Finding Love in Oakland

By Alicia Fischer

Photographs by Cindy Waters

In the vast expanse of concrete known as the Oakland Coliseum’s parking lot B, many people driving by don’t know what’s going on. Brightly decorated trucks are scattered about the lot, with giant black speakers stacked high above them. It’s cloudy and cold, and the breeze from the San Francisco Bay steadily rolls in. At noon, a trickle of neon accumulates at the gates, crossing the BART overpass, and waiting to be slammed into a wall of electronic sound. Welcome to LovEvolution 2011.

When the beloved LoveFest did not return to San Francisco’s Civic Center in 2010, the hearts of candy-raver children and electronic music lovers everywhere shattered. The only day devoted solely to a wide range of dance music was snatched from them, due to a few circumstances abroad and also here on U.S. soil that were beyond their control. But this year, LovEvolution returns to its children once again.
Lee Rous and Andy Gardner (aka Plump DJs) spin on the main stage while a dancer gets the crowd moving at LovEvolution in Oakland on September 24th, 2011

“We were very glad to be able to bring LovEvolution back after having to take 2010 off,” said Syd Gris, DJ and cofounder of the event. “We knew it would be a different kind of event from San Francisco but we felt this year’s event still preserved the spirit of why we do it, in the belief that dance promotes peace, love, unity and respect.”

The fenced-off area is surprisingly empty. Trucks and floats are placed in a circle just like in the past events in downtown San Francisco, but something is definitely missing. Maybe it’s looking past the fences and seeing old, abandoned warehouses, thousands of cars passing by on the highway, or hearing the screeching sounds of BART as it comes to its halting stops. Maybe it’s having to pay $25 to enter the event that was previously free and all about free love and acceptance for all. And maybe it’s the fact that it was cancelled last year and people have lost a little love for LovEvolution. It could be all of these, but nevertheless, the people that do actually make the effort to come from all over the Bay manage to make it an amazing time.

“My favorite part was seeing the fun people that turned up for LovEvolution,” says Syd Gris. “It’s an infectious joy that makes all the work we do year round to make it happen worth it.”

LovEvolution Pikachus Pokemon
A group dressed up as Pikachus pose at LovEvolution in Oakland on September 24th, 2011.
Around 1 p.m., drinks are flowing and there is no place to escape the heavy bass and vociferous beats that are thrown at you from every direction. The number of people increases, but nowhere close to the mass amounts that attended in the past.  It’s primarily a younger crowd, with a few techno-veterans.  People are genuinely happy, running from float to float and dancing for hours in funny costumes or miniscule strips of neon fabric.

“Our actual message and main goal for this year and every event is always P.L.U.R – Peace. Love. Unity. Respect,” says Otto Herrera, a volunteer in his third year working at LovEvolution. “I love the environment and vibe that electronic music brings, especially at events like this where love is trying to be present.”

The crowd at LovEvolution
The crowd in front of the Chocolate Factory float is feeling the music at LovEvolution in Oakland on September 24th, 2011.

Otto works the information booth, helping people navigate the new grounds and answering any questions about the event. He is an adamant fan of the electro-community, and doesn’t think the event has changed merely because it switched venues.

“It’s still the same,” he says. “The only thing that is different is the increase in security and undercover cops, a lot of undercover cops.”

But even the police maintain the love and let people have a good time. “There are no big issues this year,” said Officer A.C. Smith. “People are already drunk or on whatever when they arrive, so unless they are doing something or lighting up directly in front of us, we will leave them alone.”

Earlier, he escorted two guys off the premises for lighting a joint in front of him and another officer. He said his major concern with the day is making sure everyone is safe and having a good time. “There are generally more young women at events like these, so we are mainly watching to make sure any intoxicated men out there aren’t getting too friendly with anyone.”

“There is an increasingly younger crowd at events like these, but that’s where the money is,” says Danny Fonte, a first-time LovEvolution-er at the Heineken concession stand. “There are no assholes here, there is definitely a very good vibe here today.” And that seems to be the prevailing message of this year’s event. Although significantly smaller and more manageable – maybe even tolerable – than past LovEvolutions, those that attended put their all into having a good time and sharing the love.
“This year’s event was great in many ways,” says Syd Gris, “but all things being equal we’d of course prefer to be back in San Francisco, so we’ll take another look at having the event there if that’s viable.”
The Strip Ship at LovEvolution
The Strip Ship goes airborne at LovEvolution in Oakland on September 24th, 2011