MUST SEE

Grand Performances @ California Plaza

Photo courtesy of Grand Performances

Photo courtesy of Grand Performances

by Ari Simon

Judging by weather alone, a passive observer may assume summer pervades Los Angeles almost all year long. But summer is a temporal feeling, a state of being marked by prolonged highs, youthful nostalgia, nights spent outdoors, creative gatherings. Grand Performances, an annual free concert and performing arts series, captures summertime. The nighttime series transforms California Plaza, a corporate food court abuzz during weekday lunches but otherwise largely dormant, into a spectacle of colorful lights, playful water features, and enthusiastic crowds dancing and reclining to live music, all nestled beneath Los Angeles’ tallest skyscrapers and above the iconic Angels Flight Railway. 

Now in its 30th year of basking in summer vibes, Grand Performances produces a curated mix of performances that address identity politics and societal progress through a uniquely Los Angeles lens. In bringing together local and international performers, it celebrates the complex makeup of Angeleno identity. This year’s lineup welcomes a particularly striking global showcase. With Soy Africano, a night of Afro-Latino beats by West African musicians on June 18, Grand Performances reminds us of the global influence of Latino and African cultures. It offers a nod to LA’s queer rights history and addresses the far-from-over struggle for gay equality by welcoming Mashrou' Leila, a Lebanese alternative rock band led by queer frontman Hamed Sinno, on June 17. And it explores the influence of American dance music on Filipino culture with disco from the Manila Sound era on August 13. 

Connecting audiences to artists and fellow attendees has been at the core of Grand Performance’s mission since its first season in 1987, when it began as a humble lunchtime music series aimed to activate the newly leased California Plaza. A mandate from the Community Redevelopment Agency required the plaza to have a performing arts component. But its current grandness didn't take form until a few years later when the LA Department of Cultural Affairs handed over their previously running evening performance series to Grand Performance to manage and operate. In the decades since, it has expanded its showcase to include music, film, dance, and spoken word, offering thought-provoking experiences that allow us to recognize our own identity through global influences.