Grand Performances: The Cultural Music Festival Revitalizing Downtown Los Angeles Since 1987

Picture your favorite music festival. 

Then picture a vibrant, open air community gathering nestled between DTLA’s skyscrapers with a thoughtful, curated line up of soulful artists and creatives whose key goal is to invigorate you with their cultural sazón.

Grand Performances is a performing arts organization that was created at a time when not many were focused on similar styles of cultural music diversity. In the late 80’s, this kind of genre experimentation was broadly known as world music and was seemingly disconnected from the performing arts scene. In its early days, Grand Performances focused on serving as a cultural celebration of indigenous sounds that appealed to a very niche audience. Today, the organization is known for its culture-binding performances, panels and events that continue to revolve around one key mission: to inspire community, celebrate diversity, and unite Los Angeles through free access to global performing arts.

What remains most fascinating is how Grand Performances would build an infrastructure for traditional sounds like son jarocho and Chinese music to be experienced in a performance space with the same quality as the Disney Concert Hall. The organization understood that regardless of financial ability, LA’s thriving community deserved access to experience the performing arts from all cultural viewpoints. 

If community is built on having people gather, the physical space becomes integral to this festival’s memorable experience. Some 38 years ago Los Angeles’ mayor at the time, Tom Bradley, proclaimed an all-hands-on revitalization plan for Downtown LA which would balance the community by investing in it. The result was an experimental public/private partnership between developers and local government to fund a free concert series at California Plaza.

California Plaza is not your typical performing arts venue. The space provides 10 different ways to enter so that throughout the festival experience guests can make the space their own. This modular space makes community building and culture integration very organic. Additionally, the organization maintains its stance to keep all events free to the public with people of all ages, including kids and seniors, welcome. The hope is that this becomes a space where people build friendships that last far beyond the concert.

This year will pay tribute to music greats such as Celia Cruz and Max Roach and the season has already kicked off with epic performances by iLe and Soulnic Live. Through August, music lovers can catch rising stars like Dayme Arocena, Gia Fu and The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, to name a few, and poetry spotlights in the amphitheater sharing Pride, LA nights and Latino stories. 

As Grand Performances looks to the future, the organization is determined to evolve and expand based on the needs of the community. In the first area of expansion, the team will seek to broaden its digital reach by creating an infrastructure that will provide more artists with access to pristine recording conditions so the music reaches more people and the experiences can live on as a historical document. Last year alone, over 3 million views were achieved and live streams reached an average view time high of 20-30 minutes per video. In fact, Grand Performances believes that through growing their digital platforms, the organization will have the ability to become even more inclusive to those who are unable to attend the show in person due to lack of travel resources, scheduling or even disability. Its second area of expansion will focus on neighborhoods with the aim of elevating gender balance as well as cultural and socioeconomic diversity. Through providing more access to lighting, sound and other infrastructures, Grand Performances assures this will maintain the community’s connection to the past by broadening the bandwidth to share more cultural legacies and stories.

The Community at Grand Performances

Today under the guidance of new president Rafael Gonzalez, a community outreach and engagement expert, Grand Performances maintains its commitment made to the community 38 years ago. It is hyper focused on creating sustainable partnerships that will continue to develop as communities diversify and inclusion grows. This is particularly noticeable through their thoughtful vendor village which each year provides local businesses with a place to thrive. As the organization continues to innovate new ways to become more accessible to people and the planet, intergenerational diversity will be key in amplifying Grand Performances’ mission. Canyon Cody, Marketing and Communications Director for Grand Performances, tells us, “I grew up going to parties where grandmas and little nieces were all at events together in shared spaces of multiple generations telling stories and learning from each other. My hope is that we continue to highlight the extraordinary connections between the past and the present, all while having fun doing so.” 

This summer, Tigre Sounds is thrilled to partner with Grand Performances to bring you, music lover, access to music culture in all its glory.

Don’t miss this season’s soulful line up at DTLA’s own Grand Performances 2024:

June 15: The Dirty Dozen Brass Band / DJ Bennett

June 21: COLA Artist Fellows (Presented by City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs)

June 22: Max Roach: The Drum Also Waltzes Centennial Celebration (Presented by Worlds Alive)

June 29: Cali Soul Jam (Presented by Hello Stranger)

July 13: The 11th Annual International Mariachi Women’s Festival

July 20: Daymé Arocena / Pan Dulce ft. Alan Lightner / Wyldeflower (Presented by De Los – LA Times)

July 27: Okwy Osadebe / The Neighborhood Orchestra / Kevin Lincoln (Presented by Radio Afrodicia)

August 3: Celia Cruz Tribute ft. Havana Secret / CONTRA-TIEMPO / DJ Gia Fu (Presented by Nance Arte Productions and Fania Records)

August 10: Listen to Music Outside with Leaving Records (Presented by dublab)

August 17: To Be Announced May 21

August 18: The Neighborhood Orchestra in Plummer Park (City of West Hollywood)

August 24: Chucho Ponce Y Los Daddys De Chinantla / Turbo Sonidero (Presented by Discos Rolas)

All photos by Farah Sosa courtesy of Grand Performances