slightly confused, slightly annoyed, and slightly defeated.  We roll the window down as a shirtless man runs down the street, brandishing a skateboard, and screaming profanities at the top of his lungs.  Nobody stops him.

The whole evening was frustrating, to say the least.  According to DiscoverLosAngeles.com, First Fridays is a chance for “The neighborhood merchants [to] come together to feature the best artists, gifts, products and music. […] It’s a way to experience what Abbot Kinney Boulevard is all about.” And according to Mike Newhouse, the Community Officer for the Venice Neighborhood Council, they “created this walkable community event as a way to support the businesses and strengthen the feel of Abbot Kinney (via DiscoverLosAngeles).”

First Fridays were created to promote the community and what it has to offer.  At heart, its values are completely in line with that of SaLLA.  Both entities want people to slow down and look at what is around them.  To look, listen, taste, and experience the unique, independent personality of Los Angeles. And yet, it was a supremely difficult, obstacle-filled ordeal to even provide free music for an uninterrupted hour.

One might think that SaLLA’s mission of providing music and art to the community is a simple one.  But my experience this evening showed me that it is anything but; it is an uphill battle. People in Los Angeles are running at a brisk, sometimes frantic, pace.  Even when they are trying to HAVE FUN (i.e. going to Abbot Kinney’s First Fridays), they are fighting for parking, running to the front of the food truck line, honking at pedestrians… The mood of recreation in Los Angeles is, often times, anything BUT recreational.  “I am going to have fun and be relaxed, but only if I have the MOST fun and am the MOST relaxed BEFORE everyone else!” is kind of the mentality.

This is not anyone’s fault.  I am not angry at the Venice Police for doing their jobs.  I am not angry at Abbot Kinney for providing a popular community event.  I am not angry at Los Angeles for being the breeding ground of innovative dining, music, and art.  I am, altogether, not angry.  I am simply renewed in my conviction that Stop & Listen LA is an essential part of making Los Angeles a city we can actually be proud to live in.

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