Mad Gregs at Griffith Park via the Natural Stage Project
The Natural Stage Project is a two-person operation that organizes free acoustic concerts a few miles hike into the parks of Los Angeles--in caves, on beaches, and even at Joshua Tree. They announce each location about a week before the event via their website and Twitter (so there's no paper waste) and leave twig or sand markers so the audience can find the show. (Don't fret, they're pretty careful about following the rules and cleaning up after themselves.) They've nicknamed the pursuit "Hikes Without Mics" and last month held their first show of 2011, in Wilacre Park in Studio City. By email, NSP co-founder Jon told us about the project's "opposite of a parade" beginnings, Neutral Milk Hotel tribute show, and run-in with some grizzly bears.
Curbed LA: How did the Natural Stage Project start?
NSP: The Natural Stage Project dates back to March of 2008.
We wanted to blend light hikes with performance. I suppose the dream was to have acts along trails, and you would be entertained as you moved along each hike -- almost like the opposite of a parade. Logistically, we figured it would make more sense to find spots tucked away along the trails that provided natural performance spaces.
Once we started looking, the locations started to find us and it just made more and more sense to really get this thing off the ground. Ultimately, we'd love to live up to [my partner's] visions of a string section performing at the bottom of a waterfall—inside the water.
Also, the idea of just hiking along your favorite trail, and suddenly 2 miles in you see a string quartet or a brass band or a great folk singer... and you are like "WHAT?!?!! How did THAT get there?!?!" a bit like a social experiment.
Adam Arcuragi at Eaton Canyon via the Natural Stage Project
CLA: Ever had any crazy adventures or mishaps in the parks?
NSP: During one of our first Natural Stages, we ventured out to the famous Bronson Caves in Griffith Park (the acoustics are fantastic!). One of the bands performing brought some beer -- nothing extravagant, but enough to garner the attention of a park ranger. He made us get rid of the beer and leave the caves. We relocated to a nearby grassy spot and ended up entertaining a Los Feliz apartment complex. We now have a no-alcohol policy and we do our best to follow every rule outlined by the parks.
We can't talk about mishaps without bringing up our March 2010 show. Our planned location had to be altered at the last minute due to the filming of a commercial involving several grizzly bears.
Our shows are in nature where weather and events can be unpredictable. Sometimes people get lost. Sometimes it rains. Sometimes there are last minute commercials involving grizzly bears.
It's almost never perfect, and there is always some sort of surprise. We have had performances where a family of frogs has decided to sing along, or a flock of wild parrots have come to nest nearby. Anything can happen and we normally welcome the element of adventure.
Leslie Stevens & The Badgers at Joshua Tree via the Natural Stage Project
CLA: What else happens at the NSP?
NSP: We have a bunch of specialty shows, like Uketoberfest (our annual ukulele festival) and our annual tribute show, where we pick an iconic album and have bands each perform one song in order. So far, we've done Neutral Milk Hotel's "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" and Nirvana's "Nevermind". We're taking suggestions for this year's tribute show.
We've done shows for kids. We've done all-comedy shows. We've done longer weekend trips out to the desert. And we've done a lot of non-themed shows as well. Basically, we're open to anything! Currently we're in the process of booking an "orchestra of a hundred solar powered music boxes", so stay tuned for information on that!
We also like to start each event with an open mic portion while the audience filters in. This gives everybody a chance to be part of the project. You can play a song, read a poem, perform a standup bit, etc. I'd like to see some dance...maybe even some stupid pet tricks.
Our goals are to build a creative community and to get people outside and into nature. I don't know how many times we've heard the words: "I've never been here before" or "I NEVER go hiking - this is great!" or "I was just going to stay home today, but I'm SO glad I decided to come." Los Angeles is fucking beautiful. We spend so much time in cars and in office buildings that it's easy to forget that. Nobody should need an excuse to go outside, but we're more than happy to provide one.
Most importantly, all of our events are free and open to ANYONE. If you are just hiking and you suddenly find us - come sit down! Introduce yourself if you want... or just watch. Bring friends. Bring a picnic. Bring your dog (on a leash). Don't be shy!
And lastly, all of the bands that have played at the Natural Stage Project are simply incredible. You can find a list of them on our website. They all play just for the fun of it—we don't pay our performers. In fact, no money changes hands. We just want people to have fun. The enthusiasm of our performers and audience members fuels our passion to do this as often as possible.
Edited just a little for length and clarity.
· Natural Stage Project [Official Site]