Event touts its street cred in the alt-rock world

The Sunset Strip, where the third annual Sunset Strip Music Festival takes place next weekend, may be L.A.’s most storied rock ‘n’ roll mecca. But Silver Lake, which is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Sunset Junction Fair over two days beginning Saturday, Aug. 21, touts much more street cred in the alt-rock world.

You’re much more likely to see buzz bands at, say, Silver Lake’s Spaceland, or the nearby Echo, than at the once-thriving clubs on the Strip, where the Roxy and the Whiskey are better known these days than most of the talent that performs at these venues.

The Sunset Junction Fair is an apt reflection of the neighborhood that surrounds it: a multi-ethnic, mixed-income enclave near downtown where urban farmers, tattooed artists, industry couples and community activists cohabit in a hipper-than-thou ground zero of L.A.’s bohemian culture.

The fair itself has grown considerably over the past three decades, from a kind of local celebration of diversity — and a way of easing tension between the neighborhood’s gay and Latino communities — that originated at event coordinator and producer Michael McKinley’s home, to the sprawling affair that during its three decades has booked acts like Sonic Youth, Elliot Smith, Broken Social Scene and locals including Beck, Los Lobos and X.

Of that first year in 1980, McKinley recalls expecting “a few thousand people, and there ended up being 10,000 or so.”

A voluntary dollar donation was all that was required for admission; this year it’s $15 per day for advance tickets or $20 at the gate. Crowds have swollen over the years to the tens of thousands, with 50,000-60,000 expected this time around. McKinley wouldn’t discuss numbers but said that advance ticket sales “were a little above normal.” Proceeds go to the Sunset Junction Youth Program.

This year, the musical lineup of more than 70 acts appears more diverse than ever, including critical darlings Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, who played at Coachella, keytar-wielding DJ-singer Dam Funk, old school punkers Bad Brains, R&B mainstays the Ohio Players, disco diva Evelyn Champagne King and singer-songwriter-funkster Meshell Ndegeocello.

There will also be a Miles Davis tribute on Saturday called “Bitches Brew 40th Remix,” combining Davis alumni with DJs who will attempt to give the landmark fusion recording a contemporary spin. Sunday will feature a set heavy on indie Latino acts like San Antonio-based Girl in a Coma and Mexican rockers Division Minuscula.

About 5,000 free passes are handed out to residents, business owners and employees in the vicinity.

The passes are one attempt to mollify residents’ parking and trash concerns, though business owners continue to complain that the fest’s footprint hurts business during the event that the L.A. Times last year said had morphed from a “chilled-out block party to Bacchanalian blow-out.”

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