A Folk Hero and a Bluegrass celebration
Pitt Kinsolving, a man with a most distinguished name, is known for organizing folk music events, as well as getting musicians together to make music. While engineering sound for recordings, performances, and other live programs has been his profession, he has been an important force in bringing folk music to Southern California through his volunteer efforts in planning and promoting concerts and festivals, and in his active participation in hoots.
Pitt was born in New Jersey, but he found folk music when he moved to Connecticut at age 14 and realized that cowboys were singing about their own lives and he liked that a lot. He found that there is a rich tradition of folk music that we can all share and he began to learn how to play a couple of instruments. His interests transitioned from being a race car driver and auto mechanic (though he still likes both) to singing and playing instruments. He gave music lessons and he later found his career in sound engineering and recording work. He first became active in hootenannies and folk music groups in Connecticut and New York, and then in 1979, he came to California with his banjo on his knee… and his guitar, dulcimer, and autoharp. By this time, he was engineering music recordings for such musicians as Chris Proctor. While working with Wes Dooley at Audio Engineering Associates in Pasadena, he began a live concert series in an acoustically perfect room there, presenting such performers as Dougie MacLean (from Scotland), and the Phil Salazar Band. He did bookings and sound engineering for the Caltech Folk Music Society for a few years in the mid 1980s, at a critical time, giving the group of inexperienced volunteers who were trying to keep that organization going, a touch of experience, class, and professionalism. He also shared sound duties for another fine series, Terry Slegr’s Bound for Glory, at the Sportsman’s Lodge on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City.
Pitt first got involved with the Topanga Banjo•Fiddle Contest by working the sound board there around 1995, and when longtime leader, Dorian Keyser, announced his departure, Pitt was one of the people who helped keep that festival going, serving as president, vice president, and board member at various times for well over 10 years. The Pasadena Folk Music Society (formerly the Caltech Folk Music Society) continues to consult with Pitt and still uses a sound board that came from him. He has been a member of Songmakers and he continues to be one of the regulars at the Santa Monica Traditional Folk Music Club.
Everybody gets a chance to come toast this man who has been such an important influence on making music in the Los Angeles area as he turns 83 on Tuesday, September 22, and a celebration, benefit concert, and party, of sorts, will take place at the Coffee Gallery Backstage. This show has been organized by a few of Pitt’s friends and will welcome back to the live stage one of, if not the, premier Southern California bluegrass groups over the last thirty years we know as the Witcher Brothers. We hope this will be the beginning of at least occasional local appearances by the group, which has been pretty quiet in recent years. The Witcher Brothers started performing in 1985 and Gabe Witcher became quite the sensation as a boy wonder fiddler, not yet seven years old. Along with being an extraordinary stage emcee at numerous festivals and music contests, Dennis Witcher is also a fine singer and mandolin player. In later years, Gabe’s brother, Michael Witcher sometimes performed with them, playing dobro and other instruments. Tony Recupido came to California from the Southeast and joined the group adding his fine songs, guitar, and vocals to the mix. These days, Gabe has headed east and is quite busy with his group, the Punch Brothers, and many other projects, while Michael is up in the Bay area giving dobro lessons in person and on the Internet, along with performing with Peter Rowan and many other famous and talented people. We were fortunate to present Dennis, Tony, Michael, and a third Witcher brother, Loren, at the Coffee Gallery three years ago, when they did a previous fundraiser for Pitt.
Dennis quickly agreed to do another show for Pitt when asked. Since a couple of new members were added to the group, he decided that maybe it would be appropriate to set aside the Witcher Brothers name or at least alter it. Witcher, Recupido, Levitt and Witcher may not roll off the tongue, but it does reflect the new line-up, featuring the songwriting/singing/guitar-mandolin nucleus of Dennis and Tony. Loren Witcher did not choose music as his main profession, as his brothers did, but he certainly has it in his genes. As we heard three years ago he is a fine bass player and backing vocalist for the band. The brand new face is a familiar name to many in Southern California, Dan Levitt, the renowned banjo player and luthier, known for his “contemporary clawhammer” style and his ability to coax so many kinds of music with his frailing technique. We are very eager to hear these guys play together, and we know that often one of the most exciting times to hear talented bluegrass musicians is when they are newly together and trying new things, pushing and testing the boundaries. This is going to be a fun show, and we hope to have a good crowd in this intimate venue.