Photo by James BunoanOutside Sol Art Gallery Caf in Santa Ana, a lone, scrawny, 17-year-old-ish kid sits smoking, his beat-up black hoodie serving, for the moment, as a headrest between his neck and the window. My boyfriend and I, having arrived at the caf to set up for his DJ gig later in the evening, head for the front door. It's locked, but a woman inside motions for us to walk toward the back.
"You guys here for the bands?" the kid asks, overhearing our confusion as to where, exactly, "the back" is. He starts to stand up.
"Sort of," I reply, motioning to my boyfriend. "He's the DJ."
"Oh . . . cool," the kid says with a proud, nonchalant nod before sitting back down—he wasn't looking for someone to pass the time with anyway.
We continue walking, find the back entrance and commence setting up—card table, records, turntables, records, amp, more records. When the needle falls on the first record half an hour later, it's 8 p.m., and the kid, still sitting alone outside, finally gets up. Stepping through the back door half a minute later, he smiles contentedly, knowing he's the first person there. He's also the personification of everything that makes an all-ages venue like Sol Art so verily poetic in its energy and excitement.
We've written about Sol Art before—first as a struggling caf in Gustavo Arellano's "Caffeine Free" (May 28, 2004), which detailed owner Sali Heraldez's struggles with the city of Santa Ana, and then as a struggling gallery in Rebecca Schoenkopf's lavishly praising review "'Deconstructing' Sali" (Dec. 24, 2004). But now the sun has set, and this gallery/caf that happily doles out donation-only coffees and waters for visitors who drop by during the day has transformed into its other, third incarnation: performance space, party pad—the new Koo's, if you dare.
Tonight, the kids who line up outside and pay $5 at the door get treated to two DJs (in addition to DJ Eyad, there's also our own Chris Ziegler) and a quadruple bill featuring Long Beach's one-woman wonder Chase Frank, the clangy garage guitars of the Red Onions, catchy quasi-dance punk courtesy of So So So and the brilliant country/surf rock trio the Flying Saucers. Once inside, the kids sip on (always) donation-only sodas and pile atop one another on Sol Art's huge white couches, looking something like a Marc Jacobs ad—if Marc should ever chuck New York's hip socialites by the wayside in favor of Santa Ana's hipper, cuter Latino teenage scenesters.
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The show has been dubbed "Indie Band Night," and while Sol Art has held similar indie nights before—such as the one Enjambre played for the caf's one-year anniversary on April 2—Heraldez tells me this is their first indie show featuring non-Spanish bands. Fortunately, from the looks of her incessant dancing, frequent hugs and near-manic scuttling about, she digs it.
Everyone else I speak with digs it, too, but really, they'd be idiots not to: Sol Art has impressive acoustics, more than enough space (including a separate room in the back for less noisy chilling) and a too-cute, cozy smoking nook. On top of all this, it has the best natural stage lighting I've ever seen: the bands and DJs face away from the store's front, backlit by an ever-changing traffic signal that sits at the intersection of Main Street and the 5 freeway's south onramp and shines through the caf's wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling windows. It's a 17-year-old digital-photo blogger's wet dream.
For the 21-and-overs, the caf might fall just a tad short of paradise—in a just world, there'd be a Koo's With Booze on every corner—but as far as all-ages hot spots in Orange County are concerned, Sol Art is undoubtedly tops. Whatever you have planned for this Saturday, cancel it and drop by. Better yet, arrive early—that kid in the hoodie could use some company.
Choice, featuring DJs spinning deep house/jazz/house classics at Sol Art Gallery Caf, 2202 N Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 834-0277; www.solartgallerycafe.com. Sat. Call for time and cover; also the Emerge n See Sessions featuring DJs Pedestrian, Simon and special guests spinning Afrobeat, funk, house and rare grooves. Fri., April 29, 9 p.m. Free.