Sometimes it takes a village to raise a party. Especially one that's built on the premise of positivity in a community that has spent years reviving its image. In the shadow of the 25th anniversary of the LA Riots, it's easy for some to forget that just south of the hellfire that was burning in cities such as Compton and Watts, Long Beach also faced its share of chaos, looting and destruction.
"Anaheim Street was on fire during the riots," says Scott Montoya, former drummer for the Growlers (he left the group last year). The Long Beach block he now lives on with his girlfriend, Coathangers front woman Julia Kugel, spent weeks as an urban war zone back in 1992. His next-door neighbor lived in the area during the riots and shared stories of how vandals burned down the DMV near his house and national guardsmen once marched down their street. "She was forced to climb on the roof of a building and stay there all night because people were hiding from the cops in the bushes near her property and pretending they lived there," he says.
A quarter of a century later, it's more than a little poetic Montoya and Kugel decided to create a free, quarterly music event for the Long Beach community called Happy Sundays that falls just a few days after the anniversary of the riots ending (May 4, 1992). Not only for the sake of history, but also because most of the destructive reminders of what the neighborhood once endured have been erased. Nothing's perfect, of course, but an event centered on celebrating local businesses, vendors and bands is a step in the right direction. "[The neighborhood's] turned around big-time, even just since I've lived there," Montoya says. "I want to try to make it something cool and keep the neighborhood real and promote what's there and help what's there stay there by attracting some positive attention to it and make it flourish organically."
To that end, Happy Sundays is more than just a cute name for an event. It's a call to action for those who'd rather spend the day making the city a better place instead of sitting inside nursing a Saturday-night hangover. Taking place from 1 p.m. to midnight, the event features 14 local acts (including such well-known bands as Cat Signs, Meow Twins, Plague Vendor and Cheap Tissue), as well as three different stages and a host of food and beer options for people looking for a party with the perfect amount of Long Beach vibes. As the second official installment of Happy Sundays (the first was held in February), Montoya says he was inspired by times with the Growlers.
"My best memories that I really enjoyed from festivals were day drinking and partying at SXSW," Montoya says. "Day drinking is the best, and partying during the day is the best, and when people are stoked and bands are playing, that was some of the most fun times I've ever had."
At the time Montoya and Kugel started the series, they had just recently settled into their new house, which they're renovating to include a recording studio and outdoor stage and patio area they hope to incorporate into their Happy Sundays events in the near future. But Montoya's initial goal was to secure a permit for a block party so bands could play outside and on the
street or even the porch in front of his house.
Unfortunately, because of a setback in securing the incorrect permit, the city wouldn't allow them to follow through with that idea. But that didn't stop Montoya and Kugel from coordinating with Alex's Bar owner Alex Hernandez to host the first Happy Sundays along with local vintage-clothing store From the Moon.
Through that experience, the couple realized that it would make sense to avoid getting permits altogether by working within a web of local venues that already have the permits to throw shows and have vendors, plus some that can serve alcohol. "Last time, we were really stressed about everything and . . . it kind of fell out of place," Kugel says. "It really taught us not to stress and get the right people involved and make sure the basics are covered."
Though the event once again features an all-day lineup of bands, they'll perform not only at Alex's Bar and From the Moon, but also at vintage-and-antique store Urban Americana.
For Kugel, hosting an event that's open to hungry local bands gives her the thrill of reliving that part of her career as a fledging all-female punk band in Atlanta prior to becoming a nationally touring artist. "The bands that play this thing are new bands that want to play; it's not a job to them yet," Kugel says. "It's not something that weighs you down, and that can suck. . . . A lot of shit has happened this year in our country and just in our lives in general, so it's cool to do something together that's not about hype and bullshit."
From the Moon and Urban Americana are also able to host all-ages crowds, which is a crucial element for live bands building an audience in Long Beach. "There's not many places that bands can play that aren't 21 and over, so our space is capable of doing a lot of things because it's just big, so we can have bands at least once a month," says From the Moon owner Azy Esmailzadeh.
From the last event, Esmailzadeh says, she has gotten positive responses from locals around her store who've thanked her for bringing more live music and social events to the community. And with the majority of the event during the day, it gives families a chance to check out the event with their kids.
"We actually really like playing for kids," says Sarah Duni Bourland of Space Waves, who'll play the Urban Americana stage at 3 p.m. "They also seem to like us, so it's a good fit."
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She adds that the band members are even more excited to be in the crowd and see the event unfold as locals who've lived in the neighborhood for three years. "It's a fun place to be in," Bourland says. "For me, I drive to work during the week, and on the weekends, I just wanna be at home and in the neighborhood, so to be involved in this is a treat for sure."
Despite being away from the band lifestyle for the time being, Montoya says, he feels the same rush every time he prints out a Happy Sundays flyer and tapes it to a storefront window or establishes another relationship in the community. Granted starting over and finding a new path is never easy, but if an entire neighborhood can learn to do it, so can he.
"One of the things I've always respected about bands that do everything themselves [is they] just learn how to do it," Montoya says. "That's what this is to me—not being in a band, but still having something grow from scratch just like everything else should."
Happy Sundays, featuring Cat Signs, Meow Twins, Plague Vendor, Cheap Tissue and more, at Alex's Bar, 2913 E. Anaheim St.; From the Moon, 2749 E. Anaheim St.; and Urban Americana, 1345 Coronado Ave., Long Beach. Sun., 1 p.m.-midnight. Free. All ages (except at Alex's Bar).