The fourth annual Venice Sign Holiday Lighting celebrates local musicians and budding young artists

By Joe Piasecki

Photo by Edizen Stowell,

Photo by Edizen Stowell,

It isn’t the holidays in Venice until the community’s landmark sign at Windward and Pacific avenues lights up in red and green for the season.

But the fun part is turning it on.

On Friday, throngs of people gathered on Windward to celebrate the fourth annual Venice Sign Holiday Lighting, which in a few short years has grown into full-fledge community art and music festival.

It was a great night for live music lovers.

On the event’s main stage, the all-volunteer Venice Symphony Orchestra kept the crowd in good cheer with unique mashups of holiday, rock and R&B tunes on instruments as varied as electric guitars, tubas, a rock drum kit and violins. The Venice Chorus sang a cappella versions of Christmas carols and a quirky rock tune. Local singer Lacy Kay Cowden, a standout performer on the Abbot Kinney Festival’s local music stage in September, brought a country flavor to the proceedings with a voice that left a boisterous crowd standing silent in appreciation. And that wasn’t even the full bill.

In prior years, a surprise celebrity guest joined L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin in flipping the ceremonial switch to light up the darkened Venice sign. The first year it was Robert Downey Jr., the second it was Anjelica Huston and last year it was local pop star P!nk.

This year organizers took a slightly different tack by bringing in local elementary school kids who won the Venice Chamber of Commerce’s inaugural My Venice Holiday Poster Contest. In addition to a few minutes of fame, winners from Broadway Elementary, Westside Global Awareness Magnet, Coeur D’Alene Avenue Elementary  and Walgrove Avenue Elementary schools received a savings bond from contest sponsor First Citizens Bank.

The Venice Whaler (and owner Mike Dobson) joined the chamber in presenting the sign lighting, and local restaurateurs Daniel Samakow (Danny’s Venice, James’ Beach, Canal Club Venice) and Thomas Elliot (Bank of Venice, Venice Ale House) also lent a hand.

The original Venice sign was put up by Venice patriarch Abbot Kinney in 1906 as a way to show off the day’s hottest new technology — electric lights. But by the 1950s, the sign was removed for unknown reasons and lost to history. Residents banded together in 2007 to create a near-exact replica of the original, including 87 incandescent bulbs that must be changed out for each holiday sign lighting.