The Viaduct is the most interesting new venue in Los Angeles, and technically it doesn’t really exist. You won’t find it on Googlemaps, there’s no Yelp listing, and no official website. The address takes you to to a dead-end cul-de-sac that butts up against the Metro Yard on the edge of Chinatown, just a chain link fence and a pair of railroad tracks separating you from the L.A. River.
But on nights when The Viaduct — the pop-up venue named for the Broadway Avenue bridge it’s nestled under — appears on the other end of the street, the otherwise industrial rail yard transforms into an intimate space for live music, movies, and performance art. Bright astroturf blankets the ground where concert-goers set up picnics, local vendors sell snacks and drinks against the downtown skyline, and underneath the bridge sits the temporary stage where funk and folk artists like Fantastic Negrito, the Dustbowl Revival, and the Eagle Rock Gospel Singers have performed with the aid of a generator as Gold Line trains whip by overhead.
The Viaduct was dreamed up by the California State Parks Department in 2014 as a way to utilize the L.A. State Historic Park while it closed for renovations. In the last couple of months, the pop-up has hosted concerts with Kensington Presents, a D.I.Y. music promoter that began organizing potlucks with live music on a Victorian porch in Angelino Heights three years ago. “We didn’t know the neighbors, we didn’t know the neighborhood, and we were like, ‘What’s the best way for us to meet our neighbors? Let’s throw a concert,'” says organizer Mathieu Young, a commercial photographer who works full-time in advertising. Thanks in part to his roommate, Drew Flaherty, who worked at the L.A. Philharmonic at the time and now manages the Pasadena Symphony Orchestra, the collective was able to book a Brazilian band, an a cappella choir, and even a string trio from the L.A. Philharmonic.
The concert series has since grown from its humble roots on Kensington Road (the street the series is named after) to a roving pop-up that’s brought live music to unconventional outdoor spaces all over the city. Through a partnership with the California State Parks Department, Kensington Presents has staged concerts at the Los Angeles State Historic Park — the space beneath the bridge is dubbed The Viaduct — and the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, where they strung lights and set up a square dancing event with a bluegrass band. “We felt really proud that we got people to climb up there that hadn’t otherwise been,” says Young. “If we have a mission, it’s just that — bringing the community together creating a really unique vibe, but also getting people to spaces to put their phones down and enjoy culture and each other.”
On Thursday, Kensington Presents will stage its first show at The York Manor, a historic church on York Blvd. in Highland Park, where The Salastina Music Society will perform classical chamber music followed by L.A. string band The Get Down Boys and acoustic duo Pretty Polly covering the Robert Plant and Alison Krauss album Raising Sand. The donation-based series, which is listed on Eventbrite and advertised primarily through word of mouth, returns to The Viaduct next month for a screening of the silent German film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari accompanied by an improvised score from Dave Harrington, better known for his work with the electronic music act Darkside.
“We’re not interested in doing a lot of shows, were interested in doing good shows in good spaces,” says Young, who is currently scouting for a new venue in the Angeles National Forest. And because the series started on his porch, he says, “It still very much feels like you’re in someone’s home and theres’s something nice about that” — especially when you’re standing beneath a concrete viaduct on the fringes of Chinatown.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post mis-identified the founder of The Viaduct; it is the California State Parks Department.