The Eagle Rock Music Festival, which is produced by the center and its small full-time staff of four, attracted around 100,000 people last year. I expected to find overworked, stressed people with too much to do and not enough time to do it. Instead I was greeting with calm, relaxed smiles.
Brian Martinez, the festival's curator and the center's director of events, was kind enough to sit down for a conversation about the festival. Martinez has been working at the center for 13 years and has been the festival's curator for the last seven.
The biggest things on a lot of people's minds is the news that the festival has been downsized for the first time in its 15 years. What started out as a small neighborhood street fest grew and grew to the point that it began to attract 100,000 people. The center made the call to step back this year, and instead of three main outdoor stages and eight indoor venues, there will be one outdoor main stage and six venues.
We covered all things Eagle Rock Music Fest in our long conversation, and below are some excerpts that have been edited for space. Come back later this week for more details about the venues, acts and what to expect this year.
Patch: It's so quiet and peaceful here today, it's hard to imagine you guys are putting on one of the biggest shows in L.A. in a few weeks.
Brian Martinez: If you would have come four weeks ago, it would have been a different story. We actually have a summer camp, we host a summer camp, produce a summer camp, that’s a 9-10 week camp, 45 children in the building eight hours a day. That’s when I’m doing the most work as far as programming and going through the band acts. That’s the most difficult time for me, being able to separate the noise levels. Its quiet now, but most of the work, as far as the festival and lineup and all that, for the most part that’s all taken care of. It’s quiet now, but in the midst of if, as far as programming, deadlines, there’s 45 kids in the building and I’m in my tiny makeshift moveable office that’s over there. It’s nice now.
Patch: What's the reaction been to the news that the festival has been downsized a bit? In our story on it, there were comments from both sides. Some said, 'Oh, thank god, it was getting a little crazy.' Others were like, 'Make it as big as you can, why not 200,000?'
Martinez: It’s tough, growing up in Eagle Rock, people are wanting to protect Eagle Rock, so I can see both sides. One side being, if it gets too big you are destroying the quiet suburb of what Eagle Rock is, it’s just this quiet, beautiful area. But on the other side, for me is if it’s, the way that it was structured is, the Center for the Arts produces this, so it wasn’t just an ordinary organization, its an arts organization. Previous to me, the goal was always to bring local, innovative arts, music, whatever it was at the time, the goal was to do that. And for me, answering the question of it getting big or too big or downsizing it, there’s a combination of reasons, numerous reasons why we decided to go this direction. In any arc of what you see from festivals to artist's careers, there’s always a pinnacle high point, and then you see things. So within the experimentation of the last three, four years, I started to push the programming more, I wanted to see how far we could take it.
Patch: What do you mean by programming?
Martinez: I wanted to push that to another level. Instead of it just being a community festival, I wanted it to be a community festival with acts that would actually be at a big L.A. music festival, a huge ticketed event. The goal was to see if that was possible, so pushing the programming for me, it’s what makes my job exciting and seeing what people’s reactions are. So we pushed the programming and got a huge response. And what happens is, it’s a classic case of folks who are in Eagle Rock who like things the way they are, then you have the next gen, regardless of age, moving in and moving into the community and wanting those things. A lot of people don’t know what Eagle Rock is, but if you say the Eagle Rock Music Festival, folks who know about the L.A. music scene, they’re going to know that. It was fun to try to take it to that level. That’s definitely the pinnacle of the Eagle Rock Music Festival pushing it in that direction. But in reality, I think after all is said and done, we can’t support a structure that way, it being a free/donation based festival.
Patch: Would it have to be corporate-run in order to be any bigger, is that what you mean?
Martinez: It’s just the foundation of how it’s built, structurally and financially, its just not going to work. If you’re going to get 200,000 people, then you are going to have to triple security, and now you’re dealing with these expenses that you didn’t have before if it was just a strawberry festival, and it could completely implode in itself. That’s the last thing you want to do. We’re really big on safety, we want this to be a family affair and not have it feel like there is any sense of danger... The changes are really for the benefit of the community. And that’s the thing that’s going to trump anything, which is making sure that the community is still involved. We need to make sure that the community has a voice and that we listen to them. Because, unlike other music festivals that have come and gone, the one thing they don’t do, or didn’t do, was listen to the community, because the community is their biggest supporter, or can be their biggest enemy.
Patch: So what's the reaction been?
Martinez: It’s a mixed reaction. The way I like to phrase it this year is, we’ve made some cutbacks, due to financial strain on the festival and it growing and not being able to sustain it on our own. It’s more of a community festival now, it’s the best of both worlds now. Years ago, when it just in the venues, before the street closures, that’s what a lot of people tell me, folks that have lived in the area a long time, that was what they refer to as the golden years.
Come back this week for more of our conversation with Martinez.