Those who commute past Chinatown this week are forgiven for thinking the circus had arrived in town. Although the candy-striped tents occupying the L.A. State Historic Park may suggest ringmasters, clowns and lion tamers, in truth the tents will house the first Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros' Big Top Festival, a four-day festival engineered by Los Angeles group Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros.
Which is kind of like a circus, come to think of it. The band, whose rise over the past half-decade has been as unlikely as it has been impressive, revels in joyful chaos, audience participatation and celebration -- and they dress kinda like vintage circus bums.
The group built its following one town at a time, singing enthusiastic affirmations on life, love and "Home," whistling while they worked and accumulating disciples along the way. These fans will likely converge on the park to participate while Sharpe -- a k a Alex Ebert -- and band host kindred spirits to perform each night, capped by a gig by the Magnetic Zeros.
Admirably, the ringmasters have kept their lineup local, limiting the roster to L.A.-area musicians who have opened for Sharpe at one point or another. And, perhaps best, the evenings contain variety outside of music. Carnivalesque artists and events during the festival include balloon artist Mr. Balloon Man, experimental dance/aerialist troupe Lucent Dossier, Kristina Nekyia (described in her bio as a "showgrrrl, belly dancer, circus contortion dancer, burlesque queen, pin-up nymph ...), the Scott Land Marionettes, magician Christopher Wonder, a "Big Top bazaar" of merchants, food trucks and more.
The Big Top opened on Thursday with scheduled sets by, among others, Fool's Gold, Torque Method and the Magnetic Zeros. Friday's roster includes burlesque dancer Cleo Viper, singer/songwriters Henry Wolfe and Rocco DeLuca, Cillie Barnes, Sharpe and Zeros and others.
Saturday and Sunday will also feature closing sets by the host band, many of the same nonmusical artists and performances by, among others, singer Frank Fairfield, Aaron Embry, Cassorla, Las Cafeteras, Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang and the Big Top Jazz Band. A Sunday matinee will highlight children's acts and include a farmers market.
One-day tickets are available for $50-$60. Saturday is sold out, though during other festivals at the park scalpers have been known to hawk unwanted tix along Spring Street. (I'll be hitting Friday's gig for a Monday review. Keep an eye out.) For more info, hit the Big Top website.