In Defense of the Sunset Strip Music Festival


As Randy “The Ram” put it, the ‘90s sucked. The ‘80s were where it was at, a period of relative global prosperity with a carefree musical accompaniment. A quarter-century ago, the popular arts of the time could afford to be oversized: big magazines with big page counts, big Hair Metal hair, the ‘Big’ suit, Big Audio Dynamite, Big. I can only wonder what Ram would’ve thought of the music of today.

In the mid ‘80s, the epicenter of the world’s rock music culture was in West Hollywood, from The Roxy and The Whiskey A Go-Go, down Sunset Blvd. towards the used guitar shops and the RockWalk® and, yes, the Seventh Veil strip club. Metal devotees descended on the Sunset Strip like pilgrims in leather jackets. The movement came in two waves, the first led by Mötley Crüe and the second by Guns N’ Roses. They sold millions upon millions of records until—and I’m paraphrasing The Ram again here—some whiny dude named Kurt came along and spoiled the party. 

Even if Nirvana never existed, the ‘80s scene would have ended all the same. In a way, the sudden death of glam metal made possible its preservation. Sure, the Red Velvet and Starwood may have closed their doors, but The Viper Room and House of Blues have grown up in their place. And though their tattoos may be faded, their piercings drooping a bit, you can still see those metal pilgrims from the first and second waves walk the Strip in leather pants, perms still curling skyward. 

The Sunset Strip Music Festival is for that audience. It is for people like Tammy Rice-Dombrowski, who left this comment on the Fest’s Mötley Crüe tribute page: “Thank you all for helping me threw a life full of hell and nightmares!!!!!!! [sic]” One of the functions of music is to transport a listener back to the moment of its creation. A ticket to the festival buys you a trip back to the West Hollywood of 1985, where the grass is (still) green and the girls are (still) pretty.

The Sunset Strip Music Festival opens its doors this week with a tribute to Mötley Crüe at the House of Blues on Thursday, August 18. The band performs at the street festival on Sunset Blvd. between Doheny and San Vicente on Saturday, August 20 along with Bush, Public Enemy, and more than 50 additional bands.   

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