Night On Broadway, Saturday January 27th 2018
If you live in Los Angeles and were not around Broadway on Saturday afternoon/night, you missed a big all-together event downtown Los Angeles. Broadway was closed to traffic between 1st Street and Olympic Boulevard, and pedestrians had invaded downtown to experience ‘Night on Broadway’, a completely free arts and music festival orchestrated by Councilmember José Huizar, in a grand effort to bring back Broadway, the entertainment’s birthplace of the city.
And you have to love Los Angeles, there are only a few cities where you can organize such a grand-scale festival ‘in the dead of winter’ as José Huizar put it before introducing the B-52’s on the main stage.
The experience was overwhelming, with plenty to see and experience, as each one of Broadway’ historic theaters — the Palace theatre, the Orpheum, the Theatre at the Ace Hotel, the Globe Theatre among others — was opened for unique performances. At the top of this, there were outdoor stages, a Broadway Stage, a LGBTQ stage, a Viva! Stage, an ‘All things Girl Power’ stage…Dozens of acts did perform on 10 stages on the street and inside the historic theaters and since this immense block party was stretching for about a mile, I would have needed at least 10 motorized clones of myself to properly cover the event.
The ambiance was very family friendly and the event was a celebration of Los Angeles diversity and creativity, with plenty of musical acts from emerging artists to music legends, a few carnival rides (there was a Ferris wheel near 6th Street), plenty of food trucks and an abundance of arts and crafts booths.
But the event was all about these historic Broadway palaces, which were built between 1910 and 1931, and if I had already been inside a few of them to attend concerts, it was not the case for many Angelenos, and the free-for-all access to these Baroque and gothic interiors was one of the coolest things offered by this festival. I got a bit distracted by burlesque performers at the Palace Theater, but I may have spent too much time inside the Orpheum theatre, which looked like a mini Desert Daze festival with the Mad Alchemy’s psychedelic live projections… Some of the bands I have been following for a while, like Prettiest Eyes (on the Viva! outdoor Stage), or The Beatles`esque Entire Universe, the always frenetic Frankie and the Witch Fingers, and JUUJJUU (whose frontman Phil Pirrone is Desert Daze’s founder), were part of the event. It is always the problem with festivals, you have a tendency to stick with the things that look and sound familiar, but it was extremely cool to watch these bands, that I ordinary see in the intimacy of the Echo, played inside this beautiful and big theater.
Last year’s Night on Broadway drew about 75,000 people, I am not sure about this year, but the boulevard sure looked crowded at every corner, as people were checking an art installation, watching the Girls Roller Derby competition, or a band playing on an outdoor stage, while buying some ethnic food or even getting a new hairdo in the middle of the street, as the L.A. Barber College was offering free haircuts.
The B-52s were headlined the festival, just after War and La Santa Cecilia, and I got to stay inside the pit during their entire set, which included a lot of their classic New Wave tunes. The band may not be originally from LA, but there was something beautiful about watching Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson, all part of the original band line-up, singing with their signature harmonies ‘Lava’, ‘Dance This Mess Around’, ‘Love Shack’ or ‘Rock Lobster’ in front of the iconic LA City Hall.
This was the 10th anniversary of Jose Huizar’s ‘Bringing Back Broadway’ initiative, and in a decade, this part of town has been undergoing a major economic development, downtown LA simply doesn’t look like the same anymore, as I would have never imagined such an event happening downtown when I arrived in LA in the mid 90s. The night ended with unannounced fireworks, brightening the sky above the City Hall, and as I going back to my car, a brass band spontaneously played while walking up the boulevard. Who has said that Los Angeles doesn’t have a vibrant downtown? The city looked like some proud town showing its diverse cultural and musical backgrounds.