Doing It Car-Free: KCRW Summer Nights at The Hammer

Rogê performs at KCRW Summer Nights at The Hammer. Photo by Christina Champlin

Car-free and admission-free. That’s a lovely combination… if you can find it. But in Los Angeles it feels like an exceedingly rare occurrence. Perhaps, however, the stereotype is not quite as ironclad as it appears.

If you’ve been following our blog over the past few months you’ve probably seen a few of our collaborations with L.A. Metro. There are weekend guides. Cheatsheets of free summer concerts. Fat rundowns of free to-dos over the next 40 days. One of the events that’s made multiple appearances on our lists is KCRW Summer Nights, the signature seasonal event series produced by the Santa Monica-based NPR affiliate.

Last Thursday we decided to stop by a KCRW event held at The Hammer Museum. The point wasn’t just to scope out one of L.A.’s best free event series, but to do it without a car by taking Metro. Turns out that was easier than we thought.

The story starts in Koreatown, where we hop on the 720 heading westbound at about 6 p.m. The 720 is Metro’s rapid line that spans Downtown to Santa Monica, mostly along Wilshire Blvd. It’s roughly a 40-minute ride to arrive in Westwood, and door-to-door the whole journey took a bit less than an hour. Not bad for rush hour in L.A.

Artist Chiharu Shiota;s “The Network” adorns the entrance at The Hammer. Photo by Christina Champlin

We step through the entrance and the first thing we notice is that The Hammer looks… different. A massive web of blood-red yarn canopies the entrance, almost as if we’re inside a beating heart. The installation comes from the imagination of artist Chiharu Shiota, and is part of the museum’s recently completed a multiyear expansion project that added 20,000 square feet of public space and more than 60% more gallery square footage. The new digs look great.

The Courtyard at The Hammer as seen from the second story. Photo by Christina Champlin

We enter the courtyard it’s readily apparent the party is well underway. KCRW is doing what KCRW does best. DJ sets. A curated lineup of food vendors. A vibe and and a crowd that transcends the young and old.

Interior galleries at The Hammer museum in Westwood. Photo by Christina Champlin

Before the live performance begins we take our time perusing The Hammer galleries, which right now include Together In Time, the largest largest presentation of the Hammer Contemporary Collection in the museum’s history.

As the sun descends, and shadows stretch over the interior courtyard, we grab an horchata from one of the vendors and squeeze into a spot along the railing on the second level. This is our perch as the Latin-Grammy nominated singer/guitarist Rogê heads to the stage for the main performance. The crowd near the stage sways back and forth to the rhythm of the Brazilian samba.

A crowd gathers at KCRW Summer Nights at The Hammer. Photo by Christina Champlin

One thing that’s worth noting in the midst of it all: this isn’t a one time deal. KCRW and The Hammer will continue to team up for these parties the last three Thursdays of July. The headlining artist will change from week to week, but the gallery access, food vendors and DJ sets will all be there. And yes, free admission too!

So if you’re keen on duplicating the experience, make sure to mark it down on your calendar.

Exterior of The Hammer after dark. Photo by Christina Champlin

As the darkness of night takes hold we decide to dip out before the music finishes up. Better to leave early than late, you know? At least for fogies like us.

We board the 720 heading eastbound and think about how seamless the whole experience was. Didn’t have to pay for parking. Didn’t have to agonize over traffic. Got to experience some of the best vibes and culture that L.A. has to offer.

Maybe we should do it more often.

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