East Village Arts District (Downtown Long Beach)
Over the weekend, nearly a dozen bands occupied three stages, performing over the course of six hours, while spanning the length of two city blocks, in downtown Long Beach. Buskerfest closed out this year's Summer And Music (SAM) concert series.
While some of the bands were given headlining status, the rest of the acts (mostly from Long Beach and LA) competed with one another for wooden nickels. That is, each guest was invited to take a stack of wooden nickels (upon receipt of the stack, the recipient's wrist was stamped) and was encouraged to toss said nickels onto the stage(s) of the band(s) he liked most — thus, the bands were symbolically busking for the public's dough. At the end of the evening, the band with the most wooden nickels would win the battle of the bands competition.
Fleshing out the street fair were vendors with modestly priced foods, a beer vendor — for which a very long line quickly formed and remained for the duration of the evening — and droves of locals of all ages. In fact, several attendees complained that while they had thoroughly enjoyed Buskerfest in the past, they were turned off by the festival's increase in popularity; perhaps this was because at times it became difficult to get anywhere near the stage to see bands perform, or maybe it was because the number of cigarette smokers essentially turned the entire two block stretch of 1st Street into an odoriferous smoking zone, or the number of schedule delays — past bands were allegedly more stripped down and acoustic based and at a certain point, this year, some technological snags allegedly caused a delay in the setup of classic rocker Terry Reid's band, which put the rest of the schedule off by at least half an hour. Regardless, for a free music festival, people don't really have much room for bitching.[
The bottom line is that the highly stylized bands all had their unique charms and appeals. Bloody Death Skull featured a ukulele playing lead singer, who dressed like a pin-up model and whose lyrics possessed some grimace-inspiring verbiage. The music of Tacky Little Hatshop was an endearing blend of indie rock with circus music [I dubbed it calliope rock, but the band told me they refer to it as "gypsy space folk rock"]. Full Tilt Trio brought a dose of rockabilly to the party. Headlining act Stephen Hodges and Friends brought some very classily arranged psychedelic jams, which featured some virtuoso horn and guitar work. In the end, power pop trio Tall Walls emerged as the winners of Buskerfest, garnering the most wooden nickels.
The final headlining band, Rival Sons, proudly proclaimed that they were just back from a world tour and happy to return to their hometown. Following this announcement, they performed their song "Burn Down Los Angeles" as a symbol of their pride for the city of Long Beach [I'm guessing that they are singing about burning down the city of Los Angeles and not the county (of which Long Beach is, of course, a part)].
The Rival Sons put on a terrific show, and lead singer Jay Buchanan's voice was very powerful. It is little wonder that they commanded the most attention of any of the bands that performed at Buskerfest 2015. Ironically, behind the wall of people standing at attention for Rival Sons, mostly unnoticed or ignored, an unkempt man sat on the sidewalk playing his guitar with his hat out.