Last Saturday was one of the hottest days of the year so far. It was forecasted to be so brutal over the weekend that it prompted LADWP to caution customers against using too much A/C, or else there would be mass power outages. There could not have been a better time to host the world’s first entirely solar powered music festival, and the premiere of Sunstock Solar Fest proved to be a huge success.
The event was dreamed up by Merritt Graves and Skylar Funk of Trapdoor Social, who studied environmental sciences in college and have a passion for saving our planet that rivals their passion for making music. Which is probably why they decided to commit their careers to doing both at the same time. They made their first foray into music activism by donating all proceeds from their second EP to help fund the installation of solar panels at Homeboy Industries, a local non-profit that conducts job training for reformed gang members. Today, the boys travel with a solar-powered trailer, using the cells to power some of their shows.
So, in a logical progression of Graves’ and Funk’s passion, they created Sunstock Solar Festival, designed to merge LA’s vibrant arts scene with a call for wider adoption of alternative energy resources. And it turned out to be quite a bash. The Autry played host to the array of art installations, live music performances, and alternative energy organizations. Around 2,500 people milled about on the lawn, playing cornhole, tossing frisbees, and generally having first-day-of-summer fun in the sun.
GRID Alternatives, an event partner, handed out information, signed up volunteers, and graciously charged festival-goers’ devices via mobile solar panels; they work to provide low-income communities solar technology through volunteers and job-training programs. Other solar providers, or facilitators if you like, such as Solar City (helmed by Elon Musk), ReStart Solar, and Chai Energy were also posted up, pitching the idea of going solar to whomever would listen. I was rather impressed at how simple it could be to erect panels on my home… if I owned one. And that seemed to be a consistent barrier for many others; renters, for obvious reasons, simply don’t have the same options that homeowners do.
But that wasn’t the only environmental endeavor to learn about at Sunstock. Sierra Club, SoCal 350, and the Courage Campaign were also partners of the fest, and took a more broad approach to environmentalism: anything you can do, including volunteering to mobilize others in the community, can and will help to save our planet. All we need now is to take action.
The music began in the daylight, with little cloud coverage and a vengeful sun, ready to show us what summer looks like in Southern California. “Sunstroke fest, am I right?” quipped Noah Dietterich of yOya, who were first onstage that afternoon. They were followed by the serious garage rock group Gateway Drugs, then Trapdoor Social themselves, who could not contain their enthusiasm. Throughout their set and for the rest of the day they would remind us: “We’re making history!”
Perhaps they did not realize it, but Trapdoor Social played one of the most pivotal set times of the night: during dusk. The shadows were long as the sun began to disappear. We had reached the point of no return and with the sun gone, their project truly came to life. The solar cells that power their tour were what powered the festival last Saturday, and seeing it light up at night using stored sunshine was a wondrous sight. Most of the art made statements on the use of light and perception, creating a tangible experience for people to acknowledge the power in something that we often find unquantifiable.
The bands continued into the night. The Big Pink and Allah-Las played great sets, with fans singing along to many of their songs. Kaki King was the standout performance of the night for me, with an experimental instrumental set that took full advantage of the visuals projected behind her. Then came Wavves, probably the most highly anticipated act of the night. Even bands from earlier had expressed their excitement about sharing a bill with the surf-punk group. Their set was tight, as expected, but because the bands had been behind schedule all day, it was cut short. The crowd was rowdy and booed profusely, but pushed onward to see the headliners of the night: Cults.
Becuase of the delays, Cults actually started after the festival was supposed to have been entirely over. “Sorry we’re late,” Brian Oblivion apologized before launching into their set with a fervor one would not expect from someone who had been baking in the sun all day. I felt fatigued by the time they began playing, and just wanted to hear one song, a song that turned out to be a more appropriate festival ender than anyone could have planned. “This could be the best anthem for solar power,” admitted Oblivion as they began Cults’ 2011 classic, “Go Outside.” Let’s all make memories that will stay; go outside, wake up, and live your life.
Words: Zoë Elaine
Photography: William Gormley