On any given weeknight, a college student might be sitting at the library with loads of homework anxiously awaiting the weekend. But not every weekday has to be dreary — to help alleviate the routine, the Levitt Pavilion in MacArthur Park and Memorial Park in Pasadena are offering a plethora of free concerts through September.
And on a warm Saturday night, singers Gaby Moreno and Ceci Bastida said hello to a crowd of Angelenos settled down on blankets or the grass to see these colorful, talented acts at MacArthur Park.
Concerts like this one are free thanks to The Mortimer Levitt Foundation, which was created back in 1966. The foundation raises funds to expose new and exciting acts to communities like the one around MacArthur Park.
For those unfamiliar with this part of Downtown Los Angeles, it is one that is constantly bustling with street vendors, shoppers and screaming kids.
If you speak to a Los Angeles native, you’ll probably be warned about the high crime rate, but rest assured, the police presence was felt during the concert, both with patrol cars and Segways.
When Gaby Moreno hit the stage, located toward the back of the park, around 7 p.m. Saturday night armed with a guitar, it felt a little more like a cozy get-together than a concert — in the best way possible.
This Guatemalan musician has a sweet voice that rivals pop darlings Corinne Bailey Rae and Colbie Caillat. Moreno started with the saccharine tune “No Regrets,” with both Spanish and English verses. Her voice was heartfelt and smooth, but able to stay afloat during louder parts of the music, provided by her accompanying band.
Tunes like “Ave Que Emigra,” which Moreno dedicated to “everyone who came to this country looking for a better life,” were equal parts emotionally engaging and naturally danceable. But her most intriguing tune was “Garrick,” a song based on a poem. Here, the music and singing got theatrical with playful trombone notes perfectly complimenting Moreno as she showed her range.
Mexican native Ceci Bastida took the stage next, with a drum at her side and a full band backing her. With bright red boots and an attitude that filled the stage, Bastida showed she was in command and knew how to put on a good show.
Bastida’s energy didn’t let up as she moved her entire body to the rhythm of her raucous music. During the cymbal-happy, energetic “Veo La Marea,” Bastida sang confidently and even showed off her talent on the melodica, a small keyboard the musician blows through while hitting the keys. “Controla” had a dangerously seductive bass line and an irresistible hip-hop vibe, aided by Bastida’s DJ and two trombone players. Each song was louder than the next, with Bastida and bandmates never losing energy as the next explosive track started.
Bastida addressed the crowd at one point, saying, “You’re welcome to stand up too. I wish I had drinks for all of you.”
The statement soon got a couple of groups dancing energetically near the stage.
Though the spotlight was on her, the band’s chemistry was obvious, with trombone players dancing while providing background vocals. Their sounds fused well with the smoother DJ scratches, and at times Bastida and her drummer seemed perfectly synchronized as she aided him in loud pounding.
When Bastida came back for a satisfying encore, there was a sure sense of camaraderie among the audience, which ranged in ages and ethnicities. The pavilion stage went dark after her set, but the energy still seemed to be pulsing as concertgoers picked up their belongings and headed into the night.