Have you always loved the 70’s and dreamed of living in them? Well, whether you’re there for the fashion, the music, or both, this immersive experience is tailor made for you.
Standing in line, waiting to be let into a nondescript parking lot in the Arts District of Downtown LA, I was amongst around 100 other people in bell bottoms, platform shoes, gold chains, and fringe. The energy was palpable when I was greeted by someone claiming to be Brassroots District’s biggest fan. She excitedly explained she was the head of the “Brassies” – apparently the band’s fan club. I was asked to sign a petition to help get Brassroots District on Soul Train.
Then a boisterous woman with an afro à la 1973, Angela Davis, proclaimed some instructions to us and we entered the lot. Once checked in (proof of vaccination or negative COVID tests were checked – if you forgot yours, you could sign a clearance form) we were given a blackout bag for our phones and a Brassroots District pin. We were informed to leave our phones in the bag for the duration of the show but that there would be photographers taking plenty of photos for us.
Before the show, I picked up a few beats of the story through transmedia Easter eggs hidden in plain sight, like the hotline (which, you should just stop reading this right now and call: 323-596-1973), the website, Instagram, YouTube and the album download on Bandcamp which comes with a hidden track!
So, going into this, I knew I was going to see an emerging band who got their biggest gig to date opening up the parking lot tailgate for Sly and the Family Stone’s arena show. This band is fronted by Copper Jones (Ari Herstand – Mad Men, touring singer/songwriter) and Ursa Major (Celeste Butler – American Idol). They have a full-length album of original music which is currently only available on Bandcamp, however a few songs have been released on Spotify. The music sounds like it came straight out of the smoky studios of the 70s. This is not a musical where the music seems to be an afterthought to propel the story. This is a true-to-form funk band obviously created by pros. The record itself features players who’ve toured and/or recorded with Tower of Power, Prince and Beyonce. Needless to say, this record slaps! The week leading up to the show, I was perfectly content listening to nothing but the Brassroots District album which I promptly downloaded from Bandcamp upon suggestion.
At the show there were vintage cars, vendors selling clothing, jewelry and crystals, making me feel like I’d stepped through a portal to a simpler time. Every attendee was given two drink tickets.
The boisterous woman from before, who I later learned was Nancy, the band’s manager, asked me if I’d like to hear the band’s first ever radio show. I obliged of course and she guided me backstage where I was amongst just about 15 other people. She introduced the radio show and we picked up more of the backstory of this band. Apparently the two lead singers are former lovers who met when Ursa Major was touring with her band through New Orleans. Nancy, Copper Jones’ childhood best friend (and manager), convinced Ursa to come check out Copper busking on Bourbon street. The connection was instant and Ursa invited Copper into her van for the rest of the tour. On their way back to Ursa’s home of LA, they stopped over in Joshua Tree and planted themselves for a few days where they fell in love, wrote music and conceived of Brassroots District.
Now, 6 months later, the romance is challenged, but the band is climbing.
Backstage I picked up a few conversations from Ursa, Nancy and Copper that hinted things were a little more strained than was publicly let on with the direction and focus of the band.
Then, outside, back in the lot, a 1970s Alfa Romeo pulled in, driven by, a slick dude who turned out to be an exec from Epic Records. The woman who I met in line (leader of the “Brassies”) and this record label executive chatted – I moved closer to pick up their conversation – right when Nancy came over and shooed away the groupie and ushered the executive to a VIP section.
Right then the rhythm section kicked in and horn players marched from the back of the lot in what seemed to be a New Orleans second line formation. The band powered into their first song and we were off!
Throughout the show there was dancing by some Brassies who led the audience in sweet dance moves that made me feel like I was part of the band. Not having access to my phone honestly felt incredibly freeing. I was able to let loose and bust a move not concerned that my post-COVID rust would show up on the internet later. There were photographers who took Polaroid photos of groups and handed them out. When I needed to cool down, I went over to check out a vintage 70s VW bus, which turned out to be the mobile pad of the hilariously tripped out drug dealer (and merch vendor) of the lot, who regaled me with stories that got surprisingly deep.
At set break (er, “intermission” in theater terms) is when things really started heating up – but I don’t want to give too much more away.
What I will say is that this was exactly the post-pandemic catharsis I needed to shake off the quarantine dust and reenter humanity.
Brassroots District’s music is all about unity, togetherness, love, sex and harmony. True human connection. Something that has been so desperately lacking for all of us this past year.
Even if 1970s funk music isn’t your bag, you’re going to have an amazing time. If this is your first post-pandemic outing, this is a great reentry point.
As the Los Angeles sun set behind the DTLA skyline, I could almost feel the ghosts of James Brown and Arethta Franklin grooving along right beside me. And as Copper and Ursa sing in “Takin’ Back Daydreamin” – “we don’t need reality, it’s all for show!” Amen, Brother Copper and Sister Ursa.
To attend visit Fever for tickets. The Brassroots District: Live in the Lot Summer ’73 festival is running July 11- 26th.