East Village Arts District (Long Beach)
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Sorry Echo Park Rising, FYF Fest and, yes, even the now-beachside Pacific Festival—Long Beach has this end-of-summer locals-only music festival thing down.
At Saturday's fourth annual BuskerFest, ten small-time Long Beach bands took turns hammering out 20-minute sets on trailer-truck bed stages in the middle of a Downtown street on Broadway and Linden Ave. in the East Village Arts District with the hopes of receiving enough wooden nickels from attendees to earn them this year's grand prize–a $7000 merch table.
The entirely-free festival not only provides bands just starting out the chance to win some much-needed marketing materials (previous years' prizes include studio time and an opening slot for Cold War Kids), but it is also an opportunity for them to perform in front of the city's diverse community of music supporters, who gathered on together on the streets with eager ears.
So unlike other music fests in the area where the crowd is more likely to be filled with too-cool haircuts than local business owners, BuskerFest felt more like some small-town harvest festival where sing-a-long booklets were distributed, free burned CDs were handed out and familiar faces filled the streets and, eventually, the stages themselves.
That's because despite its large population, Long Beach's music scene is remarkably small and close-knit as proven by not just Greater California's set this year–which featured a chorus of well-known local voices, some of which were also competing that night–but also the now two-time Buskerfest winner Mary McKeever who performed last year with winners Wild Pack of Canaries and this year with The Dovelles.
Ah yes, The Dovelles–a fitting band to claim the most nickel-votes this year since its very existence is testament to the possibilities of this wonderfully incestuous Long Beach scene. A nine-piece “girl-power-bang-pop-wow” group that centers around four adorably dressed and dreamily voiced local female music vets who harmonized into a single vintage-looking microphone, The Dovelles is the closest thing to a female supergroup the city's ever had.
In addition to McKeever, the band features Jenny Stockdale, Tess Shapiro and Alyssandra Nightswonger, the latter of which just returned from a bike-riding and solo music tour up the Pacific coast. And even though BuskerFest was The Dovelles' second gig ever (and they were passing out live CDs of their first show ever, recorded at a local wine bar last month), the group's skills–and eventual victory–prove that this is the summer for power in numbers.
The night ended again with a more traditional-style concert at the end of the block where a regular-sized outdoor stage had been erected. And as with previous years, the headliners weren't some big-name out-of-towners, but instead The Fling and recently reunited Beachwood Sparks–both nationally celebrated acts with strong Long Beach ties.
We know it's a Weekly no-no to express any appreciation for “the man” or admit that a civic institution might sometimes do something right, but for six hours on Saturday, the city gave Long Beach's flourishing music scene the streets, stages and beer garden necessary to throw one hell of a fest. And when the Dovelles start selling their professionally pressed albums and organic cotton tees, it'll be an honor to say, “Yeah, my tax dollars paid for that.”
Sarah Bennett is a freelance journalist who has spent nearly a decade covering food, music, craft beer, arts, culture and all sorts of bizarro things that interest her for local, regional and national publications.