A Dozen Reflections on BuskerFest

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Sawtooth does BuskerFest (your intrepid reporter at the far right). Photo by Guinevere Valkyrie Burnard.

Didn't make it out to BuskerFest, the finale of the fourth-annual Summer And Music (SAM) series? Don't expect these dozen reflections to make up for your missing another great Long Beach happening. For starters, your dozen might be completely different. But hey, you weren't there, so you're stuck with these:

1) There is potentially a lot of chaos inherent to having a dozen bands, sandwiched between opening and closing acts, play half-hour sets, with some overlap, on the backs of three flatbed trucks. But the SAM organizers and stage managers kept everything flowing smoothly, providing six hours of nonstop stimulation. Does that sound sexy? Musically, it was.

2) But what happened to "performers will play unplugged," as was promised in the promotional material? BuskerFest v. 2012 was far from unplugged, with some of the busking bands utilizing almost as much power as the non-competing headliners on the main stage, creating a disparity in the performances and causing many people to ask me what the deal was (apparently thinking that as a journalist I actually know something).

3) BuskerFest is not a tough crowd, but rather a mass of people there to have fun, giving the bands enthusiastic and even friendly support (which I can speak of firsthand, having played drums for bluegrassy band Sawtooth).

4) Attendees were given six wooden nickels apiece, to distribute as they saw fit to the buskers. My allocation (one each): Squarefish, The Dovelles, bobby blunders, Sawtooth (hey, I waited until after our fourth song—had to make sure we deserved it), Greater California. Yes, I know that's only five; I've got a souvenir (although it says "LB BUSKERFEST 2010").

5) There were a lot of good performances on those trucks, but the promotional juggernaut that was The Dovelles meant that the result of the wooden-nickel tally was never in doubt, and the band took home the $7,000 merch-package grand prize. Not bad for a second-ever gig.

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Members of The Dovelles just after the annoucement of their BuskerFest win.

6) Bike valets have become such standard operating procedure at events around town that it's getting ever harder to make fun of the City Hall installation proclaiming Long Beach "the most bike friendly city in America." It's still funny, but maybe we're on the short list?

7) The 36th most-populous city in the United States is still small-town enough that at an event like this you still see the head muckety-mucks—here, organizers Rand Foster and Justin Hectus—keeping things running in a very hands-on way. But at least you could spot Foster having a chance to pause and take in some of festivities. I don't think I ever saw Hectus—or his sister Ashley—at rest. Gotta admire that dedication.

8) Despite knowing one of the band members, until Saturday I had never heard The Fling, the Long Beach band that was the evening's subheadliner. Which means their set garnered at least one new fan (and probably many more). "Justin Roeland," I said as they came off stage. "Holy crap, dude!"

9) Headliner Beachwood Sparks was also great, certainly energizing the evening's youngest music fan. It wasn't until I approached the little girl and the two relatively adult types with her that I realized this was not the same threesome I spotted at the SAM kickoff event at Fingerprints in June. It was Anthony Hannaford's idea to bring Heather Sanchez and her 7-year-old daughter Natalia to the event, the first such live performance that Natalia has attended—but according to her mother, definitely not the last. "She saw the crowd dancing over there, so she got excited about that," Sanchez said. As I asked about her dancing, Natalia informed me that she is also a singer and broke into an a cappella version of Adele: There is a fire starting in my heart….

10) Unlike at Dancin' in the Streets, the great addition to SAM that took place earlier this month, there was an adequate number of port-a-potties at BuskerFest.

11) But alas, there was too little dancing in the streets. DJ Lithuanian Prince was slated to spin a set post-Beachwood Sparks. But with a permit that went only 'til 11PM, that meant after 15 minutes the lingering crowd was stopped in our tracks (mid-song!) just as we were getting warmed up. Next year make it midnight.

12) The East Village Arts District is really a neat little area. One day it's going to reach a critical mass and be energized all the time. One day. 

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