The Sunset Strip Music Festival Opens Its 5th Year With A Huge Crowd of Fans Paying Tribute to The Doors

Photo Credit: Luca DeSando-Grassi for LATFUSA

The mutual love that Los Angeles and The Doors share for each other was expressed in a big way Thursday night at the opening of the Sunset Strip Music Festival (SSMF). Every year the SSMF closes Sunset Boulevard to traffic from San Vicente to Doheny Drive in order to make way for outdoor stages, vendors, and fans for two days of fun, music and food. This year, the annual affair kicked off its fifth year with a huge event at The House of Blues, honoring the legacy and influence of The Doors. The iconic band, which has sold over 80 million albums, brought the world songs like “Love Her Madly” and “Touch Me.” The legendary group is the first to credit the Los Angeles music scene for contributing to their massive success. The Doors (which included lead singer-songwriter Jim Morrison, keyboardist Ray Manzarek, drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger) was formed in Venice, California, in 1965 soon becoming the house band for West Hollywood’s historic club, Whisky A Go-Go, after getting their start down the street at the London Fog. Los Angeles and the 60’s “influenced everything,” Manzarek told reporters last night, “It was the great psychedelic revolution… and this is where it all started.”

Before heading inside to begin the celebration, The Doors’ guitarist was also asked what his thoughts were on being honored in such an immense way by the SSMF. Without a beat Manzarek responded, “My thoughts are of Jim Morrison, and I wish he was here.” Morrison, who tragically died at only 27 years old, is often lauded as an infinitely talented musician and an even greater American poet. Morrison, a rebellious soul, gained international notoriety when he became the first musician to be arrested on stage while doing a concert in 1967 in New Haven, Connecticut. Morrison was certainly at the forefront of everyone’s mind last night as the documentary, “When You’re Strange” opened The Doors’ commemoration, playing images of Morrison’s seductive smile and intoxicating performances. The documentary played on a screen below The House of Blues’ sign, “Unity in Diversity.” This maxim was especially fitting for last night’s crowd of fans that ranged from 20-somethings to people in their late 70’s that were shouting and cheering just as eagerly as I’m sure they did back in the 1960’s. 

Following the poignant clips from the documentary, Jac Holzman, music executive at Elektra Records, came to the podium to recount how one serendipitous evening back in 1966, he watched as The Doors took the stage at the Whisky A Go-Go. After watching them for four straight nights, he finally “got it.” Understanding that The Doors were doing something special, he offered them an unprecedented record deal to make and release three albums of “whatever they wanted to.” This partnership was the catalyst that allowed the foursome to become a part of the elite minority of artists that can say they had a hand in changing the landscape of music forever.

Last night, The House of Blues was overflowing with, musical stars, record execs and dignitaries alike. From Marilyn Manson to Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath (who later performed), everyone was clamoring for their chance to pay homage to the world-famous group. One of the first people to take the stage was the West Hollywood Mayor himself, Jeffrey Prang. The Mayor strode up to the podium to tell the electric crowd that one of the greatest perks of his jobs was that he was able to “declare things,” and that from now on August 16th would officially be “The Doors Day” in West Hollywood. Part of the reason the band was given this type of immortalizing tribute is obviously because of The Doors’ far-reaching cultural impact. But, Prang also emphasized the pervasive local influence the group had.

Among those other historical musical fixtures that professed to feel the influence of The Doors on their own sound, was none other than the infamously controversial musician, Marilyn Manson (**stay tuned for LATF’s coverage of his SSMF show this Saturday). Manson glided out on stage to talk about his love of The Doors, giving the audience a rare glimpse into his artistic beginnings as a poet, inspired by Morrison’s lyricism. The goth rocker, wearing all black and a deep red lipstick, was reverential as he described how one of the first songs he learned to play was “Five to One.” Manson stated that The Doors was, “the one band that galvanized and created a template for what a rock band should be… The Doors signify Los Angeles and the Sunset Strip and everything that is rock and roll.” 

And rock they did, as Manzarek and Krieger took the stage with a three piece backup band to play some of The Doors’ greatest songs such as, “Break On Through,” “Light My Fire” and “L.A. Woman.” Of course, the absence of Morrison and Densmore (who had been rumored to appear), was felt throughout the nightclub. Still, it seemed as though Mr. Mojo Risin was somehow there, as various singers took turns jamming with the “All-Star Band” and belting out his eternal words with as much passion and veneration as you would expect.

One of the best of these performances was from artistic chameleon, Franky Perez, who was completely at home singing Morrison’s “Break On Through” lyrics with unmatched fervor and enthusiasm. Another highlight was when Mark McGrath took a crack at stepping into Morrison’s enormous shoes, singing, “Light My Fire.” During McGrath’s rendition both Manzarek and Krieger gave stellar performances. Krieger took a guitar solo that had the crowd shouting for more, and Manzarek’s skill on the keyboards (at one point even using his feet to play) sent the audience into a veritable tizzy. Overcome with admiration, McGrath took the time to kiss the hands of both men before leaving the stage.

Host of the night, Jim Ladd, said that he believed that The Doors were infused with an unrivaled mix of “magic and madness.” Those two words perfectly describe last night’s tribute to one of “the most creative and influential” groups of all time. True, the future’s uncertain, but it doesn’t seem like the end is near for rock and roll’s greatest, The Doors.

By Darianne Dobbie

LATFUSA will have more coverage of the festival coming up soon.

Check out The Sunset Strip Music Festival’s 2012 lineup for this weekend here:


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