Eagle Rock’s Midnight Rider rebrands country music with a modern twist

mitra khayyam
Mitra Khayyam, owner of Midnight Rider, at Midnight Rider in Los Angeles, CA. Friday, Feb. 18, 2022. Theodore Tang/The Occidental.

Midnight Rider is the latest venture of country music lover Mitra Khayyam, a San Fernando Valley-born entrepreneur who set up shop on Eagle Rock Boulevard June 2021. The retail store specializes in LA-made merchandise for fans and musicians of country, blues, jazz, rock and more. Khayyam said the blend of these cultures makes LA unique. The city’s pastoral history made it an early hub for country musicians, and that culture remains ingrained in Southern California despite the more internationally recognized presence of Hollywood and the music industry today.

“You had members of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young here in Laurel Canyon, and Gram Parsons here and Dwight Yoakam lived in LA,” Khayyam said. “It kind of makes you think about migration and who has come through the city. I don’t think it’s crazy to think about parts of LA, outside of downtown-centric Los Angeles, that even up to 30 years ago were ranch and horse country.”

Khayyam, who launched her first brand 16 years ago, said the opportunity to start Midnight Rider came to her at the right time. Facing a $28 million lawsuit against her label, Blood Is the New Black, Khayyam said she incidentally received a message from country musician Waylon Jennings’ son, Shooter Jennings, who asked Khayyam if she was interested in selling his father’s merchandise. She leaped at the opportunity.

“It just so happened that the timing was good in that I had one opportunity that was ending and my business was kind of struggling because of the lawsuit,” Khayyam said. “And that shifted into a new opportunity falling into my lap, which was launching this brand [Midnight Rider].”

Khayyam said this new brand gave her the opportunity to capture the American essence of the country music she grew up around, as a daughter of Iranian immigrants. The name Midnight Rider itself comes from an Allman Brothers Band song.

“When I launched the brand, it was really important to me in a sense of wanting to assimilate with the core of what American culture was,” Khayyam said. “I think [country is] a genre of music that’s overlooked a lot because it’s thought of as low-hanging fruit, or lowbrow, or uneducated or unrefined. And I think there’s something to be said for finding the beauty in things that you may not necessarily be super affiliated with.”

midnight rider inside
Inside of Midnight Rider in Los Angeles, CA. Friday, Feb. 18, 2022. Theodore Tang/The Occidental.
midnight rider inside
Mitra Khayyam, owner of Midnight Rider, at Midnight Rider in Los Angeles, CA. Friday, Feb. 18, 2022. Theodore Tang/The Occidental.

With time, Khayyam said she has been able to establish relationships throughout the country music world and sell their merchandise after working with the Waylon Jennings estate.

With Midnight Rider, Khayyam said she is trying to add a modern twist to country music culture to represent LA’s history.

“You start to realize that there is a lot of ranch and cowboy culture in Southern California,” Khayyam said. “I think what we actually do is reposition [country music] in a way that’s modern at the same time while it’s still nostalgic.”

Khayyam said Midnight Rider’s balance of modernity and nostalgia is the result of her collaboration with four different graphic designers, who weave those elements together to create the aesthetic of Midnight Rider.

NELA residents Makenzie Stokes-Percy and Rachel Nelson said they were walking down the street when Midnight Rider’s sign caught their attention.

“I’m from Oklahoma, [Nelson] is from Texas, and we saw the sign on the sidewalk so we just had to come in,” Stokes-Percy said.

midnight rider storefront
Street view of Midnight Rider in Los Angeles, CA. Friday, Feb. 18, 2022. Theodore Tang/The Occidental.

“A lot of people in Eagle Rock, they’re really supportive,” Khayyam said. “It seems like their neighborhood and their community is really important to them so they want to support whatever they can find.”

Next door to Midnight Rider is Leanna Lin’s Wonderland, a gift shop and art gallery established in 2010.

“It’s good to have [Mitra] next door,” owner Leanna Lin said.

Lin said she also helps run a collective of local independent retail stores called We Heart Eagle Rock, whose goal is to promote shops on Colorado Boulevard and Eagle Rock Boulevard.

As Khayyam approaches the end of her first year in Eagle Rock, she said she has enjoyed sharing her love of LA’s diverse music culture with her neighbors and in the process, she has grown into a newfound appreciation of Eagle Rock.

“The more that I meet people who are in this neighborhood from them coming to the shop, I realized how much I have in common with them,” Khayyam said.