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Like so many other Southern California bands, Imperial Stars were virtually unknown and looking to up their profile.
The Orange County-based band did just that on Tuesday, when they performed a set for a completely captive audience, and video and news coverage of the event went viral. How did they do it? They blocked off one of the busiest sections of freeway in the country, where they performed for irate drivers from atop a truck.
Around 11 a.m. on Tuesday morning, a truck parked across three lanes of traffic on the southbound 101 freeway near Sunset Boulevard. Three musicians climbed onto the roof of the truck and began strumming their guitars and belting out lyrics to their single “Traffic Jam 101”. The sound from the amplifiers mixed with car horns and, soon after, sirens and calls from police to come down from the truck.
Sgt. Sal Ogaz, of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Hollywood Division, was first to respond to the scene, after he saw the truck while he was driving on the freeway. Other LAPD units soon responded, Ogaz said, but the band members refused to end the concert until the fire department arrived about 45 minutes later.
“The fire department came with a ladder,” Ogaz said. “We turned off the generator they were using, and then they cooperated.”
The LAPD handed all three suspects off to the California Highway Patrol, and all three were arrested — vocalist Christopher Wright and guitarist Keith Yackey of the Imperial Stars, plus another musician, David Paul Hale, who is not listed as one of Imperial Stars’ five members on the band’s website.
The band members had been dropped off at the spot on the highway by a friend who had left with the keys, meaning the truck had to be towed before regular stop-and-go traffic on the freeway could resume.
Steve Whitmore, senior media advisor for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, happened to be one of the drivers caught in the publicity stunt’s wake.
“It was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen,” said Whitmore, who sat in traffic for more than an hour. “We all thought it was some major accident, but then we saw people on top of this huge truck playing a rock concert. I’ve seen a lot of stuff, but this is one of those ‘only in L.A.’ stories.”
Imperial Stars’ website says that proceeds from single sales of “Traffic Jam 101” will go to “helping the Homeless Children of America”. The website also states, “The Imperial Stars are set to launch a new campaign to transform the Orange County Music scene by epic proportions.”
It remains to be seen whether their time behind bars, not to mention any fines that might be coming their way, will pay off. Every local news outlet from the Los Angeles Times to ABC News had ongoing coverage of this boldest of stunts. Ogaz said the group seemed to be shooting a video. Within 24 hours of the incident, views of the “Traffic Jam 101” video on YouTube had jumped from just over 900 to more than 24,000.
But drivers caught behind the truck were not amused. Whitmore called it “the most frustrating experience”, and most of the comments on the YouTube video were scathing, many of them punctuated with expletives.
One commenter, Jeff311420, suggested that the band members should be “sentenced to each and every minute of time [they] wasted.”
Ogaz said he didn’t like the music, either.
“They were letting people know that there are a lot of kids who are homeless, but that’s not the way to do it,” Ogaz said. “I am not a fan.”
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