The fourth annual Sunset Strip Music Festival continued its tradition last weekend, offering one of the best and most diverse live music deals in the country.

The Aug. 18-20 festival included three days of shows in most of the Sunset Strip’s most famous nightclubs, and culminated in an all-day street fest on Saturday with two large outdoor stages blocking the famous strip.

The event kicked off fittingly at the Hollywood House of Blues with a big party on Thursday. All VIP three-day pass holders were invited to the awards ceremony and treated to a two-hour no-host bar featuring Jack Daniel’s products and free food from the House of Blues restaurant. The opening party alone is reason enough to cough up the $250 for the three-day VIP pass. It’s the only event for which you can’t purchase single tickets during the festival.

The event included an awards ceremony in which Hollywood heroes Motley Crue received the Elmer Valentine Award, named after one of the founders of the famous strip. A long list of celebrities were on hand to heap accolades on the band.

The strangest and most eloquent tribute, though, came from Ray Manzarek, the keyboardist of Sunset Strip legends The Doors. In a scene that seemed like it fell right out of a David Lynch movie, the aging rock legend joked about the band and then proceeded to sit at a piano and play jazzy solo versions of several Doors classics. The keyboard master mimed most of the words of the chorus lines, encouraging the crowd to sing along. Then the Crue — Vince Neil, Nikki Sixx, Mick Mars and Tommy Lee — sauntered onto the stage to collect their award.

The ceremony was followed by a live performance by Los Angles alternative rockers the Crash Kings. The hard-rocking trio features brothers Tony Beliveau on lead vocals and keyboards, Mike Beliveau on bass and their friend Jason Morris on drums.

The festival also featured bands all along the strip, including 1970s English metal rock legends Uriah Heep at the Key Club. Led by founding member and lead guitar player extraordinaire Mick Box, the band tore through most of their classic ‘70s hits, interspersed with some songs from their new album, Into the Wild. The album is the 23rd studio release for the band in their long history, which includes 12 albums in the United Kingdom music charts.

Gavin Rossdale of Bush delighted fans by going out into the crowd during Saturday's set.

Gavin Rossdale of Bush delighted fans by going out into the crowd during Saturday’s set. (L. Paul Mann photo)

Although the band fell off the American music radar in the 1980s, it has maintained a hard-core cult following in the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan and Russia, where they still perform in arena-sized venues. The appearance at the Key Club was a rare one for the band in the United States. The nearly two-hour set showcased the immense musical talents of all the members of the current band, and was a lesson in the beginnings of heavy metal history.

While Uriah Heep may have been the highlight of a lot of exciting moments Thursday, the sold-out Doors concert at The Whiskey was the center of attention on Friday.

But the real fun took place all day Saturday, on the most famous part of the Sunset Strip, which was closed to traffic and book-ended with two large rock stages featuring headliners Motley Crue and Bush. At the same time, an army of indie rock bands, rappers, reggae acts and electronic music bands performed short sets through the day at the five clubs in the concert zone. Tickets for the entire Saturday event could be had for as little as $50, with no surcharges when purchased directly from the festival.

The outdoor west stage featured sets by mostly metal rockers that fit the hair band, glam band image that has been so closely associated with the strip for decades. These included the relatively new Hollywood band Black Veil Brides, with a Kiss-like look and promoting their new hit single “Fallen Angels,” sounding a bit like early Alice Cooper.

The retro ‘80s sounding, dark-wave band from nearby San Fernando Valley, She Wants Revenge, played the next set. The crowd around the stage began to swell for the late-afternoon next set by the Las Vegas metal band Escape the Fate. They were followed by the only post-grunge act of the day, Bush and Motley Crue.

But before these two headline acts amassed a huge crowd around the west stage, there was a steady lineup of bands inside the clubs along the strip and on the outdoor east stage. All of the clubs featured a rotating schedule of showcase sets lasting late into the night. Club access was included in the general admission ticket price.

Inside the cavernous Key Club at the east end of the strip, rapper Hugh The MC played a spirited set just before Bush was slated to hit the outdoor stage directly outside.

Farther west along the strip, Indietronica band The Limousines played a late-afternoon set in the Roxy club. Electronic magician Giovanni Giusti and vocalist Eric Victorino played a compelling set to mostly young dance music fans. At the far west end of the strip, hard-rock indie band ACIDIC was quickly followed by another Los Angeles hard rock and even more metal band, Key to Chaos, fittingly at the dark legendary Whiskey club.

Directly outside, the west stage offered up the most diverse lineup of the day. Bands included Southern California reggae rockers Tribal Seeds and The Dirty Heads. New York synthpop dance bad Cobra Starship was sandwiched between the two reggae bands.

By the time Matt & Kim hit the stage in late afternoon, a large crowd had gathered at this end of the strip as well. The indie pop minimalist duo has been one of the hardest-working staples on the national festival circuit for the past several years. The acrobatic duo electrify the audience with their feel-good music and playful antics that make them appear to make gleeful eye contact with nearly every member of the audience. Kim Schifino, who loves to stand on her drum kit, incited the crowd to “Go nuts. You should do it for me.” Her co conspirator, Matt Johnson, is equally as animated, jumping up and down on his keyboards frequently.

The closing set on the west stage was played by American icons Public Enemy. Rappers Chuck D and Flavor Flav led a large posse of musicians, brilliantly blending hard rock and rap. The group’s innovative approach, which they perfected in the 1980s, opened the door to today’s world of diverse mash-up pop hits.

Another recognizable pop icon, metal guitarist Scott Ian of Anthrax, joined the group to re-create the hit song they made together in 1987, “Bring the Noise.”

Back down at the east stage, a huge crowd gathered for a set by Bush. The English rock band formed in 1992 in the heyday of grunge music. The new Bush is on their first U.S. tour in nearly a decade. Original lead singer, guitar player and the most recognizable voice of the band, Gavin Rossdale, was joined by original drummer Robin Goodridge and newcomers Chris Traynor on guitar and Corey Britz on bass.

With minimal lighting and stage decor, the band tore ferociously through their biggest hits of the 1990s, interspersed with a couple of new tunes. Rossdale, animated as ever, made several sorties deep into the huge, tightly packed crowd. The fans responded ecstatically, fighting to be near the vivacious performer. In a quieter moment, Rossdale reminisced about the band’s first appearance in Hollywood, in 1992, at the Roxy club just across the street from the stage. By the time the sun had set on the west stage, the crowd had grown even larger, stretching all the way down the famous strip.

Headliners Motley Crue exploded, to the delight of the crowd, with a massive pyrotechnics and stage show right out of late-‘80s arena rock history as they began their 90-minute set. Neil, with a U.S. flag sewn into his crotch, pumped his fist in the air and sang lyrics from the band’s comeback hit, 2008’s “Saints of Los Angeles.” Sixx spit up fake blood a la Gene Simmons of Kiss style while performing numerous guitar solos with Mars.

But the most grandiose part of the show featured Lee’s massive roller-coaster drum set, taking him on a wild ride along with his nine drum and multicymbaled drum kit. He even took his friend, dance music maven Deadmau5, along for a ride during the band’s remake version of the Ohio Players classic “Love Rollercoaster.”

The show ended with a medley of 1970s rock classics, such as Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll Part 2” and Brownsville Station’s “Smokin’ in the Boys Room.” It was a fitting end to a celebration of the historic strip and its place in rock history.

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributor. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.