From its conception, Hustle was one big experiment: Get Long Beach's best conscious rappers, dreamiest psych-rockers, folkiest songwriters and hardest neo-punkers together for a free, three-day celebration of all things musically weird. Across multiple venues, including a wine bar and a public park, the underbelly of Long Beach's eclectic music scene was to be on full display all weekend long.
It happened. All of it. Despite a terrorist attack halfway around the world, a last-minute venue change and windy SoCal winter weather that decided to swoop in starting Saturday afternoon.
Was the first Hustle a success? Yes. Will it be an ever bigger success next year? Hell yes.
Hustle started on Friday the 13th, a doozy of a day. By the time rappers Omid, Uhlife and Rahspect took the stage, not only had the venue been moved from Signal 1883 (amid threats of eviction from the landlord), but the news was confirmed that nearly 100 people had been killed by terrorists inside of an Eagles of Death Metal show in Paris.
The attack on Western music was literal that night and the packed house at 4th Street Vine used every set as an escape from that sad reality — proof that even in dark times, live music heals.
Crimewave 5150, a collaboration between JSNMSK (a crooner turned rapper) and Dez Yusuf (a punker turned rapper), made its debut, intensely spitting recently released songs that were as heavy as the mood. Their songs talk about violence and hard knocks on the streets of Long Beach, a reminder of societal problems so much closer to home.
Alex Ocana, aka 2Mex, was the most powerful set of the night. Though he's a Long Beach native, the Visionaries member doesn't often do solo shows in his hometown; the last time he took the stage was with Ikey Owens, when the two were messing around at Que Sera with some new songs from their Look Daggers project.
"I miss him, man," Ocana said of Ikey after the show, during which he rapped familiar lyrics over Portishead samples played from his Samsung 5.
As everyone filed out of the wine bar and over to The Pike for more drinks (this is Long Beach, after all), Senay Kenfe of rap group The Natives walked by trying to sell vinyl copies of Return of the Natives for $10 — a musician literally hustling at Hustle.
Saturday's show at Bixby Park was the biggest wake-up call of the weekend with Hustle putting on a small afternoon concert that picked up as soon as the farmers market shut down.
Disparate-sounding bands like Bootleg Orchestra, Refrano and Bobby Blunders brought skaters from the skate park, families from the play area and curious neighbors passing through to the bandshell stage, where they danced and grooved without ever knowing they were attending Hustle (there was no signage all weekend).
Despite a sound system that did not do the performers' big sounds justice and the lack of food vendors which may have kept some people around through dinnertime, the show brought much-needed activity to one of the city's most underutilized outdoor music venues, which only hinted at the all-ages potential for next year's Hustle (second stage on the bluff side of the park, anyone?).
Litronix — the freak show that happens when Kevin Litrow of 60 Watt Kid and Avi Zahner of Avi Buffalo make music together — and Furcast, a psych-jazz outfit with a saxophone player who puts Kenny G to shame, closed out the park show.
And lest you think a nearly full day of Long Beach music was too much for some, a folkier nighttime lineup of Highlands, Drug Cabin and Dustin Lovelis filled 4th Street Vine until closing time for the second night in a row.
Sunday was more mellow in attendance, but more intense overall, with San Pedro punk label Ghoulhouse Records bringing fast-paced bands like Bastidas (now with more Latin influence!) and Assquatch (thoughtful grindcore lives!) to 4th Street Vine. Local musicians were also part of the food offerings, with singer-songwriter Dennis Robicheau posted up on the back patio with his catering company Shady Grove Foods, selling tacos and quesadillas filled with house-made chorizo.
With no budget and little promotion, the inaugural Hustle was a shout from the mountaintop that Long Beach's music community includes more artists and musicians than just those who have been playing in the newly live-music-friendly downtown.
Some of the artists and bands that Hustle exposed have never had the opportunity to perform at the main city-sponsored music events like Summer and Music and Live After Five. Instead, they are more likely to be found hiding inside 21-and-over places like Que Sera, the Prospector and 4th Street Vine.
Hustle's open minded M.O. made it exactly the kind of DIY festival Long Beach's diverse underground music scene needed. And after the attacks on a concert hall in Paris on Friday, more live music in the city might be what everyone else needs too.