Originally published to Happening in DTLA June 2016
A summer in L.A. is incomplete without a myriad of free live music, over-priced food trucks, and bustling outdoor movie screenings. An event that is mostly encompassing of the above is Chinatown Summer Nights, a free and family friendly food and music festival that starts in June and goes through August. One of the more popular events in the series, Chinatown Summer Nights is cohosted by LA Chinatown and KCRW as part of its series KCRW’s Summer Nights, a wealth of free outdoor performances throughout Southern California. This last Saturday, June 18th, Chinatown and KCRW declared the unofficial summer in L.A. with its first round of live music, food trucks, art demonstrations, and last but certainly not least, craft beer! Immense crowds of Angelenos flooded the streets of the Chinatown Central Plaza on Broadway to enjoy the event and bask in the recent heat wave that “graced,” or rather attacked, Los Angeles.
A fairly regular tradition of Chinatown Summer Nights are the hoards of confetti cannons exploding upon entry through the archways. Once the first cannon is “ignited,” the rest ensue throughout most of the evening. For both youths and adults, they serve as a snazzy photo op and a playful sense of camaraderie amongst Angelenos at the event.
Earlier in the evening, Chinatown Summer Nights hosts performances at the Central Plaza Main Stage by local community groups before bringing on the celebrated noise of DJs and live music. Pictured above is the whimsical and adorable children of the Los Angeles Theater Academy performing “Camino al Quijote,” who were later followed by a martial arts demonstration by the Shaolin Temple Cultural Center. Later into the night, KCRW DJs unite the movers and shakers of Summer Nights. The evening’s DJs were a couple of my personal favorites Anthony Valadez and Raul Campos, both long time residents of KCRW’s music slots and other events throughout the city.
Another main attraction that Chinatown Summer Nights boasts of is its array of, naturally, gourmet food trucks. The lineup was a slight disappointment from last year, as the selection was noticeably smaller this time around. Crowd favorites Grilled Cheese Truck and Tokyo Doggy Style did manage to make their way through, the latter of which specializes in Japanese-inspired hot dog creations. In attempts of eating something slightly less calorie-inducing than the curried chili cheese dog and the bacon wrapped teriyaki dog, I tried the veggie dog. Folks, either be very selective of your food truck choices or eat authentic Chinese food in the area because not all of the selections are amazing! The craft beer, on the other hand, was well-curated with the more popular Stone Brewing, Lost Abbey, and Boulevard Brewing on tap with 2 selections each. Boulevard’s Lemon Ginger Radler essentially tastes like candy.
Another unique cultural feature that Summer Nights hosts are art stations in the West Plaza ranging from food demos to crafting to face painting, all whilst surrounded by open galleries in the area. Families and other attendees had the option of making kites and Father’s Day calligraphy pieces, Thai fruit carving, brush painting, and more. The Culinary Stage presented a particularly fun set of demonstrations that included an eating competition, cocktails, and a “Chinatown Classics” cooking demo by Chef Royce Burke (pictured above).
Not pictured but present are also a variety of eclectic vendors selling clothing and art.
A KCRW event wouldn’t be what it is without live music, of course! The lineup at Summer Nights seems to get better and better each time. Caught a Ghost’s energizing stage presence in particular fueled the audience with infusions of Motown, jazz, pop, and rock. The melodic pop vocals and enthusiastic snare drum beats also made for a particularly mesmerizing performance.
With such a wide variety of activities, Chinatown Summer Nights is definitely a LA event worth checking out, especially more than once since the list of vendors and performances change each time! (I have faith that my next food truck adventure here will not include a disappointing rice veggie patty.) The festival continues for two more sessions this year on July 16 and August 20. For a sneak preview of the lineups beforehand, you can head over to the event website to get the details.