DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - Downtown Los Angeles has had its share of music and arts festivals. The Grand Avenue Festival lured huge crowds to Bunker Hill for several years. The Hard Music extravaganza near Chinatown next month will attract some of the country’s biggest electronic and dance acts.

Still, there has never been anything in Downtown quite like Bloomfest. The fifth annual Arts District event, named for late shop owner and community activist Joel Bloom, takes place Saturday, July 21.

Festival producers expect up to 25,000 people to descend on the Arts District for the event that runs from 2-10 p.m. More than 100 artists’ booths and a dozen food vendors will set up shop in the blocks around Third Street and Traction Avenue.

The corner, which long held the neighborhood emporium Bloom’s General Store, is today known as Joel Bloom Square. The gathering is designed to pay homage to Bloom, and to celebrate the spunky district that was a residential beachhead long before developers started converting old Historic Core buildings into upscale lofts.

“It’s really a joyful celebration embodying the creative energy of people in the Arts District,” said Melissa Richardson Banks, one of Bloomfest’s producers. “Joel himself is not just an afterthought. His legacy is embedded in the spirit of the neighborhood and the festival.”

The event exemplifies how far the community has come in the past decade. KCRW host Chris Douridas booked the indie bands playing the main stage, among them Superhumanoids and The Neighbourhood. Angel City Brewery will debut five beers in the festival’s expanded beer garden. There will even be a free bike valet station.

Leader and Curmudgeon

Bloom lived and worked in the Arts District for more than 20 years. He led the effort that gave the community its moniker and later fought off an attempt by the Los Angeles Unified School District to built a massive warehouse in the area. He opened Bloom’s General Store in 1994, giving locals both easy access to staples, and providing a place to hang out and trade gossip.

Bloom, who died on July 13, 2007, at the age of 59, after a seven-year battle with cancer, could also be notoriously cranky. He didn’t suffer fools.

“He was the frontrunner curmudgeon who kept this community a real community, which is rare in this city,” said artist Lilli Muller, who worked with Bloom for years on Arts District projects.

Muller and others want to make sure that as Bloomfest grows — last year’s attendance of roughly 20,000 spiked from 4,000 in 2010 — an emphasis on Bloom’s legacy is maintained.

“Newcomers need to recognize why the Arts District is the way it is,” Muller said. “It’s important not to lose that it’s Bloomfest, not just another music festival.”

Festival co-producer Edgar Varela said organizers are working to keep Bloom and what he did for the district at the root of the festival, devoting about 25% of the event’s marketing to Bloom and the neighborhood. Some of the posters feature a sketch of Bloom by Todd Lychkoff, a longtime friend and Arts District resident. 

“It’s important to remember Bloom,” Lychkoff said. “But he would have been the first one to say, ‘It’s not about me,’ and put the emphasis on the entire community.”

The decision to add a second live music stage this year came from a group of residents who wanted to be more involved in the festival. The platform on Hewitt Street, called Bloom’s Stage, features acts that either played or would have fit at Al’s Bar, the defunct and nearly legendary punk rock dive on the street.

The stage’s acts include Mike Watt and the Missingmen, Saccharine Trust, Carnage Asada and Sukia.

Festival producers also plan to incorporate locals by limiting food and drink options almost exclusively to bars and restaurants in the Arts District. Providers include Church & State, the Pie Hole, Wurstkuche and the Little Bear,

“We’ve chosen vendors and food so it won’t hurt the neighboring commerce and will only complement it,” Varela said.

Also new this year is the KoolKidZone. The stage, featuring what organizers term “kindie rock,” is a reference to something Bloom never had the chance to see — the area’s emergence as a place for families with children. 

“Last year, people were asking what there was for their kids to do,” said Varela. 

Added Banks, “We realized that hipsters have kids too.”

Bloomfest is Saturday, July 21, 2-10 p.m. in the Arts District. A full schedule and list of activities is at bloomfestla.com.

© Los Angeles Downtown News 2012