Chali 2Na, Crown and the M.O.B., Nocona, Cecilia Noël, Still Gandhis, Mike the Poet and Matt Ellis are among the highlights of Sunday’s Abbot Kinney Festival music lineup
By Bliss Bowen
The video for Crown and the M.O.B.’s single “Roam” tracks the ebullient rapper and his band as they roll a piano down the streets of Venice like a team of pied pipers, their numbers gradually expanding as fellow residents tag along.
By the time they reach the boardwalk, they’re leading a multigenerational parade of bearded hippies, behatted hipsters, sidewalk dancers, a stiltwalker, tourists and sundry bohemians jamming to Crown’s hopeful rap:
“Save a good prayer, spread knowledge, Stress leaves
My daughter eats, I’m comfy, life’s heavenly…
They say music heals those in need
That’s honest, that’s why I’m cautious on beats
And since all the pressure’s off me I think
Just keep rollin’, positive vibin’, life’s sweet”
It’s the kind of inclusive, open-hearted spirit organizers want to honor with this Sunday’s Abbot Kinney Fest. That spirit may need celebrating now more than ever, as the expanding influence of Silicon Beach spurs residents to confront essential questions about community identity, priorities and values.
Regardless of whether Crown and the M.O.B. (“Message of the Blues”) roll another piano down the streets to the Broadway Stage on Sunday afternoon, their afternoon set, sandwiched between salsa dynamo Cecilia Noël and headliner Chali 2Na, is bound to be one of the day’s highlights. Grooving local favorites such as Still Gandhis, Hit + Run Crew’s
DJ Biff Chitlins, synth-loving trio VOW and melodic duo Pom-Poms will also grace the Broadway Stage.
The Andalusia Locals Stage will host performances by School of Rock students, singer-songwriter (and Ananda and Skylark store proprietor) Kim Michalowski, Venice Symphony Orchestra, Del Monte Speakeasy fixture Lacey Kay Cowden, old-school rockers National Anthem, psychedelic country-rockers Nocona and stage curator Matt Ellis, who started out jamming to the Cramps before bending his ears toward American icons like Kris Kristofferson, Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen.
Ellis credits Venice with broadening his sonic canvas.
“It’s opened up inspirations I wouldn’t otherwise have had,” says the Australia native, who signs off conversations with “Cheers, mate” and who moved to Venice 10 years ago. “I don’t think I’d be writing the songs I’m writing today if I’d stayed in Australia. I’ve always been a fan of the Americana sound and mainly American bands, so it was a natural progression to follow the road out here.”
Adrienne and Chris Isom will be headlining the Andalusia Locals Stage (“a huge honor”) with their band Nocona, after shooting a video promoting their new album “Long Gone Song” at the Cinema Bar the night before. The couple, who moved to Venice seven years ago, say Nocona’s music has also been influenced by the local environment.
“We lived in New York for 15 years in very small places and worked in a really small rehearsal studio,” Chris explains. “I think the first two years we lived in Venice, I would just walk the beach from Venice Pier to Santa Monica Pier in a daze, not believing we were here. The sky and palm trees and the weather and the ocean — it’s been a great inspiration. It’s really hard sometimes to write music in an apartment or in a super cold studio in the middle of the winter, and here you just walk in the backyard and you’re in a different space in life.”
“We do everything with our kids,” Adrienne adds. “I’m not lying: like every single person on our block we’ve become best friends with, and they love rock n’ roll, they all have children and their children are best friends with our children. It’s pretty insane, pretty lovey. I’ve never had that experience before. Most people like us don’t have kids. We’re a family band, and Venice has that thing where you can totally have your family and be completely rock ‘n’ roll.”
That family-friendly vibe will be most obvious on the KidsQuad Stage, which will host Brazilian ensemble Samba Da Mudanca, performance artist Madame Chocolat, Mista Cookie Jar, Kristen Cook, bluegrass from the ShooFlies, youthful power trio Moose, the Superbroke Brass, Tin and Strings Electric Marching Band and A Place Called Home’s 29 Live.
Ellis is hoping families will also check out the School of Rock on the Andalusia Locals Stage.
“The School of Rock is starting the Venice school up on Venice Boulevard in early October,” he says. “We wanted to get those guys involved as well to promote the great work they do with local kids.”
DJs will be spinning throughout the day on the Palms Stage at The Brig, followed by a set from the Back of the Hand All-Stars.
For those desiring a more literary experience, Beyond Baroque’s Spoken Word Stage on Milwood will offer performances by 17 poets and spoken word artists, including Beyond Baroque Assistant Director Carlye Archibeque, poet/playwright and onetime Doors running mate Michael C Ford, actress and author of mythic poetry collection “Dreaming My Animals Selves” Hélène Cardona, and Mike “The Poet” Sonksen.
These days Sonksen is gaining renown as KCET’s “LA Letters” columnist; but his impassioned poetry, as informed by LA history and geography as it is by hip-hop, embraces the kind of community spirit the festival itself is designed to foster.
“Last year was great,” Ellis says, citing festival organizers’ estimate that 100,000 people attended last year’s festival. “The community loved it, the bands loved it, and we got a chance to promote a lot of bands that hadn’t had an opportunity to play yet.”
The hope, obviously, is that Sunday will bring more of the same.
The Abbot Kinney Festival is from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 27, along Abbot Kinney Boulevard from Venice Boulevard to Main Street. Attendance is free. For more information, visit abbotkinney.org.