As one walks on the north side of César Chávez Ave., between Fickett and Mott streets, a bright blue building stands out. Nestled between homes and a popular dispensary is a fully geared rehearsal studio, providing a space for those looking to hone their musical skills.
It’s called Eastside Rehearsal, and the business is a personal dream come true for long-time musician Tony Aguilar.
“Music is one of the most amazing portals to discovering and understanding yourself as a person,” says the operating manager, one of Eastside Rehearsal’s three owners. “It’s been everything to me since I was just a kid, and early on it was the sort of escape that I needed to deal with the trauma in my personal life, and that’s something that most people need.”
Born and raised in Kern County’s Tehachapi Valley, Aguilar began playing music at the age of 13. Gifted a guitar by his father after a year’s worth of house chores, he taught himself how to play the instrument as his family could not afford lessons.
From then, music grew from a passionate hobby to a full-on career, and for three decades Aguilar worked as a touring musician and even a tour manager. After living in the Bay Area for nearly 20 years, he moved to Los Angeles in 2009 with his wife Meg Castellanos, another long-time musician.
Aguilar and Castellanos bought a home in Boyle Heights in 2012 and began to look into the possibility of opening a rehearsal space in the neighborhood.
Here, they would find a new way of using their passion for music by pushing to start a rehearsal studio for musicians and bands in the neighborhood that would give others like them a space to escape into the art form.
“There’s a certain kind of atmosphere that you can only experience with a place that welcomes and invites artistry,” says Aguilar. “In a neighborhood like Boyle Heights with such a rich, cultural connection to music, it just felt like the perfect place to create Eastside Rehearsal.”
The couple went to work and found a former marijuana grow house on Cesar Chavez and began transforming it into a practice facility. After months of draining through savings and taking on debt, Aguilar and Castellanos reached out to Eddie Rivas, another local musician and long-time teacher.
An East LA native and owner of Total Annihilation Studio in Lincoln Heights, Rivas decided to invest in the Boyle Heights project, becoming the studio’s third owner and making Eastside Rehearsal truly by and for musicians.
Officially opened near the end of 2015, the approximately 1,600 square-foot facility offers five air conditioned, soundproofed rehearsal rooms of different sizes, ranging from $20-$25 an hour. Fully back-lined, each room is offered seven days a week by appointment (two-hour minimum), from 11AM to midnight.
The space, which includes a patio and parking lot, is also available as a performance venue.
For musicians like Boyle Heights native Memo Villasenor, Eastside Rehearsal represents much more than a space to hone his skills.
“Growing up here in the 90s, the only two outlooks for me outside of school were to either play sports or join a gang, and I didn’t like that those were my only options,” says Villasenor. “So around 15, I picked up a guitar and I never put it down.”
Villasenor recalls having to practice in the garages of friends or travel outside of the neighborhood to find a space to rehearse, when he was a part of different bands throughout his Roosevelt High School years. He says having a space like Eastside Rehearsal is important for aspiring musicians who might have noise restrictions at home.
“Having a space like this is so beneficial to everyone in the community because it’s a nearby and accessible space where you can create, it’s a place where you can congregate and build relationships,” says Villasenor.
A longtime member of Why We Live, an LA-based band with members from the East and South sides of the city, Villasenor began practicing at the studio the same week it opened, and has been going there since. During the pandemic, the group even wrote an entire album at Eastside Rehearsal, where they would practice before performing at different venues.
“We’ve built a good relationship with a lot of people because of this space, including Tony because we see how much care he puts into making this space welcoming for everybody,” says Villasenor. “Music is what brings Boyle Heights together, and creating a space for community to come together is what Eastside Rehearsal has done. I hope it’s around for a long time.”
Aguilar himself has the same hope, as he hopes to one day own the property he currently rents, to make the studio a community staple for years to come.
“Starting Eastside Rehearsal and keeping it open over the years has definitely been a struggle at times, especially during the pandemic, but seeing the impact it’s had for those who come through our doors always makes it clear to me that it’s worth it,” says Aguilar. “If music is your thing and you need a space to rehearse, you’re always welcome here on Cesar Chavez.”