Last Saturday: Tour de Artistes in Downtown Long Beach
Better Than: The Tour de France (just guessing).
For most downtown areas in Southern California, the term "Art Walk" is just another word for Saturday. Weekends are filled with lively urban corridors packed with artists looking to sell their pieces to those who, for the most part, can't afford to pay them what they're worth. But as beautiful and inspiring as paintings and sculptures can be, sometimes you need a little something extra to stimulate the endorphins of jaded city art walkers. I found that out for myself as allowed the dust of a gravel parking lot to cover my Vans on an intellectual, vibrant, fire dancing, beer-swigging stroll around the 11th annual Tour de Artistes event on Broadway and Long Beach Blvd. in Downtown Long Beach.
The "tour" mostly consisted of a parking lot filled with art and performance exhibitions, a main stage, a "Beer Garden" stage (both featuring local bands) as well as several live muralists, hand crafted wooden projects and a handful of galleries within walking distance.
The sun was still burning strong around 5 p.m. when I entered this free event hosted by the Downtown Long Beach Association as well as nine bands, a couple DJs and over 30 local artists strewn throughout a one block radius of colorful drifters, hipsters and city folk. And, as fortune would have it, the OC Weekly Street Team was passing out everything from new editions of the paper, to slightly more useful materials...the coveted OC Weekly condoms and match books, worthy additions to any art festival.
Summer Darling was opening it's set as crowds took a break from circling the art to check out some music. On the other side of the event, separated by a brick building, the beer, wine and vodka were flowing at the Beer Garden stage as Parade of Lights banged out some catchy tunes. It was hard to stay focused on one thing for too long with so many distractions: live artists constructing murals, a flock of flamingo-legged fashionistas strutting in heels wearing what appeared to be designer dresses (part of a fashion show, maybe? Who knows), and did I mention beer?
Around sunset, Long Beach up-and-comers Eugene and the 1914 had just unpacked their gear on the main stage and launched into the soft, melodic croon of "Troubles" [the title track of their new EP that you may see me writing about in a future addition of the weekly, just a guess]. The sun took it's time going down as the band, headed by wiry front man Eugene Owens continued to hit fans that clustered in front of the stage with poised-yet-energized songs like the tremolo-heavy crowd-pleaser "Love War". They were followed shortly by an amazing set by Deep Sea Diver (which will be going on tour with Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band in the coming week, featuring Owens on bass). Her trembling sincerity on tracks like "Hangin' On" echoed off of surrounding buildings as people stopped to watch the band while the sun finally went down.
Though the music was great all afternoon and evening on the main stage and the beer garden stage (caught Su Blah Nu and The Commotions during beers 3-6, which has nothing to do with my praise of their set), there was much more to see. For example, what Long Beach event is complete without fire dancers?
As part of a welcome distraction before psychedelic natives Blank Blue opened their set, crowds gathered at the front of the main stage to watch the seductively dangerous stunts of Serina Serpentina, a group of Long Beach ladies who enjoy a good flame(s). Sporting swirly body paint, flowing dresses and staggered dance formations, the ladies de Serpentina showcased their ability to dance and play with fire. It was the first time I had seen this renowned local act and judging by the crowd's jaw-dropping reaction to the whirling balls of flame (yes, great balls of fire) that the women were stunting with, I don't think I was the only one.
The last band of the night, Long Beach's own Blank Blue, took the stage before 9 p.m. With the release of their new 7" split on the horizon with Ubiquity records (shared with fellow artists School of Seven Bells and Nosaj Thing), the band is surely preparing itself for a summer of memorable shows, this being one of them. Wading in a cool mixture of keys, reverb and elongated, song bird vocals, the band brought a close to an afternoon and evening filled with live art in it's truest form, from all angles. The band made sure to pour out some meandering favorites like "The Spectral Company" and a slightly re-worked version of the spacey jam "Ignite". As crowds slowly dispersed to various after parties in the area, it was hard to walk away mad after a day of creative bliss, even if it means my black Vans are now officially grey with parking lot dust.
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Personal Bias: A Saturday spent with art+ music+beer+ free admission= a well-spent Saturday
Random Detail: I noticed this guy just going bonkers in the front row during Deep Sea Diver's set, may be enjoying himself just a touch too much.
By the Way: Check out all the bands and artists that performed whenever possible. They were all fantastic. Here's the list of who was there. And make sure to check out Keith May's photos of the affair right here.