One of the things that surprises many newcomers to Los Angeles is the fact that people tend to stay in their own small section of the sprawling metropolis. It is common to hear natives claim that they next to never visit the Westside (or East, depending on their starting location). There are actually two reasons for this. Traffic and traffic. If China had built the 405 freeway, the Mongolians would still be wondering what Chinese cooking tastes like.
Fortunately for my wife and I traffic was unusually and inexplicably light saturday, June 1st and we made it to Make Music Pasadena in plenty of time to catch many of the performances. Make Music Pasadena is an annual free music festival located in Old Town Pasadena. This year’s festival featured over 150 bands, many of whom are local bands, though some are definitely very recognizable. Last year there were over 15,000 people attending and all for the low, low price of free.
One of the differences between the beach cities and the more inland locations, is the temperature. While it was a comfortable 78 at my apartment when we left it was 91 in a crowded and sunny Pasadena but no one seemed to mind. Pasadena is unique in that area of Los Angeles for being distinctly “normal.” This beautiful city is more well known for the New Year’s Day Rose Parade and Tournament of Roses. If the Rose Parade symbolizes the pomp and ritual that comes with the New Year then the Make Music Pasadena Festival represents all of the excitement and possibility of summer fun.
Many of the bands were independent or unsigned acts and as previously mentioned, many are local bands. These bands spanned the spectrum from jazz orchestras to current MTV up and comers, but one band that stuck out was the Eagle Rock Gospel Singers. This act performed in one of the harder to find side stages and had a much bigger sound than I thought could come from such a small venue. When I first read about the band on the Make Music program, I thought it might be an ironic name (Eagle Rock is the native habitat of many of Southern California’s thriving hipster population). But it turns out that they sound a little more like if the Black Keys had snuck onto the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. They genuinely are a local Gospel band that ranges from 9 to 15 members.
The bands playing were extremely diverse, ranging not only in sound, style, and genre, but in political and religious worldviews as well as languages (French, Spanish, and Portuguese). This one Saturday full of music reflects the cultural diversity and the cultural divides that make up Los Angeles. It can be difficult driving from one side of LA to the other, but it can be even more challenging to reach across the cultural divide at the end of the block. That’s what makes this festival so great, the opportunities to connect and share. Or just to take in some great music you may have never heard before.
And just in case you’re interested in checking out some of the bands, you can listen to a small sampling on this Spotify playlist.