ECHO PARK — Talent Buyer Liz Garo says to go ahead and take her picture, but she’s going to look down at her phone. She says this is the most honest portrait of her at work. With Spaceland Productions, Garo is responsible for all bookings at The Echo and Echoplex music venues in Echo Park. Then there are the various concerts throughout Los Angeles, like The Church Sessions in Koreatown, the Twilight Concert Series at the Santa Monica Pier. Then there all the bands and tour managers that need to reach her. If ever there were a person that needed to be in two places at once it’s Garo.
In 2001, Mitchell Frank opened The Echo and put Garo in charge of filling the venue with acts throughout the week. Only Echo Park was a tough sell for music lovers in the early days. “People don’t remember, but there was a time when no one wanted to play The Echo or Echo Park,” says Garo.
Thirteen years later, many bands that have graced the stage at The Echo have gone on to the national scene. Acts like Foster the People, Local Natives and Avi Buffalo are some of the most recent acts that played early in their careers at The Echo, thus solidifying the venue as a tastemaker. There is no one genre of music that’s played at The Echo, with various theme nights, album release shows and residencies filling out the calendar. Last year The Rolling Stones surprised everyone with a show at The Echoplex. And later this month the free music festival Echo Park Rising will take over multiple venues along Sunset Boulevard thanks to Garo and her team.
“I kind of work constantly. But it’s always nice when people respond to what you’re doing.”
How do you get a show at The Echo?
Getting a show booked at The Echo can happen in a number of ways. A large percentage of our shows are touring acts, so I deal a lot with booking agents. Local bands send me their music all the time. I read blogs and I’m listening to as much music as I can. There will be bands that struggle to get a show with me and timing wise it might not work out. Then I’ll have a cancellation and I get to call them up, “Can you play on Friday?”
Do you have a most memorable show? Good or bad?
Oh gosh. There are so many. I wish I had a list in front of me. Art Brut was great here. Olin and the Moon had a bingo residency that was fun. Some early disasters were there as well. Gogol Bordello in the early days at the Echoplex had a show, and the electricity was going out and their tour manager was screaming at us to get it back on. But the show kept going and things were solid after that.
You had some of the first FYF shows here too, right?
We had the first few years of FYF here. And that was when [FYF promoter] Sean Carlson was a bratty little kid who wouldn’t stop calling me. Sean gave me this great pitch. And it was like okay, let’s give it a shot. I wish I had documented it better. It was complete chaos. It got better over time. He’s great. Mitchell’s vision – our vision here is that we’re artist friendly and we want to have a certain level of integrity. And you know it’s also fun. Some shows will sell out and it’s great. There are other shows, with some of the best bands I’ve ever seen, and they’ll play on a Tuesday at midnight with only 50 people here.
Is it true that you first heard about The Rolling Stones show via text?
I was texting with one of the promoters we work with and he said, “What do you have going on this weekend? I have this great show for you.” I jokingly said that I was going to Fresno for my aunt’s 90th birthday, so it better be Radiohead or U2. And he said it was bigger. And then The Rolling Stones’ production team came in all professional and started to give us their instructions and then it happened.
For a million reasons you let them do what they’re going to do. At one point we were all hanging out at the back of the venue and their tour manager said, “Okay, you can’t be back here. C’mon.” We all had to leave. We did not meet them. When the show started one of the sound guys and I were sitting in the barricade, literally four feet of space crouched down in front of the stage, and the lights went down, but then their security guard came to get us out. It was amazing all the same. To get that show here, to get the name on the marquee. And the energy from the neighborhood was just great. Essentially what happened was that AEG was doing the tour and they knew they were looking for a small room for the band to play, maybe in Hollywood. And somebody said, “Play the Eastside. Play The Echo.”
When you’re building a lineup for say Echo Park Rising, how far in advance are you looking for acts?
I’m still in the final stretch of fine tuning it. Throughout the year I’m thinking about all of the bands. I did what you’re not supposed to do and I booked all the smaller acts first. The thing is that Echo Park Rising is done on such an extreme budget, but this year we got a little bit more sponsorship money, so everyone is booked. To me it’s about the people. There’s a large amount of people who are coming in to the area for the first time. Overall it’s a community event to showcase what a diverse and creative environment we have here. It’s about getting to explore and stumble onto bands.
Nathan Solis is a Highland Park resident who writes about and photographs the L.A. music scene. You can find more of Solis’ stories, reviews and photos at Avenue Meander.