Wes Joe, who has called Silver Lake home for nearly 35 years, was conducting some research at the One National Gay & Lesbian Archives when he came across a two-page, typewritten program for the first Sunset Junction festival held in August 1980. The program – printed on the letterhead of the Sunset Junction Neighborhood Alliance of Lesbians and Gay Men- along with clippings from the gay news publication The Advocate recalls the street fair’s humble beginnings before it grew into a giant musical happening that drew bands and fans from around the country. The festival abruptly collapsed this week under nearly $400,000 in unpaid city permit fees.
Here’s the line up of performers that were scheduled to appear on Saturday, August 23, 1980 beginning at 12:30 p.m.:
Great American Yankee Freedom Band
Karen Rothstein – Juggler
Castelar Children’s Center – Chinese Ribbon/Dragon Dancers
Clark Branson – Concertina
Christopher Martinelli – Magician
C’est Nous – Jazz Band
Kaz and Angel DeLisse – Trained Parrot
Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles
Joyce Yarrow & Jim Wetzel Jazz Trio
Sophia Potoka – Guitarist/Singer
Thai Folk Dancers – Dance Troupe
Midnight Riders – Women’s Rock Band
“It was truly the neighborhood event that SJNA had worked for,” said The Advocate.
The fair was organized by a group of gay and lesbians, headed by Joyce Azelton, from Silver Lake and Echo Park who were seeking to ease tensions between gay newcomers and longtime Latino residents. Gang members who were recruited to serve as fair monitors received sensitivity training on gay lifestyle; other volunteers were schooled in gang history, according to The Advocate. The alliance volunteers “organized the booths, signed up entertainment, held fundraisers, painted detour signs, put up 300 barricades, dyed and printed 200 t-shirts, and guarded the fairgrounds at night,” according to The Advocate.
There were some tense moments before the street fair began. Bottles were thrown from apartment windows overlooking the festival, and some gay men were taunted as they walked between two gay bars, Detour and The Jungle. But there was no major violence or problem as the street fair began on Saturday afternoon with a parade co-led by the Los Angeles Gay Freedom Band and a Latino biker “on his Superslide Harley-Davidson” who ran a local motorcycle shop. An “omnisexual crowd” estimated at 60,000 attended the weekend-long festival, and, according to The Advocate, “the whole affair was rather darling.”
Wes Joe recalls coming down to Sunset Boulevard to the fair, where a friend had a booth. There was no admission fee and no fence surrounding the fair, two issues which alienated many Silver Lake residents in recent years. Said Joe: “[My] main memory was how nice it was to be walking out on the street and how amazing that felt.”