Fourth of July in L.A. with Grupo Soñador, DJ Nu-Mark, Tropa Magica and Healing Gems

Healing Gems live at Gloria Molina Grand Park for the 2024 Fourth of July Block Party (Photo: Liz Ohanesian)
Healing Gems live at Gloria Molina Grand Park for the 2024 Fourth of July Block Party (Pic: Liz O.)

At 5 p.m. on the Fourth of July, the sun is still beating against Gloria Molina Grand Park. It’s not as hot in downtown Los Angeles as one might expect after hearing the word “heatwave” over and over again on the news. It’s definitely not as hot as the Twilight Zone episode I had just watched, “The Midnight Sun,” which, let me tell you, is not one you want to see right as you’re getting ready to leave your air conditioned bubble on a summer day. Still, it’s sweaty-hot and all-too-sunny in the section of the park across from City Hall on this Thursday afternoon, but Healing Gems is riding a party vibe.  

For Fourth of July, Grand Park throws a massive, free block party. There’s live music, DJs, rides, games and, for the second year in a row, a drone spectacle that lights up the sky without all the side-effects of fireworks. Once the sun sets, this 12-acre park will be packed, but we haven’t reached that point yet. Right now, a handful of folks have already staked claims on the park’s few shady spots with picnic blankets. A smattering of others brave direct sunlight for space in front of the stage. 

I first saw Healing Gems years ago just by coincidence at a rambling, historic mansion in Lincoln Heights called HM157. I wrote about the house for KCET and, when the co-founder of the space moved, I covered her going away party for L.A. Weekly and caught Healing Gems playing a psychedelic twist on exotica live in what was essentially a DIY backyard show. Seven years later, they’re playing on a much bigger stage with fantastic production. Close-ups of the band members flash across the video screens at the sides of the stage. The sound is so good that you can distinguish all of the percussion instruments. The woosh of vintage synthesizers carries in the breeze. They play originals and a few covers, a captivating mix of lounge, cumbia and rock that makes it nearly impossible to stand still. Some of what they played is available to hear on Spotify and Bandcamp, some of it is not. Near the top of the set, they play a song that grabs me, I think it’s called “Swords Dance,” but could have misheard the title. Later on, I’ll try to find it online, but will come up empty-handed. 

Daylight is still strong at 7 p.m., but the space in front of the stage has filled up with people dressed in baggy jeans and Sambas or denim shorts and cowboy boots. It looks like most here already know who Tropa Magica are, which may seem like an obvious comment, but that’s not a given at free community events. The band, who I hadn’t seen live before, immediately gets the crowd dancing. They bring together the rhythm of cumbia with the energy of punk in a way that’s visceral. 

Tropa Magica live at Gloria Molina Grand Park on July 4, 2024 (Photo: Liz Ohanessian)
Tropa Magica live at Gloria Molina Grand Park for the Fourth of July Block Party (Pic: Liz O.)

A few songs into the set, Tropa Magica drops “Foo Files Cumbia,” the reinterpretation of the X-Files theme song that you know if you follow Foos Gone Wild. Later on, they command a conga line to start. It does and the line grows fuller and lasts longer than I would have expected. Towards the end of the set, a mosh pit forms. I watch from a distance because mosh pits are like rip tides— once you get sucked into one it’s near-impossible to get out— but it looks like one of the friendliest pits I’ve seen in my years of going to shows. 

By the time Tropa Magica’s set ends, DJ Nu-Mark is already playing at a stage on the upper level of the park, close to the Music Center. We walk up there and find some available space in the back of the thick crowd. Nu-Mark’s technical skill is phenomenal and the way he can seamlessly cross genres and decades of music in a single set is admirable. His set takes a lot of twists and turns. We were not expecting him to drop Trans X and Tapps before working in Black Box and maybe another snippet of a song or two before heading back to the ‘80s with the Eurythmics. 

Eventually, we head back down to the lower level of the park to check out Grupo Soñador. We are so far back that I mostly watch the video screens. When I look at the stage itself, I can’t see much more than a hot pink glow against City Hall, which is now lit up red, white and blue. But, the family band is so tight and brings so much energy to the stage that you don’t need to see what’s happening on stage. You just feel it wherever you are in the crowd. It’s a vibe in the truest sense of the word. 

At 9 p.m., most of the crowd rushes towards the upper levels of the park to catch the drone show. We stay behind and watch from between the trees. I’m entranced by the tiny lights rearranging themselves to form pictures against the night sky. It reminds me of Lite-Brite, which was one of my favorite childhood toys. The soundtrack for the drone show is California-centric, but I particularly appreciate hearing “Dance Floor” by Zapp, a band I’ve heard bumpin’ from so many cars in my lifetime that I automatically associate them with L.A., even though they were from Ohio. 

We walk home after the drone show and stop on Hill Street overlooking the 101. There’s a small crowd here witnessing a scene that’s peak L.A. on Fourth of July. Fireworks explode against the horizon. There are so many coming so frequently that it’s hard to tell where they’re coming from. Maybe East L.A.?  Maybe out further than that? Below us, where the northbound 101 veers towards the 110 interchange, is gridlock. 

Liz O. is an L.A.-based writer and DJ. Read her recently published work and check out her upcoming gigs.

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