Roy Zimmerman: ReZist!

At the Steve Allen Theatre - Sunday, January 22, 2017

This Could Be the Start of Something Big

By Ross Altman, PhD

Roy ZimmermanSinging satirist Roy Zimmerman has been writing “funny songs about ignorance, war and greed” since I first met him twenty-five years ago, when he led The Foremen, who were the modern inheritors of the legacy of the Chad Mitchell Trio and Tom Lehrer. He has since become a nationwide solo recording and performing artist who has toured in all fifty states. Recently he has gone where no leftwing folksinger dared to go before him—creating what he called “the blue dot tour,” finding small pockets of liberal Democratic Blue in the reddest of Red States—even if it meant one Unitarian Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming—or “Universalist” Church (to which he referred by saying “I’ve now learned the difference.”)

Read more: ROY ZIMMERMAN: REZIST!

Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton in Concert

With Frank Fairfield and Meredith Axelrod

At Cody’s Viva Cantina in Burbank - January 14, 2017

By Ross Altman, PhD

~1~

Jerrod Blind Boy Paxton“Never was a white man had the blues.” ~Lead Belly

The black songster (he resists the label “blues singer”) Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton is just twelve days shy of his 28th birthday—and it can’t happen too soon for me.

Robert Johnson, the King of the Delta Blues, recorded his legendary twenty-nine tracks in 1936 and 1937. The following year, at age 27, he was dead, poisoned by the husband of the wife with whom Johnson was cheating on his own wife. He was a member of the ill-fated star-crossed cursed “27 club” which included Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Tim Hardin—all from heroin addiction.

Read more: “BLIND BOY” PAXTON AND AXELROD AND FAIRFIELD IN CONCERT

Joan Baez: Nasty Woman!

Disney Hall - November 5, 2016, 8:00pm

By Ross Altman, PhD

Joan BaezJoan Baez wore her politics on her T-shirt as she walked out on the stage of Disney Hall to a standing ovation before she even picked up her Martin OO-45 in front of the microphone. The audience was roaring at the proud irony of her black T-shirt—emblazoned with the words Nasty Woman in front—turning Donald Trump’s putdown of Hillary Clinton in the third debate on its head—and wearing it as a banner. Her quixotic humor brought her long history of feminism back home to Disney’s beautiful music hall last Saturday night.

Read more: JOAN BAEZ: NASTY WOMAN!

TOGETHER AGAIN - THE TIME JUMPERS IN CONCERT

The Smothers Theatre, Pepperdine University, Malibu, CA - September 30, 2016

By Ross Altman, PhD

Time JumpersThe Magnificent Seven ride into Southern California Friday evening, and in place of Denzel Washington, or before him Yul Brynner, they bring 20-time Grammy Winner Vince Gill. He doesn’t pack a gun, but a Gibson and a Fender Telecaster, and a gang of great Nashville studio musicians ready to take on Eli Wallach’s gang of bandits and defend a vision of America that has been increasingly hard to see these past couple of years.

Read more: TOGETHER AGAIN - THE TIME JUMPERS IN CONCERT

Iris DeMent in Concert

The Smothers Theatre, Pepperdine University, Malibu, CA - September 29, 2016

The Best Singer Merle Haggard Ever Heard

By Ross Altman, PhD

Iris DementThe youngest of 14 children, Iris DeMent must have had to yell a little louder to be heard above her older brothers and sisters growing up in the Arkansas Delta. Those early childhood needs evolved into what Merle Haggard called “The best singer I’ve ever heard” when he invited her to join his touring band upon the release of her first album Infamous Angel in 1992. She returns the tribute by opening with one of his lesser known songs at the keyboard of a grand piano—where she spends the entire evening playing and serenading the grateful audience at the Smothers Theatre at Pepperdine University with her two piece band on upright bass and pedal steel guitar. She also pays tribute to “The First Lady of Country Music,” in whose shoes she is proud to walk, Tammy Wynette.

Read more: IRIS DEMENT IN CONCERT

ATASH'S RAUCOUS UNIVERSAL LOVE VIBRATION

Silverlake Lounge and Garage Gallery, June 24-25, 2016

By Tom Cheyney

AtashIt was not just another normal Friday night. Brexit was sinking in, Ralph Stanley had exited to the high lonesome holler in the sky, and the Dodgers had yet to find a consistent starter not named Kershaw. On the ground, I forgot my wallet at home, got all the way to ordering my first Pacifico before I realized my empty pocket, skedaddled back to my parking metered car, and jammed home in disgrace. (OK, maybe not disgrace so much as annoyance: I live only 10 minutes away from the Silverlake Lounge.)

Read more: ATASH'S RAUCOUS UNIVERSAL LOVE VIBRATION

How to Tell the Real Bob Dylan

In Concert at the Shrine Auditorium - June 16, 2016

By Ross Altman, PhD

Bob DylanStately, skinny Bob Dylan came from the stairhead, bearing a metal harmonica rack on which an acoustic Gibson guitar and “G” harp lay crossed. He opened with The Times, They Are A-Changing. But this was fifty-three ago, 1963, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. This evening, at the Shrine Auditorium, he enters with a white, broad-brimmed hat reinforced with white coat and steps up to the microphone in front of a five-piece band with the opening strains of his Oscar-winning song, Things Have Changed.

Read more: HOW TO TELL THE REAL BOB DYLAN

THE SHOW PONIES IN THE WINNER’S CIRCLE

WITH MOONSHINER COLLECTIVE AT BOOTLEG THEATER, MAY 20, 2016

By Tom Cheyney

The Show PoniesOn a clear night when a full moon’s south pole glow spread like a mountain man’s beard, The Show Ponies tapped deep into their own particularly luminous brand of rockin’ string-band Americana at the Bootleg. Rambunctiously professional musicianship, tightly wrapped harmonies, rootsy soulfulness and an evangelical-edged zest for living brought band and fans together in a sweaty salvational embrace.

Read more: THE SHOW PONIES IN THE WINNER’S CIRCLE

HELLO IN THERE: JOHN PRINE

With Jason Isbell And Amanda Shires

At The Greek Theatre, May 13, 2016

By Susie Glaze

John PrineThe fact that John Prine is not the permanent Poet Laureate of these United States from which he sprang is a crime upon natural justice that must be remedied and I hereby will begin a petition to place him there, along with a solid place in all the music halls of fame that can be found. He is also not a household name, except for those of us who revere his work beyond measure and consider it sacred territory along with other giant poet troubadours such as Hank Williams and Bob Dylan. I invite any of you reading this article to get his music, early or late, and listen and read, to understand what he’s given to country folk singer-songwriter music and us in his grateful listening audience for this, an amazing and brilliant 40 + year career.

Read more: HELLO IN THERE: JOHN PRINE

Eric Andersen at McCabe’s

A Bard by Any Other Name - April 23, 1616—April 23, 2016

By Ross Altman, PhD

Eric Anderson“All the world’s a stage,” said William Shakespeare, but there’s only one McCabe’s. April 23, 1616, four hundred years ago tonight, Shakespeare, the greatest poet in the English language, passed away. But Eric Andersen is still here, so the English language is in good hands. He performed at McCabe’s this evening, a quarto of the best songs written over the past fifty years—including Thirsty Boots, Violets of Dawn, Amsterdam and Close the Door Lightly When You Go. It was a pleasure and an inspiration to observe the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in the company of an artist who avoids the name “singer-songwriter” in preference to a higher calling: song poet, which describes Eric Andersen to a “T.” For tonight, though, let’s just call him the bard.

Read more: ERIC ANDERSEN AT MCCABE’S

THE WOMAN IN BLACK:
LUCINDA WILLIAMS
WITH BILL FRISELL

UCLA Royce Hall - March 4, 2016

By Ross Altman, PhD

Lucinda WIlliamsSteve Earle once said of Townes Van Zandt, “He is America’s best songwriter, and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.” The author of Pancho and Lefty is now gone, leaving that position vacant. So Time Magazine filled it in 2002 with a cover story on Lucinda Williams called “America’s Best Songwriter.” Her Grammy-winning album Car Wheels On a Gravel Road defined a new voice in American songwriting—one that claimed her roots in poetry as well as song. Her father was a poet.

Read more: THE WOMAN IN BLACK: LUCINDA WILLIAMS

Have Guitar, Will Travel: Bill Frisell

at the Skirball Cultural Center - February 25, 2016

By Ross Altman PhD

Bill Frissell and Petra HadenThe guitar may have been invented in Spain in the 1400s, but it was reinvented at the Skirball Cultural Center last night. Jazz guitarist Bill Frisell is part musician and part ingenious inventor, and the most unlikely guitar hero you will see this side of Paladin.

The latest stop on his When You Wish Upon a Star tour landed at the Skirball Thursday, February 25, where he brought his six-shooter (I meant to say six-stringer) to rescue some classic Hollywood songs and scores from boring arrangements and familiar soundtracks. Like other western heroes he celebrates from Bonanza, Once Upon a Time in the West and Happy Trails his business card should read: Have Guitar, Will Travel.

Read more: HAVE GUITAR, WILL TRAVEL: BILL FRISELL

In This Guitar We Trust: Dion

at the Grammy Museum, February 24, 2016

By Ross Altman, PhD

Dion with Paul SimonThe usual path of a folk singer on the rise is to start out solo acoustic and then go electric, form a band and don’t look back. You may recall one who did just that—at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. Dion DiMucci has traveled the road not taken, and done just the opposite. He started out as the front man for Dion and the Belmonts, and scored such major hits as The Wanderer, Runaround Sue and Ruby Baby.

Read more: IN THIS GUITAR WE TRUST: DION

Darryl Holter Tangled Up in Dylan

at the Caña Rum Bar - February 19, 2016

By Ross Altman, PhD

Darryl HolterDateline, Los Angeles~ The hottest ticket in town turned out to be in a hidden rum bar in the unknown Petroleum Building in the 700 block of Olympic Blvd downtown tonight, just a block away from the Grammy Museum. An SRO crowd (I know, because I was standing throughout) saw local folkie historian Darryl Holter—co-author of the new book Woody Guthrie LA 1937-1941 (see my review)—in a show he called Holter Does Dylan. It was also it turns out a birthday present to himself, for when I got there I saw a beautiful birthday cake in front of the stage, and Darryl was tuning up in front of the microphone.

Read more: DARRYL HOLTER TANGLED UP IN DYLAN

BONNIE RAITT

at the Valley Performing Arts Center - February 22, 2016

No Ticket, No Seat, No Problem

By Ross Altman, PhD

Bonnie RaittI never parachuted over the Berlin Wall, escaped from Alcatraz, or wriggled out of unbreakable handcuffs with my hands behind my back tied up in rope and submerged in a tank of water; but on George Washington’s birthday I did slip past a phalanx of security guards and ushers to crash the sold-out Bonnie Raitt concert at CSUN; the things we do for love. She was in fine form—her electric Fender Stratocaster and acoustic double-pick guard Guild Jumbo guitars providing roof-raising, earth shaking and heart-breaking accompaniment—and a brand new gospel song on keyboards from her upcoming (20th) album. It was like watching the Indy 500 on a good day—a thrill a minute on the edge of your seat ride—if you were lucky enough to have a seat—which I wasn’t.

Read more: BONNIE RAITT at the Valley Performing Arts Center

190 PROOF & 24 CARAT GOLD - MERLE HAGGARD AND KRIS KRISTOFFERSON

The Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills - February 11, 2016

By Ross Altman, PhD

Merle and KrisMerle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson were originally scheduled to perform December 9, 2015, on my birthday (see my preview written this past November). In violation of the first law of show business the show did not go on. It had to be rescheduled when Haggard came down with pneumonia.

Read more: 190 PROOF & 24 CARAT GOLD - MERLE HAGGARD AND KRIS KRISTOFFERSON

WHO KNOWS WHERE THE TIME GOES, JUDY COLLINS

At the Rose in Pasadena - Sunday, February 14, 2016

By Ross Altman, PhD

Judy CollinsJudy Collins is seventy-six years old, but her voice is still twenty-one and angelic; how, I have no idea—the gods have smiled on her from on high, but she has done all the rest. “Listen to the pipes on that septuagenarian!” exclaimed Jill Fenimore, who ooed and awed throughout. Collins gave a dreamy Valentine’s Day concert last night at the Rose in Pasadena—a brand new venue (this was its opening night) “where music meets the soul.”

Read more: WHO KNOWS WHERE THE TIME GOES, JUDY COLLINS

THE JONES FAMILY SINGERS

Pepperdine University - Friday, February 5, 2016

From Russia to Malibu with Love

By Ross Altman, PhD

Jones FamilyRussians don’t speak much English; they knew only a few words, but they really needed only one to understand the nine-member African-American Jones Family Singers: Jesus. In an hour and a half part concert-part revival meeting they would have heard many times—as many times as Bruce Springsteen will sing Born in the USA, the Jones Family Singers will sing Come to me, Jesus! to the same effect—one powerful mantra that sums up their entire message.

Read more: THE JONES FAMILY SINGERS

Preaching the Blues with John Hammond, Jr.

The Late Show at McCabe’s - January 29, 2016

By Ross Altman, PhD

John Hammond JrJohn Hammond Jr.’s National Steel guitar is seven years older than he is. I saw Hammond in twelve bars last night, and the late show at McCabe’s. America’s greatest blues singer and guitarist and harmonica player is the wrong color—“Never was a white man had the blues,” said Lead Belly. No one told John Hammond, Jr. who is now an elder statesman at 73 and still preaching the blues—ever since 1962, when he started his career right here in Los Angeles. I saw him on my late mother Rose’s Centenary—January 29, 1916-January 29, 2016—for which I wanted to do something special to celebrate.

Read more: PREACHING THE BLUES WITH JOHN HAMMOND, JR.

TOMMY EMMANUEL IN CONCERT

Pepperdine Smothers Theatre - January 20, 2016

Certified Guitar Player and a Class Act

By Ross Altman, PhD

Tommy EmmanuelThe Grand Canyon, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Pyramids of Ancient Egypt, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Sphinx, to those and the other 8 Wonders of the World you can add Certified Guitar Player Tommy Emmanuel, who gave a spectacular concert last night (January 20, 2016) at the Pepperdine University Smothers Theatre in Malibu.

Read more: TOMMY EMMANUEL IN CONCERT

MARC COHN IN CONCERT

Pepperdine Smothers Theatre - JANUARY 16, 2016

Reflections on the 25th Anniversary
Of Walking in Memphis

By Ross Altman, PhD

Marc CohnSinger-Songwriter Marc Cohn broke through to a national audience 25 years ago with his 1991 hit Walking in Memphis. But before he could walk in Memphis this Cleveland songwriter had to fly there, and thereby hangs a tale. James Taylor no less gave him the idea—to break out of a spell of writer’s block. Taylor told him to “try a geographic,” change his locale, get out of familiar places and habits and shake his mind up so it might be receptive to new experiences and ideas. Marc Cohn was telling this story last night by way of introducing his hit song and how it came to be written.

Read more: WALKING IN MEMPHIS: MARC COHN IN CONCERT

Here Comes the Knight: Van Morrison Live

At the Shrine Auditorium - Friday January 15, 2016

By Ross Altman, PhD

Van MorrisonForget about Celtic Soul, forget about Irish Mystic, forget about Belfast Cowboy, and above all forget about 1970s soft-rock—all the comfortable hybrids we’ve grown accustomed to using to describe this now-70-year old Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer-songwriter from Northern Ireland. Last night I heard the greatest pure blues singer of my life in downtown Los Angeles at the Shrine Auditorium

Read more: HERE COMES THE KNIGHT: VAN MORRISON LIVE

THE JOE HILL 100 ROADSHOW ROLLS INTO TOWN

BURBANK IATSE LOCAL 80 - FRIDAY NOVEMBER 6, 2015

By Ross Altman, PhD

Joe Hill Roadshow Burbank flyerGrassroots superstar progressive troubadour David Rovics and the Joe Hill Road Show 100 rolled into town last night at the most fitting venue imaginable—a union hall in Burbank. It was like the reappearance of the Almanac Singers circa 2015—for as Woody said, “You never knew which ones were going to show up for any particular show.” The lineup for the Joe Hill Road Show changes depending on which part of the country they are in, what the airfares happen to be and what the local conditions are on the ground.

Read more: THE JOE HILL 100 ROADSHOW ROLLS INTO TOWN

AN EVENING WITH RANDY NEWMAN:

IN CONCERT AT ROYCE HALL - OCTOBER 3, 2015

I LOVE (UC) LA

By Ross Altman PhD

Randy NewmanNo introduction, no fanfare, no preliminary announcements of upcoming events—when the lights went down at a few minutes after 8:00pm Randy Newman—dressed in a simple black pullover with a gold abstract design on the front, black jeans and worn tennis shoes—walked purposefully yet somewhat diffidently from the wings across to center stage, where a roar of applause and anticipation met his silent bow and whimsical smile. 

Read more: AN EVENING WITH RANDY NEWMAN

MARTY STUART AND HIS FABULOUS SUPERLATIVES

FROM MUSIC CITY TO SURF CITY

LISA SMITH WENGLER CENTER FOR THE ARTS

AT PEPPERDINE UNIVERSITY IN MALIBU: THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 17, 2015

By Ross Altman, PhD

martystuart polaroid8bw2When he was thirteen years old Marty Stuart ran away to join the circus—the Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs bluegrass band. He was a child prodigy on both guitar and mandolin and at thirteen became their lead mandolin player. He never looked back.

I had a near-death experience last night in Malibu, ninety minutes in Heaven that made me a believer—in Marty Stuart’s recreation of the traditional country music I grew up on—and have long since stopped hearing on any radio station or TV show claiming to broadcast country music today. I thought it no longer existed, except in my dusty LP record collection.

Read more: MARTY STUART AND HIS FABULOUS SUPERLATIVES

TOM PAXTON SAYS FAREWELL ON 9/11

THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES: AT MCCABE’S GUITAR SHOP (SEPTEMBER 11, 2015)

By Ross Altman, PhD

Tom Paxton

Dylan, Paxton and Ochs

Started out singing for Cokes

Bob super-starred; Phil died hard

But Tom still sings for the folks.

~Ross Altman

The last thing on Tom Paxton’s mind last Friday night at McCabe’s was that this may be the last time he would be there. He still had a show to do, and a great show it was.

Read more: TOM PAXTON SAYS FAREWELL ON 9/11

FROM APPALACHIA TO BULGARIA:

SOARING TONES, RAUCOUS RHYTHMS TO FILL LITTLE TOKYO THEATER

By Audrey Coleman

Varimezov  and VOCOHas your musical diet has been lacking world and traditional music lately? On Saturday, April 18 at the Aratani Theatre, you’ll have a chance to gorge yourself, aurally speaking. Fans of Moira Smiley and her VOCO ensemble know that her repertoire ranges from traditional American shape note singing to heart-rending East European melodies and on to provocative creations combining vocal lines with percolating body percussion. What a gift to Los Angeles lovers of world and traditional music that these musicians will share a program with the world-renowned Varimezov Family Band.

Read more: FROM APPALACHIA TO BULGARIA - Varimezov and VOCO

MARTIN CARTHY: THE GHOST IN THE ATTIC

BAEZ, DYLAN, AND SIMON’S EARLY INFLUENCE COMES TO MCCABE’S APRIL 4, 2015

By Ross Altman, PhD

Martin and Eliza Carthy
Photo by Ron Crum.

Are you going to Scarborough Fair? Not without Martin Carthy you’re not, Mr. Paul Simon; who stole Carthy’s arrangement and album title from the British traditional song for Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. Nor was Bob Dylan dreaming when he wrote Bob Dylan’s Dream for Freewheelin’ in 1963; he too stole Martin Carthy’s arrangement of the British traditional ballad Lord Franklin’s Lament for the tune without credit. And don’t leave out Joan Baez; she too was poaching the king’s deer—for songs like The Trees They Do Grow High, and Queen of Hearts.

Read more: MARTIN CARTHY: THE GHOST IN THE ATTIC

THE CONFESSIONS OF ARLO GUTHRIE, CONFIDENCE MAN

FOR 50TH ANNIVERSARY TOUR

DISNEY HALL, APRIL 6, 2015

By Ross Altman, PhD

Arlo with Woody stampThe greatest German novelist of the 20th Century started a novel in 1911 that he didn’t finish until 1954—about a confidence man named Felix Krull who pulls his greatest con against a medical officer in charge of his military physical to process him for conscription into the army. Krull tries to beat the system by feigning a serious illness (epilepsy) so as to be disqualified from serving. In the process he pretends that he is entirely pro-military and wants nothing more than to be drafted and serve his country—even promoting the lowly officer up the ranks to that of major before the physical is completed. The scene he creates is so absurd as to defy belief, inspire gut-wrenching laughter and finally disqualify him from the army. The novel is entitled The Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man.

Read more: THE CONFESSIONS OF ARLO GUTHRIE, CONFIDENCE MAN

LEO KOTTKE IN CONCERT - AS GOOD AS IT GETS

PEPPERDINE UNIVERSITY - SMOTHERS’ THEATRE—LISA SMITH WENGLER CENTER FOR THE ARTS - JANUARY 31, 2015

By Ross Altman, PhD

Leo KottkeHe fingerpicks without fingerpicks, can’t keep a steady beat, spends half his time tuning on stage, and the other half lamenting the fact that he wanted to be a trombone player—will somebody teach Leo Kottke to play guitar? Unfortunately, he is the best guitar player in the country, which limits his choice of qualified instructors. That’s the bad news.

Read more: LEO KOTTKE IN CONCERT - AS GOOD AS IT GETS

CAT STEVENS-YUSUF IN CONCERT

NO SEX, NO DRUGS, NO ROCK AND ROLL—GOT FOLK?

AT THE NOKIA THEATRE—LA LIVE - DECEMBER 14, 2014

By Ross Altman

Cat Stevens with D-28England’s greatest mathematician, pacifist and philanderer once said of Austria’s greatest logician and language philosopher: “Ludwig Wittgenstein came to Cambridge and taught the English to speak their own language.” Bertrand Russell, meet Cat Stevens. With his new album Tell ‘Em I’m Gone—from the Lead Belly chain gang song Take This Hammer—English folk singer Cat Stevens has come to the U.S. and taught Americans to sing our own folk songs—black, blues, and even the singing cowboy Gene Autry classic (written by former Louisiana Governor Jimmy Davis) You Are My Sunshine, a song relegated to nursing home sing along song sheets until Cat reshaped it into a modern blues and made it shine all over again—as he did with Lead Belly.

Read more: CAT STEVENS-YUSUF IN CONCERT

MERLE HAGGARD: CLOSE ENOUGH TO TOUCH A LEGEND

LIVE IN CONCERT AT THE CANYON CLUB IN AGOURA HILLS - DECEMBER 9, 2014

By Ross Altman

Merle HaggardAll Merle Haggard had to do was walk on stage last night at the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills and the audience was in the palm of his weather-beaten hands. He squinted out into the footlights (subject of a song he recorded with the late George Jones, We’ll Kick the Footlights Out) and tipped his dark brown Fedora and the audience roared its approval in anticipation of a great concert. He hadn’t even picked up his guitar.

A great concert it was, but that doesn’t begin to describe it: From San Quentin to the Kennedy Center, where the 77-year-old country music legend was honored 4 years ago, the man his friends call simply Hag has come to embody the core American values his fans came to embrace: hard work, hard times, hard time and hard drinking—all surrounded by a soft heart and animated by a keen eye.

Read more: MERLE HAGGARD: CLOSE ENOUGH TO TOUCH A LEGEND

Dirk Hamilton: Reconsider Me

HOW WARREN ZEVON’S ROADKILL BECAME LA’S WHITE RODRIGUEZ

AT THE ALVA SHOWROOM IN SAN PEDRO - NOVEMBER 22, 2014

By Ross Altman, PhD

Dirk HamiltonNine months before the Oscar-winning movie Searching for Sugar Man was released in July of 2012 Los Angeles had its own white Rodriguez hiding in plain sight in San Pedro at the Alva Showroom, where he first performed in November of 2011. Rodriguez we now know was a hit in South Africa long before he was discovered and became a belated star in his own land—where he had recorded his first two records in 1970 and ‘71 in Detroit—and then fell off the radar screen of contemporary music.

Read more: DIRK HAMILTON: RECONSIDER ME

MICHAEL CHAPDELAINE’S GUITAR RIDES WITH HIM

CONCERT AT THE PASADENA CONSERVATORY OF MUSIC TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 18, 2014

By Ross Altman

Michael ChapdelaineHow good was National Fingerstyle Guitar Champion Michael Chapdelaine’s performance of solo instrumentals last night at the Pasadena Conservatory of Music? It was jaw-dropping, head-scratching, finger-picking good—that’s how good it was. But that wasn’t the most amazing thing about it. The most amazing thing about it was that it happened at all.

Read more: MICHAEL CHAPDELAINE’S GUITAR RIDES WITH HIM

DILLON IN DODGE

DYLAN AT THE DOLBY: OCTOBER 24, 2014

By Ross Altman, PhD

Dylan 2Hollywood may have stopped making Westerns, but Bob Dylan hasn’t. Marshall Dillon rode into Dodge City last night and restored law and order. The good guys won without firing a shot—but by the end the bad guys were behind bars. Who were they? Political corruption and decadence (Early Roman Kings), hard times and working class poverty (Workingman Blues #2), natural disasters (High Water Everywhere (for Charley Patton)), existential despair (Tangled Up in Blue) and war and injustice (Blowing In the Wind).

Read more: DILLON IN DODGE

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JOHN PRINE:

PRINE TIME AT THE GREEK - OCTOBER 5, 2014

By Ross Altman

John PrineJohn Prine beat cancer—twice—so it was especially meaningful to hear when halfway through his sold-out show at the Greek Theatre last Sunday night a fan screamed out “Happy Birthday, John!!!” He piped back, “Not quite yet, but thanks.” John Prine was born October 10, 1946, just two months less a day before me in fact—and judging from his two bouts with cancer—squamous cell cancer in 1998 that cost him a part of his neck, cheek bone and some high notes—and an unrelated lung cancer last year—that cost him some cancelled bookings—he must feel lucky to be celebrating his 68th birthday at all.

You’d never know it, however, from the powerful, high energy folk blues tunes he worked in between his signature laconic Midwest story songs of ordinary people caught between hope and history—the poetry of everyday life’s unsung heroes he has chronicled with more insight and empathy than any American songwriter of the past forty years.

Read more: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JOHN PRINE

GORDON LIGHTFOOT AT THE SABAN THEATRE:

DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS - SEPTEMBER 27, 2014

By Ross Altman

Gordon LightfootI got taken by a creative con artist at Gordon Lightfoot’s concert last night at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills—taken for my extra ticket so graciously offered by theatre publicity manager Luanne Nast. In exchange for my FolkWorks Preview of the concert (Gordon Lightfoot: A True Night Upon the Road) she gave me a press pass + 1, which it turned out I didn’t need. When I got to the theatre, before going to the box office window I was approached by a down-at-the-heels slight-looking bearded man-on-the-street straight out of an O. Henry story who, of course, “had a certain charm about him.”

He smiled at me and started singing If You Could Read My Mind and asked me if I had an extra ticket. He looked like someone who couldn’t afford to pay for one, and I thought in an instant maybe here is an opportunity to do a random act of kindness, a mitzvah just in time for Rosh Hashanah. He read my mind perfectly—an easy mark—and I said, “Wait a minute, I just might.” After a recent disappointment with a promised press pass that did not materialize I never count my press passes until I hold them in my hand. When I got to the window there they were as promised—and an aisle seat at that just as I had requested so my guest would be able to take an unscheduled restroom break without disturbing the entire row: Orchestra, Row DD (fourth row from the stage) seats 113 and 114—$125 face value each (concealed by a big fat “O” (for O Henry?) where the price would have been).

Read more: GORDON LIGHTFOOT AT THE SABAN THEATRE

A THING OF BEAUTY

DON MCLEAN AND JUDY COLLINS IN CONCERT

AT THE FOX PERFORMING ARTS CENTER IN RIVERSIDE - JULY 25, 2014

By Ross Altman

Judy Collins - Don McLean

Legendary singer-songwriter Don McLean and living angel Judy Collins brought a show to Riverside last night that was one for the ages—and the times we live in. Judy Collins, looking resplendent in a simple black sequined pant suit highlighted by her shining silver hair flowing down her shoulders gave the most moving tribute to her “old friend Pete Seeger” of all the tributes I have heard since he passed away last January 27.

She offered her heartfelt narrative of her friendship with America’s Tuning Fork from the time she walked into Pete’s (and her soon-to-be) manager Harold Leventhal’s office fifty years ago only to find Pete stretched out fast asleep on the floor his banjo by his side and heard Leventhal say quietly but firmly, “Shh! Don’t wake him! He’s resting for three shows I am taking him to this afternoon; this is his only chance to get some sleep!” She then recounted the thrill of singing Turn, Turn, Turn with him on his self-produced folk TV show Rainbow Quest on a small public station (“before PBS was even invented!” she told us)—a performance which you can still enjoy on YouTube.

Read more: DON MCLEAN AND JUDY COLLINS IN CONCERT

RICHARD THOMPSON PLAYED REAL GOOD FOR FREE

AT THE LEVITT PAVILION IN MACARTHUR PARK - JULY 10, 2014

By Ross Altman

Richard Thompson

But the one man band

By the quick lunch stand

He was playing real good for free

~Joni Mitchell

If you wanted to see the best concert in town last night you were at the Levitt Pavilion in MacArthur Park where Richard Thompson held court for an hour and a half—alternating between his Fender Stratocaster—the instrument behind his last album Electric—and his Irish-made Lowden guitar—the instrument behind the collection he had on sale for the folkies in the audience like me—Acoustic Classics—gathered together from live performances. It was a tour de force of masterful guitar accompaniment highlighting his dark world of original songs—but for two encores, which we’ll get to in a moment—going all the way back to Fairport Convention in the 1960s and later when he and his wife Linda added folk rock to the British Invasion.

Read more: RICHARD THOMPSON PLAYED REAL GOOD FOR FREE

JOAN BAEZ & GINGER AT THE GREEK

WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD DOGS— JULY 3, 2014

By Ross Altman

Joan BaezI never thought I’d be reviewing a dog for FolkWorks, but Joan Baez’s Dog-God-Dock Boggs-and-Bob Tour just rolled into town and I knew you’d want to hear about it. Her dog Ginger stole the show without even playing guitar. The late great actor Jack Lemmon when asked if he had any advice for young actors boiled it down to this: “Never do a play with a dog—they’ll steal every scene they are in.” Whenever she’d get up and approach the front of the stage to get a better look at the limousine liberals in the first three rows Joan would quip, “Attention follows motion, not sound,” meaning if the audience would stop moving around, so would Ginger. She was also given a tall glass of water during the show, and Joan let us know that she “couldn’t sing until Ginger had finished her water.” As far as I know she wasn’t a seeing-eye dog, so why was she on stage at the—ahem, Greek Theatre? It seems that Joan Baez has been stricken with a sudden crisis of lack of self-confidence and thinks she needs a huge bag of tricks to hold the audience’s attention—I assume we can all look forward to a dog-and-pony show the next time she is in town. (Memo to Joan: you know Dylan has a dog too—judging from the back cover of Self Portrait—but he doesn’t put him on stage when he’s performing.) Anyway, Ginger did a great job of being just who she is—a dog—and all Joan would have to do to present a great concert is to be just who she is—a folk singer—in case she has forgotten.

Read more: JOAN BAEZ & GINGER AT THE GREEK

HOMAGE TO THEO

CONCERT CELEBRATING THEODORE BIKEL’S 90TH BIRTHDAY

AT THE SABAN THEATRE IN BEVERLY HILLS - JUNE 16, 2014

By Ross Altman

Theo BikelHow Jewish was this event? Even the Holocaust denier out in front was Jewish. He held up a sign warning about the “Holohoax” that the “Zionists” were trying to perpetrate. He needed a nose job and twenty years of psychotherapy to get over being a self-hating Jew. I know my people. And he did too. Where would he find more Jews to rile than at a 90th birthday party for Theo? His name was on the marquee, and there were lines around the block. I asked a fellow landsman if he had tickets. “No, this is for Will Call.” I did have tickets—from the box office two months ago. Just like Eric Darling, we walked right in.

Theodore Bikel, folk singer, actor, activist and newlywed turned 90 years old on May 2nd; a few of his friends—including Arlo Guthrie, Tom Paxton, Peter Yarrow and fellow thespian Ed Asner held a little soiree to celebrate the occasion last night at Beverly Hills “Temple of the Performing Arts,” the Saban Theatre. It was a Hootenanny in the grand old tradition, with fifteen performers—including the Limelighters’ Alex Hassilev who bore an eerie resemblance to a younger Theo—taking their turns at the microphone on center stage, and politicians, labor leaders and recording executives conveying their gratitude to the man who brought (in both senses) the Sound of Music to America. We could have had better seats. If I were a rich man.

Read more: HOMAGE TO THEO

ERIC ANDERSEN WITH VAN DYKE PARKS

AND THOU BESIDE ME AT MCCABE’S JUNE 7, 2014

By Ross Altman

Eric Andersen
Photo by Carol Rothman.

“McCabe’s is the Old Gray Mare of Santa Monica” said their dedicated concert curator Lincoln Meyerson as he introduced this evening’s show; “if there’s a fire just grab a favorite guitar off the wall and escape through the nearest exit.” And after letting us know that the last of the Brooklyn cowboys, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, would be there on Saturday, June 28, he brought Eric Andersen down from their fabled upstairs green room—who was escorted by Pasadena resident and American music legend Van Dyke Parks, who backed him up on a humongous accordion throughout the concert. It was a magical evening of musical mayhem and insider storytelling from the legendary Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse—ahem, Greenwich Village—with Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and Tom Paxton.

Andersen was an integral part of the Greenwich Village folk scene that inspired a renaissance of idealistic songwriting from broadside balladeers Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, Buffy St. Marie, Fred Neil, Len Chandler and Eric Andersen himself.

Read more: ERIC ANDERSEN WITH VAN DYKE PARKS

ONLY IN AMERICA: RODRIGUEZ AT THE GREEK

MAY 30, 2014

By Ross Altman

Rodriquez

I wonder

sings Rodriguez,

How many times you’ve had sex

And I wonder

If you know who’ll be next.

Then, at the end of this great song, he confides to the nearly sold-out Greek Theatre audience, “I wonder, but I don’t really want to know.” It brings down the house. Well, I wonder a few things too. For example, I wonder what Rodriguez is thinking when the opening act—a slender young woman with an enormous voice—promotes her soon-to-be-released first album after every song, going through the track list one by one.

Read more: ONLY IN AMERICA: RODRIGUEZ AT THE GREEK

STRAIGHT OUT OF COMPTON: KEB’ MO’

AN EVENING AT THE GRAMMY MUSEUM: MAY 14, 2014

By Ross Altman

Keb MoTall, dark and strikingly handsome, Keb’ Mo’ (born Kevin Roosevelt Moore, October 3, 1951) was born and raised in Los Angeles, a long way from the Mississippi Delta, but he has made the Delta Blues his own as if it was his birthright. If you thought that the best contemporary blues guitarists are old white guys who learned their trade from the likes of Reverend Gary Davis and Mississippi John Hurt—such as the recently reviewed John Hammond, David Bromberg, Stefan Grossman and Roy Book Binder—think again. Keb’ Mo’ is living proof that contemporary black performers have continued the tradition of their great black forebears with every bit as much dedication and bluesmanship as Robert Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Big Bill Broonzy.

Read more: KEB’ MO’ AT GRAMMY MUSEUM

ERIC ANDERSEN AT THE HORNS, WATFORD ENGLAND

TUESDAY 15 APRIL

By Rosa Redoz

Eric Anderson current“It’s Tuesday evening in Watford, think about it.” said Eric Andersen, sounding as surprised as we were to be in a Victorian pub on a fine April evening, being serenaded by Albert Camus’ centenary composer.

Accompanied by the stunning Michele Gazich on violin, Andersen performed a wonderful 10 song set including his Bob Dylan recorded Thirsty Boots and the divine ballad Violets of Dawn.

Even the sound check, after a brief but rocking few songs from the great Ben Reel Band, silenced the Newcastle Brown Ale swilling clientele. There was a power and grace in Andersen’s delivery that promised us a special set. 

Opening with Dusty Boxcar Wall with Andersen on acoustic and the whooping syncopation of Gazich on violin he went on to the country rock and rhythm of Dance Of Love And Death. The vivacity of the lyrics were balanced by the elegant flights of fantasy of the violin runs.

His hit song, Violets of Dawn sounded like an old Irish love lament. To misquote Plato ‘we recognise rather than discover what we love’. Even songs that were new to me felt like I’d always known them. The imagery of this songpoet’s words are worthy of the pastoral musings of Keats or Clare.

Before the flashing cloaks of darkness gone

Come see the no colors fade blazing

Into petal sprays of violets of dawn

His voice is strong and tuneful and Michele Gazich’s fills were generous. They are a lovely team.

Read more: ERIC ANDERSEN AT THE HORNS

Beauty’s Currency: Janis Ian and Tom Paxton

Barbican, London 25.3.14

By Rosa Redoz

FolkWorks’ British correspondent Rosa Redoz reviews Ian and Paxton’s Together At Last Tour.

Tom Paxton - Janis Ian posterBeauty is a strange currency. Janis Ian’s ode to a youth impoverished by plainness is a lilting bossa nova gem. Had she thought herself endowed with familiar features the art would not have been created.

“That seat will go.” said my neighbour as I spread my coat on an adjacent spare seat in the sold out concert in the Barbican, London on Tuesday evening.

“Have you seen Janis Ian before?” she asked me. “I did a few years ago and she was fabulous.”

And they were; from the moment Tom Paxton and Janis Ian took to the stage with Robin Bullock on mandolin.

“Yes we all still sing songs of hope and peace,” said Paxton after a fine opening rendition of How Beautiful upon the Mountain - the harmonies were perfect; the mandolin fills were divine and I caught glimpses of the extraordinary guitar skill Ian was to reveal as the set continued.

From my seat, one row from the stage, I thought initially she was playing a bass. But her diminutive height and virtuoso playing combined to deceive. She makes one instrument into an entire band.

This Old Town was a sublime dustbowl ballad. It will now be required listening by my Steinbeck students!

This old town was built by hand

In the dust bowl of the motherland

There must be rock beneath this sand

Oh' I'll be damned, this town still stands.

Read more: Beauty’s Currency: Janis Ian and Tom Paxton

David Bromberg:
Who Put the Jangle in Mr. Bojangles?

In Concert at McCabe’s March 16, 2014

By Ross Altman

David BrombergThere are guitarists, and then there are guitarists. And then there is David Bromberg, the guitarist who put the jangle in Mr. Bojangles, Jerry Jeff Walker’s hit song about Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, the legendary African-American tap dancer who was for black America what Fred Astaire was to white America—the standard against which all others would be judged. But before you even heard Jerry Jeff’s voice on his signature recording, you already were captured by its descending bass-line guitar intro hook—that made you see Mr. Bojangles descending a staircase—as he did in one of his famous dance routines. It was musical magic at its finest—and the guitarist who came up with it was David Bromberg.

To see him live at McCabe’s last night was pure acoustic artistry that comes along about as often as that great dancer—once in a generation—if you’re lucky.

We were lucky to hear him—solo (for the most part) acoustic—just Bromberg and his orchestral vintage Martin D-28 sitting on stage in front of McCabe’s legendary microphone—where so many great musicians have now stood—and none greater than David Bromberg; if you love folk music, Bromberg is as good as it gets. And it is truly a rare pleasure to get to hear him solo; on his current tour every one of his other bookings is with his band, or at larger venues his “Big Band.” I prefer the one-man band and he gave us a very generous two and a half hour concert with one intermission, two standing ovations and three—three!—encores.

Read more: David Bromberg

Warmed by Rodriguez

By Rosa Redoz

Sixto RodriquezEventim (Hammersmith) Apollo London March 13 2014.

FolkWorks British correspondent Rosa Redoz filed this report from Rodriguez’s new European Tour before he heads across the Atlantic to his hometown of Detroit and on to the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles on May 30.

Turning to his band, the slightly stooped but sharp suited Rodriguez, applauded them warmly. They had just rolled through ‘Lucille’. Rodriguez’s pick had dis-attached and the lead guitarist had continued his solo while performing emergency repairs on the star’s guitar. They had not missed a beat.

Warmth was the evening’s watchword.

Read more: Warmed by Rodriguez

FOLK MUTANTS SPAWNED FROM CYBERSPACE COLLISIONS

SHEL AT HOTEL CAFÉ – JANUARY 28, 2014

By Jonathan Shifflett

SHELA folk ensemble consisting of a violinist, mandolin player, keyboardist and beat-boxing djembe player might at first seem like a group struggling with identity. The members of SHEL filed on stage at 7 o'clock sharp, wearing casual dress, one with suspenders and another in a customized top hat. By 7:03 it was clear that they could not only play the heck out of their instruments but that they could successfully combine their varied, folk influences into a unified image. The four sisters that comprise SHEL compliment instrumental precociousness and dynamic sensitivity with folk-pop compositions. The subtle interactions of chiding glances, wry smiles and a witty exchanges were indications of the personal and musical familiarity that bonds them. As Sarah said at the start, "If you haven't guessed yet, we're sisters. And our dad is very proud, just in case you were wondering." The group visited Hollywood on the start of a tour that will take them through the Midwest, stopping over in the Virgin Islands before returning to their home state of Colorado.

Read more: SHEL

For Musicians Only:
Joan Baez's Set List

From the UCLA Live! Royce Hall Concert

February 19, 2009

By Ross Altman

1)      Lily of the West-Traditional; key* (see below)  of Gm, capo 3rd fret; play Em

2)      Scarlett Tide-new song from Day After Tomorrow by Elvis Costello and T-Bone Burnett;

3)      God Is God-from Day After Tomorrow by Steve Earle; key of Ab, capo 1st fret; play G;

4)      Silver Dagger-Traditional; key of E; capo 2nd fret; play D

5)      Love Song to a Stranger-by Joan Baez; key of Bb; capo 3rd fret; play G;

6)      Farewell Angelina-by Bob Dylan; key of C

7)      Gospel Ship-Carter Family; key of F#; capo 6th fret; play C;

8)      Christmas in Washington-by Steve Earle; key of G

9)      Catch the Wind-by Donovan; key of G

               (At this point in the concert I was tapped on the shoulder by a reporter sitting behind me who asked me to stop using my flashlight, so I was not able to write down most of the keys for the rest of her set, though I did get the titles);

10)  Rose of Sharon-new song from Day After Tomorrow by Eliza Gilkison

_____________________________________________________________

11)  (Solo Set) Long Black Veil-by Marijon Wilkins and Danny Dill

12)  Wanderer-from Day After Tomorrow by Steve Earle;

13)  Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word-by Bob Dylan;

14)  Jerusalem-by Steve Earle; key of G;

­­­­­­­­­­­­­______________________________________________________________

15)  (Band Returns) Honest Lullaby-by Joan Baez

16)  Sweet Sir Galahad-by Joan Baez

17)  Diamonds and Rust-by Joan Baez; key of Em

18)  Swing Low, Sweet Chariot-Traditional (sung A Capella)

      _____________________________________________________________

19)  Encores; Gracias a la Vida-by Violetta Para;

20)  The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down-by Robbie Robertson

*The key represents the key Joan sings in; the chords she plays are often different from the key, depending on which fret she capos the guitar, which I indicate separately-I only indicate the one chord which would determine the key were their no capo.  Her guitar arrangements are addressed in more detail on at least one web site.

By the way, these notations are for singers who accompany themselves on guitar; lead guitarist and the band's music director John Doyle never used a capo.

Ross Altman may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Stefan Grossman: The Picking Fool from Kicking Mule

In Concert at the Fret House in Covina - January 25, 2014

By Ross Altman

Stefan GrossmanKicking Mule Records co-founder fingerpicking guitarist Stefan Grossman sashayed into the Fret House in Covina last Saturday night and burned the house down. I mean he burned it down to the ground. With fingerpicking and ragtime and blues classics by Reverend Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James, Furry Lewis, Son House, Big Bill Broonzy, Merle Travis, Chet Atkins and an unspoken original tribute to the late great Steve Mann (the title song of his CD Blues for the Mann), going all the way back to the birth of the blues with William C. Handy’s St. Louis Blues. It was a night of the best guitar playing this side of Heaven, because you won’t find any of these guitar masters still alive down here on earth.

Thanks to Stefan Grossman’s obsession with the six-string unplugged acoustic guitar, however, their music still lives—and not just lives but thrives.

Read more: Stefan Grossman: The Picking Fool from Kicking Mule

Dylan Smiled at Me

Royal Albert Hall 11-27-2013

By Rosa Redoz

FolkWorks readers; it’s my pleasure to introduce you to my British correspondent, Rosa Redoz; this is her first appearance in FolkWorks. (Submitted by Ross Altman)

Dylan - RAH PosterDylan turned and smiled at me. Bashful, happy and awkward. As near as 5 paving slabs away. As near as half a bus. He turned. I cheered and clapped .

He’d been watching us from the bus. I got to the back entrance of the Albert Hall before seven and walking to my seats behind the stage I passed a blacked out bus. The security boy told us that he was aboard.

An unassuming man in baggy jeans, a baseball hat, old, young probably near my age 50 or 60. He was pointed out to us as Dylan’s fixer, his PA. When I learnt this I looked at him and we shared a mother’s smile. Recognised.

And at 7 I looked up at the dark windows. Wondering if the band were sitting nicely on the bus facing forward swapping sweets and stories, like on a Sunday school outing. Of course it must be a rock starry lounge, alone waiting to go to work. Like before teaching an evening class. Tired and anxious.

‘Please take your seats; Bob Dylan will be on stage in 3 minutes.’

The security boy assured me I could still get in. He was young with a clear face and interested to learn about Dylan. Like a schoolchild being introduced to Tolstoy. At the end of the concert I saw him sitting with a handsome grey short haired Chinese American lady.

Read more: Dylan Smiled at Me

David Brewer and Rebecca Lomnicky

Boulevard Music, January 12, 2014

The two worlds of Scottish fiddle & bagpipe

By Roland Sturm

David and RebeccaThe vast majority of Scottish bagpipers in the world today musically reside in pipe and drum marching bands; fiddlers, only in piper-less sessions. Rarely do their paths cross, but the duo of Rebecca Lomnicky and David Brewer merge these two different worlds. Currently residing in Ithaca, New York, they were on the last leg of their first West Coast US tour and I had a chance to see them at Boulevard Music on January 12. It was a terrific show and I hope they come back soon.

The show was scheduled at relatively short notice, so few people knew about it. Being on a Sunday night early in January probably did not help with turnout, so the audience was small, but enthusiastic. Listeners were treated to an outstanding concert that I think people eventually will remember as one of the best of 2014.

David Brewer is a multi-instrumentalist who has toured with the Scottish super-group Old Blind Dogs and with Molly's Revenge across the US, the UK, Canada, China, and Australia.

Read more: David Brewer and Rebecca Lomnicky

Don McLean:
The Night the Music Lived

In Concert at the Saban Theatre
in Beverly Hills - December 13, 2013

By Ross Altman

Don McLeanFirst we got hit on by a friendly alky who chatted us up with assurances that we were “the perfect couple; you look just beautiful together. Are you married?” We are friends, but flattery got him somewhere and Jill wound up buying him vodka—which ran up her own $4 bar tab by about $20. Welcome to Beverly Hills, where the stars come out in droves.

I didn’t see any folk singers, except for yours truly, but if you were there, you heard a great concert from someone who used to be a folk singer and then wrote a song about “the day the music died” that vaulted him into the upper echelons of pop superstardom. You may have heard it; indeed if you have lived anywhere near planet Earth in the past four decades and change you could not very well have missed it, since even Garth Brooks performs it in concert, and sang it on the National Mall for Obama’s Inauguration.

Read more: Don McLean: The Night the Music Lived

Tom Paxton and Tonto Ride Again

In Concert at McCabe’s - November 23rd, 2013

By Ross Altman

Tom Paxton and Fred SokolowTom Paxton may be the daring and resourceful masked songwriter of the plains, but the Lone Ranger doesn’t ride alone. In his most recent concert appearance at McCabe’s last Saturday he was accompanied throughout by LA’s master multi-instrumentalist Fred Sokolow—who played dobro, banjo, guitar and mandolin to add musical depth and texture to Paxton’s deep catalogue of wonderful songs going all the back to 1960, when he came out of Uncle Sam’s Army with his first keeper—The Marvelous Toy, a children’s classic that is now also a beautifully illustrated children’s book.

Read more: Concert Review Tom Paxton

DOC’S GUITAR? STRING MADNESS HAS IT

LIVE AT WESTWOOD MUSIC

NOVEMBER 10, 2013

By Ross Altman

String Madness Arthur Rubenstein and a violinist were in Carnegie Hall for 16-year old Jascha Heifitz concert debut when his seatmate took out his handkerchief and wiped his brow. A few minutes later his seatmate took out another handkerchief and wiped his face of the sweat. A few minutes later he asked Rubenstein if he had an extra handkerchief. “It’s getting kind of warm in here, isn’t it?” he asked. “Not for us piano players,” replied Rubenstein.

That’s how I felt in the backroom of Westwood Music yesterday afternoon, for String Madness debut performance at Fred Walecki’s legendary music store—you know—the one that set up Neil Young’s and Joni Mitchell’s guitars, not to mention Ry Cooder’s.

It got awful warm in there, listening to acoustic guitarists Mitch Greenhill and Peter Spelman, and mandolinist Bob Applebaum. They put on a show the likes of which you might hope to see at Carnegie Hall, not your friendly neighborhood guitar hangout.

Read more: STRING MADNESS LIVE AT WESTWOOD

JORDIE LANE at HOTEL CAFÉ

October 16, 2013

By Jonathan Shifflett

Jordie LaneFolk singer-songwriter, Jordie Lane, performed a set of acoustic ballads last Wednesday at the Hotel Cafe. Nestled back behind the busiest strip of Cahuenga, the dimly lit venue is a cozy refuge from Hollywood bar hoppers. An attraction for high profile, low amplitude performers, it was the perfect setting for an evening of silky fingerpicking and melodic storytelling from one of Australia's rising talents.

Adorned with a vintage Gibson acoustic, a wide-brimmed, felt hat and an exceptional half-beard, Jordie Lane appeared at first to be just another LA hipster. However, no sooner than his Aussie twang talked of Vegemite, kale smoothies and a failed attempt to recreate a Tim Horton sausage McMuffin, preconceptions of his hipster haughtiness vanished.

Recounting his recent Canadian tour in terms of fast-food breakfast stops, he casually described a grueling tour schedule. The 26-year-old continues with an Australian tour next week with Old Time banjo songster Old Man Luedecke, playing on through the New Year and performing 55 shows in nearly 40 cities.

Read more: JORDIE LANE at HOTEL CAFÉ

Dylan From the Cheap Seats:

CONCERT REVIEW AND MORE

Verizon Amphitheatre in Irvine, CA - August 3, 2013

By Ross Altman

[Editors note: Review delayed in publishing due to vacation and memory lapse ... apologies to Ross who wrote this great review]

DylanWilco pulled a rabbit out of the hat last night at Bob Dylan’s Americanarama Fest—all five and a half hours of it at the Verizon Amphitheatre in Irvine, CA—formerly the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre before the terminal disease of corporate naming rights turned public jewels into private billboards. Bad idea. The rabbit stole the show.

The rabbit was Nancy Sinatra, the only female performer in the entire concert, and apparently the only one who knew what she wanted to say. Call it the redemption of Sonny Bono. It was Sonny who wrote her (uncredited) opening song—Bang Bang, (My Baby Shot Me Down). It was first a hit for Cher—echoing his parting shot to her years before the divorce—that turned into a parting gift when it hit the charts. Nancy Sinatra, like her old man, knew a good song when she heard one, and made a hit out of it as well.

If you thought of Sonny as only the straight man in the duo, and a cheap Dylan imitator with his best-known song, I Got You Babe, think again. Cher was unquestionably the beauty—and proved by far to be the better singer and entertainer—becoming a superstar on her own—the late great former mayor of Palm Springs—where Old Blue Eyes lived—was the brains of the outfit. He designed their act, and wrote their songs.

Read more: Bob Dylan August 3 2013 Concert Review

CONCERT REVIEW: SAUSAGE GRINDER

Presented by FolkWorks: September 7, 2013

By Jonathan Shifflett

SAUSAGE GRINDERHad you walked by the Santa Monica History Museum last Saturday night, the tall glass windows would have revealed an unusual sight - four musicians surrounded by guitars, mandolins and banjos (to name a few) and an audience of kazoos playing along to Howard Armstrong's Vine Street Drag. If this didn't entice you to stay, or if you were turned off by the fact that it was, by that point, standing room only, I can say that you missed out on a program of American (and Ukrainian) string band music, performed with all of the integrity of Depression era ramblers and gamblers.

David Bragger (fiddle, banjo, mandolin), Chris Berry (guitar, banjo, vocals), Susan Platz (fiddle, washboard, vocals) and Tim Riley (jug, washboard, bones, jaw harp, harmonica, guitar, mandolin, bagpipes, musical saw… you get the point) comprise the folk phantasmagoria that is Sausage Grinder.

Read more: Sausage Grinder Concert

Maria Muldaur:

The Hardest Working Woman in Show Business

Live at McCabe’s - June 28, 2013

By Ross Altman

Maria MuldaurIf James Brown had a younger sister I think I just saw her. ”Don’t you feel my leg,” sang Maria Muldaur as she brought her Louisiana barrelhouse bonanza of a fifteen song set to an electrifying, teasing, sold-out crowd-pleasing close last night at McCabe’s usually sedate acoustic concert venue—“’cause if you do you’re gonna want to touch my thigh.”

The 10:00pm show was delayed by the crush of her loyal fans to get one more picture, one more autograph, buy one more CD from the 8:00pm show, so by the time Maria Muldaur sailed into David Nichtern’s Midnight at the Oasis during the late show’s final “Big Three” it may well have been midnight at McCabe’s. It would have made for a perfect setting for her hit song from 1973, which she pointed out was forty years and forty albums ago. “You won’t need no camel,” she let the lyric out languorously, “when I take you for a ride.” Ms. Muldaur was personally responsible for a baby boomlet that year, as nine months after her recording burst onto the radio an unusual spike occurred in the number of babies born. “Glad I was able to help,” is her twinkling reply to the now forty and younger fans who think of her as the fertility goddess and tell her she was responsible for their conception. Needless to add, we all sent our camels to bed.

Read more: Maria Muldaur concert review

Maria Muldaur
and the Campbell Brothers

Hot August Night at the Skirball:
Sunset Concert Series

August 22, 2013

By Ross Altman

Maria Muldaur - Campbell BrothersI love LA! But not for the reasons Randy Newman does. It has nothing to do with the beach or the blondes or Ventura Blvd or the perfect weather. No, I love LA because where else can you go to our major Jewish cultural institution and wind up at a Christian revival meeting? I kid you not; I know my people, and you could not spit without hitting a landsman at the concert I went to last night—Maria Muldaur and The Campbell Brothers Sacred Steel at The Skirball Center’s Sunset Concert Series—a beautiful outdoor venue snuggled against the rolling hills at the crest of the 405 Freeway gridlock.

Please don’t tell my Rabbi where I was; you see I was supposed to be at another meeting across town at The Steve Allen Theatre—the Daniel Pearl Foundation’s annual Panel Discussion by journalists from countries that have no Jews and don’t recognize Israel—like Bangladesh and Pakistan (where Daniel Pearl was murdered on February 1, 2002)—moderated by—whom else—The Jewish Journal editor Rob Eshelman, where these three young reporters have been interning for a week as a part of their fellowships.

Read more: Maria Muldaur and the Campbell Brothers

Tom Rush: Dean of Cambridge Folk Scene

Live at McCabe’s May 17, 2013

By Ross Altman

Tom RushFresh off a 50th Anniversary concert outing at Symphony Hall in Boston, where he held forth in a tailored white suit and all-star supporting cast, Tom Rush downsized it at McCabe’s last Friday night, where I caught the late show in levis and a tank top. For a band he had three guitars, his old D-28 set up for blues, his ancient D-18 for his finger-picking showdown with Merle Travis’ ghost, and his new signature model “Tom Rush Naked Lady” by Canadian online guitar retailer McKenzie and Marr, for his open-tuning masterpieces, on which he played two Joni Mitchell classics that he first introduced: Urge for Going and The Circle Game.

He met Joni Mitchell in Detroit in the early sixties and fell in love with her and her music and started recording her songs even before Judy Collins. Musically speaking it was a match made in heaven—nobody sings a love song better than Tom Rush, or writes one either. His own standard No Regrets has had more arrangements than Beethoven’s 5th, from folk to heavy metal to hip hop.

Read more: Tom Rush: Dean of Cambridge Folk Scene

Discovering Jordie Lane:

On Being John Hammond For a Day

In Concert at The Mint

May 13, 2013

By Ross Altman

Jordie LaneWho wouldn’t want to be John Hammond for a day? The man who discovered Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen? Well, that’s how I felt last night at The Mint on Pico Blvd just west of Fairfax, where folk singer Jordie Lane, newly arrived from Down Under was giving his American concert debut. He put on a great show and now I also know how it felt to be Robert Shelton at Gerdes Folk City in 1961, whose rave review alerted John Hammond to the new kid in Greenwich Village.

Like Dylan camping out on Dave Van Ronk’s couch when he first blew into town (recounted in Talking New York on his first album) Jordie Lane also had a story to tell: he and his girlfriend (who covered her Suzie Rotolo locks with an impressive headpiece) spent their first night sinking into an inflatable bed that mysteriously developed a hole and started losing air until by morning they were flat up against a hardwood floor. Hard times in LA Town, one could almost hear the song a-birthing.

Read more: Discovering Jordie Lane

Waiting for Sugar Man:

Rodriguez In Concert at the Orpheum Theatre

TUESDAY, April 16, 2013

By Ross Altman

RodriguezLast night I had the strangest dream—only it really happened. Something beautiful this way came to downtown Los Angeles. I waited two hours to see Sixto Rodriguez in concert at the Orpheum Theatre, but I didn’t grudge the time; Rodriguez waited forty years. I got there at 7:00pm thinking that’s when the sold out show started, since that was the only time listed on the tickets. Turned out that’s when the doors opened. Then when I got in for the 8:00pm start time there was an unlisted opening act—a very good guitarist and singer-songwriter from Denmark who had the thankless task of warming up the audience. He did a very nice half hour set, and it was another 35 minutes before Rodriguez’s band came out at 9:10pm. The audience greeted the band with a mixture of enthusiasm and frustration.

And then, to a standing ovation, Rodriguez appeared. Like Kirk Gibson in the bottom of the 9th in the 1988 World Series opener at Dodger Stadium, he hobbled up to home plate—with the aid of his two daughters on either side—and proceeded to hit one out of the park.

Read more: Waiting for Sugar Man - Rodriguez in Concert

ARLO GUTHRIE

Don’t Believe a Word He Says:
The Lone Ranger in Concert at Irvine Barclay Theatre

On Campus at UC Irvine

Sunday, April 14, 2014

By Ross Altman

Arlo GuthrieA long lone white-haired folk singer ambled onto the stage of the Irvine Barclay Theatre at UC Irvine yesterday with the most farfetched story you ever heard. Like some women claim to have run with wolves, he claimed to have been raised by Woody Guthrie, been dandled on the knee of Leadbelly, stowed away with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and learned the blues from Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee. Don’t believe a word of it; what will he come up with next? That Woody personally taught him the extra verses of This Land Is Your Land? He didn’t even have a band with him; that proves he must be an imposter; nor his multi-generational family—all of whom just happen to be named Guthrie too.

Sure, tell me another.

This long-haired hippie showed up with nothing but a Gibson J-200, a Martin M-38, a strange-looking 12-string that looked like it had been stolen from a Twilight Zone set; and an even stranger-sounding 6-string tuned to open G that he played an instrumental slack-key blues on he claimed to have composed himself.

Who is he kidding? Hey Arlo, somebody is touring this country all by himself, without Shenandoah, or any of your kids and grandkids, claiming to be you. Don’t you have a lawyer? Can’t you put a stop to this? This guy, whoever he is, put on a better show all by himself than I have heard your band do in twenty years.

Read more: Arlo Concert Review 2013

A Valentine for Janis Ian:

In Concert at Cal Tech in Pasadena

Saturday, March 23, 2013

By Ross Altman

Janis_Ian“Give me a good guitar and a place to stand,” said Leadbelly, “And I’ll rock this whole town.” The 1960s’ other Janis—Janis Ian—self-described ugly duckling from her greatest song—had two good guitars last night and a place to stand at a sold-out Cal Tech Folk Music Society Concert in Beckman Institute Auditorium, and she rocked my socks off for two full hours. Nothing loud or high up on the db meter, mind you, just exquisite finger-style acoustic guitar playing, gently flowing all over the fingerboard, with graceful chord changes that fused folk, jazz and blues idioms into a seamless whole to accompany her poetic storytelling songs from deep into her matchless catalogue.

In between songs—which tended to reveal the dark moments in a life lived on the ragged edge of hope and despair—she regaled her passionately appreciative audience with hilarious tales from the road—including an improvised story about a tiny mouse that takes over a pirate ship—written on commission for last year’s London Olympic games.

Read more: A Valentine for Janis Ian:

Willie Nelson’s America

In Concert at Bridges Auditorium

Pomona College, Claremont

February 28, 2013

By Ross Altman

WIllie_NelsonAs long as Texas doesn’t take Willie Nelson, let them secede I say. He had the Lone Star State flag as his lone backdrop at Bridges Auditorium in Claremont (“Land of Trees & PhDs”) tonight—where he was greeted with a standing ovation before he even picked up his guitar named Trigger—after Roy Rogers' horse. “This is my horse, that’s why I call him Trigger,” he said once, and Martin picked it up and put it in the best print ad they ever did. If more music has ever come out of one guitar I have yet to hear it.

He put on one amazing show for the students “of all ages”—who gave him an even longer standing ovation at the end of his show. And then—guess what—he stuck around for another hour plus to sign autographs in front of the stage—everything from albums to T-shirts to cowboy hats to whatever they put in his weather-beaten hands. I have never witnessed anything quite like it from an artist of his stature—Willie is the real deal—he never strikes a false note—in person, in print, on film or on record; you don’t have to ask “what was that song?” It’s in your DNA, from Whiskey River, to Crazy, to Funny How Time Slips Away, to Always On My Mind, to Night Life, to Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground, to On the Road Again. It’s the soundtrack of America for the past fifty years.

Read more: Willie Nelson’s America

Bonnie Raitt: Laughing the Blues Away

In Concert at Copley Symphony Hall

San Diego, California February 23, 2013

By Ross Altman

Bonnie_RaittFresh on the heels of her Grammy win for Slipstream in the Americana category Hall of Fame Folk/Blues/Rock Guitarist Singer-Songwriter Bonnie Raitt brought her airtight band, including bassist James “Hutch” Hutchinson, guitarist George Marinelli, drummer Ricky Fataar and keyboardist Mike Finnigan into San Diego’s premiere concert venue last night and tore the roof off like it was a roadside juke joint on Route 66. For two hours plus she blasted the seams off the walls with her vintage Fender Stratocaster, and then knocked your socks off with tender readings of two Bob Dylan songs on her vintage double pick-guarded Guild acoustic, playing both bottleneck slide and fingerstyle guitar. Bonnie has an impressive pedigree, her father being Broadway star John Raitt, the man who played Curly and introduced Oklahoma to the stage in 1947, two years before she was born.

Read more: Bonnie Raitt: Laughing the Blues Away

Christmas Fights Back:

Rufus and Martha Are Coming to Town

By Ross Altman

WainrightsHave Yourself a Merry Little…Holiday—doesn’t quite sound the same—does it? But according to Fox News self-proclaimed “cultural warrior”* Bill O’ Reilly, there is a War on Christmas—especially in Blue states like California.

When is the last time a cashier at Whole Foods has wished you a Merry Christmas at the checkout stand? God forbid you might be Jewish—or Muslim, or Hindu, or Native American, or O’Reilly’s worst nightmare—a Secular Humanist. So as not to offend anybody therefore—except viewers of The O’Reilly Factor—they wish you the politically correct “Happy Holidays!”

Well, fellow Christian Soldiers, Christmas is fighting back. Apparently UCLA hasn’t heard of this latest Fox News obsession and went and invited Rufus and Martha Wainwright to perform their new show Christmas 101 at Royce Hall—not one, but two nights in a row—next Friday and Saturday December 21st and 22nd at 8:00pm.

Read more: Rufus and Martha Are Coming to Town

Blind Yemen Blues

Yemen Blues in Concert

Royce Hall, UCLA

Thursday, November 15, 2012

By Ross Altman

Ravid_KahalaniYemen Blues, an Israeli/American band from Yemen, where Jews number fewer than 500 people, a mere remnant of a once thriving population now mostly made up of Sunni Muslims, succeeded in transforming UCLA’s sedate Royce Hall into a rousing folk dance nightclub on the order of a super-size Café Dannsa last night, an amazing accomplishment since most people go to Royce Hall to sit comfortably and listen.

Not Yemen Blues’ audience; with the encouragement of the band audience members consistently jumped up out of their seats and danced down to the front of the stage.

Call it Israeli Woodstock; this nine-piece band had the joint jumpin’ by their second song, and never let up.

Read more: Blind Yemen Blues Concert Review

Dead Sea Scrolls Live at Hollywood Bowl

Bob Dylan in Concert—October 26, 2012

By Ross Altman

Bob_Dylan_Concert_FlyerLike an Old West Preacher, Bob Dylan came to hold his semi-annual revival meeting at the Hollywood Bowl last night, with ancient texts discovered in the Near East more than half century ago. There were questions, “How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?” There were parables, “God said to Abraham, ‘Kill me a son;’ “Abe said, ‘Man, you must be putting me on…’” There were warnings by the side of the road: “Businessmen they drink my wine/Plowmen dig my earth/None of them along the line/Know what any of it is worth.” And there were signs indicating No Direction Home. And by the way, this Hollywood Bowl was not the one north of Franklin and Highland—it had its own address: Desolation Row.

No, it wasn’t your typical Billy Graham Crusade message, but there was a cross on the hillside, and once you have heard this preacher’s voice, you will never forget it. I was sitting in the bleachers, where the grass is plentiful (I even got a generous hit from the Canadian friends just behind me) and the limousines are few (took a bus, along with hundreds of others from the Westwood Federal Building). Brought my notebook with me, in my special thrift shop purchased Bob Dylan Shoulder Bag, along with an apple, a bag of almonds and a bottle of water—which sailed right through the very vigilant Bowl security guards at the gates. Did not stop for the $16 sushi plate on the trail up to the top of the cheap seats.

Read more: Bob Dylan Concert Review

Staff Benda Bilili

El Rey Theatre, Los Angeles, CA

Oct. 24, 2012

By Tom Cheyney

Staff_Benda_BililiFew back-stories in contemporary music rival that of Staff Benda Bilili, the one-time street players from Kinshasa who have vaulted into the pantheon of the Afropop and world scenes. Fronted by five wheelchair-bound and becrutched polio victims, the inspirational Congolese group was “discovered” in the mid-2000s by a pair of French filmmakers who went on to make a rightfully acclaimed documentary about the band, Benda Bilili, and introduced them to Vincent Kenis of Crammed Discs, known for his ongoing series of Congotronics releases. Their first album, Très Très Fort (“Very very strong”) recorded au naturel in the ramshackle Kinshasa Zoo, came out in 2009 and was followed by a rave-worthy European tour, while the film rocked the Cannes film fest the following year. Staff Benda Bilili was supposed to play a benefit concert for LA’s Grand Performances last September, but visa and other issues forced the cancellation of the show.

Read more: Staff Benda Bilili Concert

Judy Collins at Walt Disney Concert Hall

The View From the Back Row:

It Ain’t Over Till the Clown Sings:

February 11, 2012, 8:00pm

By Ross Altman and Jill Fenimore

Judy_CollinsJoan Baez’s voice was a gift of the Gods; and what the Gods give, they can take away; anyone who heard her recent performance on the PBS special, Music of the Civil Rights Movement, could not have been but disappointed at the difference between that version of We Shall Overcome and her recorded version from her second live album, back in 1964. In one an angel is singing; today she sounds like what she is—veteran of a thousand marches for freedom, and like Muhammad Ali, more than one too many championship performances. Regrettably, it sounds like her fabled voice ran into Joe Frazer.

Judy Collins’ voice did not come from the Gods; it came from a childhood of musical training that included piano and voice lessons. And that training has held her in good stead; at Disney Concert Hall she pulled out her old favorites, from Both Sides Now to Send In the Clowns, and one still hears her early warm soprano caressing every note.

Read more: Judy Collins at Walt Disney Concert Hall

All Steven Pinker Is Saying Is -
Give Peace a Chance:

The Cal Tech Lecture for the Skeptics’ Society

October 23, 2011

By Ross Altman

Steven_Parker_-Better_Angles_of_our_NatureSteven Pinker has documented what John Lennon could only imagine: a world in which war is not nearly as popular as it used to be. The Harvard Psychologist and author of the new book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined(Viking Press, NYC, 2011), came to Cal Tech’s Beckman Auditorium to offer a profoundly contrary view to contemporary beliefs that we live in a more violent and dangerous world than ever before, one in which terrorists hold more cards than enlightened rationalists, one in which violence is ever-present and Thomas Hobbes’ assessment of life in nature has become the hallmark of our post 9/11 century: it is mean, nasty, brutish and short.

In fact, argues Pinker, nothing could be further from the truth. Surveying 5,000 years of recorded history, and pre-history that has become interpretable due to archaeological science, he concludes that we live in a world marked by a measurable decline of violence of every kind: war—both between nations and civil war--genocide, murder, rape, child abuse, spousal abuse, capital punishment, torture and even corporal punishment of children. At the same time that they have declined, they have also become near universally condemned.

“The folk singers’ dream of the 1960s,” he sums up at one point, “has all but been realized,” citing the antiwar songs of Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Phil Ochs, Malvina Reynolds, Arlo Guthrie (whose Alice’s Restaurant is quoted at length) and Country Joe McDonald, not to mention a quirky novel that celebrated its 50th anniversary this year—Catch-22—war is slowly but persistently heading toward the dustbin of history.

Read more: Steven Pinker - The Better Angels of Our Nature

Glen Campbell: True Grit

Live at Club Nokia—October 6, 2011

By Ross Altman

Glen_CampbellWhen Ronald Reagan announced that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s he released a famous handwritten letter to the public, and then rode off into the sunset. Nancy became his public face and voice as they ventured into what their daughter Patty Davis called the long goodbye.

Glen Campbell has made a similar announcement, but John Wayne’s sidekick from True Grit is embarking on a goodbye tour around the track before he takes another look at the sun going down. He was at Club Nokia last night featuring songs from his legendary catalog of hits as well as his new and final studio album Ghost On the Canvas.

In the movie, you will recall, after a long, disgruntled turn as the Duke’s comic foil of a Texas Ranger, Campbell finally wins his spurs by saving Wayne’s life, not once but twice, and the second time, as Wayne pointedly and somberly observes, “after he was dead.” It turns out that Rooster Cogburn is not the only cowboy with true grit; Glen Campbell is made of the same stuff.

Read more: Glen Campbell: True Grit

Bob Dylan and a Full Moon

In Concert at the Orange County Fair - July 15, 2011

Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa

By Ross Altman

In memory of Joel Okida, fellow FolkWorks writer

dylanDriving through Carmageddon to get to Bob Dylan’s sold-out opening night concert at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa at the Orange County Fair I finally found out what the problem was:

They got Charles Darwin trapped out on Highway 5

The judge says to the High Sheriff, ‘I want him dead or alive

Either one, I don’t care’

High water everywhere.

(High Water Everywhere (for Charlie Patton))

Whatever crossed my wandering mind, Bob had it covered. But it wasn’t always immediately clear: At the end of the hour and forty-five minute concert a woman in front of me asked, “What was that song just before All Along the Watchtower?” I looked her in the eye and replied, “Like a Rolling Stone.”

She had been to five or six Dylan shows in the past few years and counted herself a real fan. So it wasn’t her ignorance or innocence showing; it was Dylan’s well-known penchant for rearranging his old songs just past the point of recognition. No matter; that was half the fun of hearing them again—to guess what song you were in the middle of before it passed you by, like catching a fast train before it left the station.

Read more: Dylan and a full moon

SHAKE, RATTLE AND FOLK:
JOAN BAEZ AT ROYCE HALL

By Ross Altman

joanbaez2_s.jpg

In the summer of 1959, a barefoot, Mexican-American beatnik girl with long black hair, a short yellow dress and an acoustic Martin OO-17 guitar showed up at the first Newport Folk Festival with Bob Gibson to do a brief set. She didn't have a band, she didn't have a hit song, she didn't have a Grammy, she didn't even have a record, but Lord did she have a voice.

Fast-forward fifty years: Short silver hair, tight jeans, biker dude Levi jacket, someone who could pass for a butch dyke showed up at Royce Hall last night claiming to be Joan Baez. And guess what? She rocked the joint. With the hottest band in folk music (or what is now called folk music), Joan plugged in her Martin OO-45 and more than held her own with lead guitarist John Doyle, Cajun fiddler Dirk Powell, bassist Todd Phillips and her son percussionist Gabriel Harris. "You go girl!" was made for nights like this.

Read more: Joan Baez Concert

The Buffalo Springfield Resurrected

Santa BarbarA Bowl June 8, 2011

By Terry Roland

Buffalo_SpringfieldFor this writer, it's been a 44 year journey since I last saw The Buffalo Springfield, or didn't see them I should say. During the summer of 1967 my 12 year-old self stood outside the minor league baseball stadium in Tucson, Arizona as a limousine carrying Neil Young, Richie Furay and Stephen Stills rolled into the venue. I didn't have tickets and only stood outside but marveled at seeing the three musicians appearing exactly as they did on that first album; Neil in long fringe buckskin, Richie all baby-faced with his Beatle '65 hair cut and Stephen like a rodeo cowboy with those long blond sideburns holding a cigarette with his arm leaning on the open window.

This time was different. At the Santa Barbara Bowl on June 8th, 2011, I actually saw them on stage. It was a receptive audience for the band of veteran musicians, all in their mid-sixties now with their own musical legacy well-established. Was it to be a concert of nostalgia? Would it be a time for 'old timers to fondly reminisce? Hardly. The concert and each song was executed with a new found vision and maturity but still just as fresh and alive as nearly a half a century ago. The feeling was playful on stage with Neil dancing and the three forming circles of rhythmic motion conjuring the past into a present day celebration. It was, if anything, the dance of the buffalos; a precious and endangered species. There was

Read more: The Buffalo Springfield Resurrected

Heritage MUSIC Festival

By Dennis Roger Reed

Stephanie_Bettman_and_Luke_HalpinIt’s always risky starting a new festival. It’s even more risky doing so during a bad economy. But the folks at the Heritage Museum of Orange County took that gamble, and on Sunday May 22, the roll of the dice paid off.

First of all, the Heritage Museum of OC exists to remind folks about how OC used to be. The Museum provides a great field trip for OC grammar school students, and is also open to the public. The Museum features two historical homes, an orange grove, blacksmith shop, gardens and a “nature area”; an ideal setting for a bluegrass, folk and Americana festival.

The performers included Stephanie Bettman and Luke Halpin, who enthralled the audience with two sets: one for kids and one for kids of all ages. A Wing and A Prayer proved that the stage was sturdy as nearly 20 musicians, including a full brass section, played standards with gusto. The Dennis Roger Reed Band played a rousing set, Rory Cloud did an impressive short solo set and the day ended with the eclectic and captivating Folding Mr. Lincoln.

Read more: Heritage Festival Review

The 51st Annual Topanga Banjo-Fiddle
Contest and Folk Festival

If the Circle Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It!

By Joel Okida

Topanga_Banner Off a soon-to-be-crowded two-lane road leading into Topanga Canyon, and despite early morning watery skies and crisp winds, Apollo, the Greek God of prophecy and music, begat a sonorous Sunday. Or it was someone like him. If you had a banjo on your knee and you weren’t sleepy, this was the place you were going to: Paramount Ranch in Agoura Hills. The crossroads for many grinning pickers, be they young, old, or somewhere in between, is the Topanga Banjo-Fiddle Contest and Folk Festival. This annual event rounds up those who’ve turned off the TV, put down the cellphone and turned to wood and peg, gut and hair, (okay, a little steel and nylon) and let their fingers do the talking. This is not to say that words get in the way. Out on the porch of the Railroad Stage, singers showed off a wide range of vocal styles that might cover a familiar Joni Mitchell tune, a near forgotten sacred harp song, or some gospel harmonies. And in and out of the many jamming circles that indeed jam the movie backdrop western town, the distinct puff and bleat of a harmonica elbowed in between the bowing of a fiddler or a mandolin riff- all hell bent on getting their fair share of the modal pie.

Read more: Topanga Banjo Fiddle Contest Review

Arlo Guthrie’s Southern Journey

The “Journey On” Tour Rolls into Royce; April 8, 2011

By Ross Altman

Alices_RestaurantAs every former hippie recalls with fondness, Arlo Guthrie, heir to the best pedigree in American folk music, used to tour in a “red VW microbus.” The very vehicle that took all the garbage out to the city dump on Thanksgiving, 1967 and thus cited for littering by Sheriff Obie. Yes we all know and love Arlo's classic 18 minute and 34 seconds antiwar story song, Alice’s Restaurant.

Fast-forward forty-four years: Arlo and his band, family and friends now tour in not one but two humongous earth-toned tour buses, with a hand-painted sixties surrealist logo for a previous “Lost World Tour” on the side. You could probably stuff a dozen VW microbuses in each one, and still have room left over for Alice’s Restaurant.

Give me the microbus, one six-string guitar, harmonica holder and mouth harp of Arlo’s first record, put it on one side of the scale, and then put the whole kit-and-kaboodle of his current small army of touring mates, vehicles, half dozen guitars and sound equipment on the other side, and watch it fly up and kick the beam.

Read more: Arlo Guthrie’s Southern Journey

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass

By Kathleen Herd Masser

Photos by Kathleen Herd Masser

morethanbluehrass_March_Kick.jpgEl Celler de Can Roca in northern Spain is said to have the best and most extensive wine list in the world, occupying three books so huge they have to be wheeled to your table on a trolley. San Francisco's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, held annually in Golden Gate Park, is El Celler's musical equivalent. With 80 artists performing on six stages over a three-day run, it's an enormous auditory banquet. And it's free.

Festival founder and funder Warren Hellman calls bluegrass and other forms of Americana artistry "simple tunes played by complicated people." The first festival, 10 years ago, was a birthday gift from Hellman to his wife. The gift keeps on giving.

 

Read more: Hardly Strictly Bluegrass

Highway 10 Revisited:

Bob Dylan and His Band in Concert

At the Citizens Business Bank Arena of Ontario

August, 19, 2010

By Ross Altman

Dylan_1.jpgBig Fish is touring small pond America this summer, and his eight tour buses rolled into Ontario, California last night, in San Bernardino County. His web site, the only place in LA where the concert was advertised, is not so much a web site as a secret society of his acolytes, who follow every move, comment on every set list (all of which he varies from show to show, so that half the mystery is simply what he'll choose to sing on any given night). These are not just acolytes, which has something of a demeaning connotation, but add up to a world wide congregation for this non-preaching preacher, this non-teaching teacher, almost an alternative America waiting in the wings-the side show at the circus, like the small town he came from, Hibbing, Minnesota, in 1941.

Read more: Dylan concert review

Two Queens, a Prince and an Earle

A Review of Joan Baez and Roger McGuinn

in Concert-a Play in Two Acts

At the Queen Mary Dockside in Long Beach

By Ross Altman, Ph.D.

Act One

Roger_McGuinn.jpgJoan_Baez.jpgYou know you're at a helluva folk concert when a Rock and Roll Hall-of-Famer is the opening act, but there was Roger McGuinn-lead singer for the Byrds-genially opening for Joan Baez at Harry Bridges Memorial Park in Long Beach, where the magnificent Queen Mary is docked. I thought I was having an out-of-body experience when I heard the first dulcet strains of Bob Dylan's My Back Pages floating through the stratosphere toward me, but I quickly realized it wasn't an unannounced (though the thought had crossed my mind) visitation from Mr. D.

Read more: JOAN BAEZ

Finger-Pickin' Good: Roy Book Binder

Live at McCabe's June 25, 2010

By Ross Altman

roy_book_binder.jpgDedicated to Larry Abbott, Vietnam Veteran for Peace; thank you for the tickets!

What would you give for Rev. Gary Davis's phone number? Roy Book Binder stumbled on it by accident when he returned to New York City in 1966 from his volunteer stint in the Navy, and heard an old black blues singer at a small club in Greenwich Village. He fell in love with the blues that night. After the show he asked the singer if he would teach him to play guitar, and was met with something less than enthusiasm. "You can steal it from me," he was told, "but I won't give it to you." Finally, though, his persistence paid off, and two nights later the singer gave him a phone number. Is that really your phone number? Book Binder asked him. "Oh no-I can't teach you-that's Reverend Gary Davis's phone number-he'll teach you for five dollars a lesson.

Read more: ROY BOOK BINDER

TONY McMANUS IN CONCERT, BAKERSFIELD, CA 4/25/10

SCOTTISH GUITAR ACE EXQUISITELY DELIVERS THE GOODS 

CD TITLE: MAKER'S MARK

(The Dream Guitar Session)

LABEL: COMPASS RECORDS (COM 4500)

By Leo Kretzner

Tony_McManus.jpgI don't usually drive to Bakersfield for concerts, but was certainly glad I did a couple of Sundays ago. The hillsides along the I-5 ‘grapevine' and Tejon Pass were poppy orange and new grass green, and Tony McManus was playing at a Sunday afternoon house concert. Oh, and I was also promised dinner in addition to a few hours of excellent music - "what's not to like?!"

There are any number of A-list guitar players out there, enough that one should pause before suggesting another name be added to it, but Tony McManus ought to make the cut handily. In two hour-plus sets he exquisitely played pieces from his native Scotland, Ireland, Spain, South Africa and the United States.

Read more: TONY McMANUS

Is This Good For the Jews?
Arlo Brings the Whole
Mishpuka to UCLA

A Review of The Guthrie Family Rides Again-
Live at Royce Hall

April 16, 2010

By Ross Altman

Guthrie_Family_2.jpgBilled as "The First Family of Folk Music," my first question is, "Did Pete Seeger die?" Did Peggy? I hadn't heard. This "first family" business is somewhat disconcerting, and immediately calls to mind the Lomaxes (John, Alan and Bess), the Seegers (Pete, Mike, Peggy and her late husband Ewan MacColl, not to mention parents Charles Seeger and Ruth Crawford Seeger), and of course the Carter Family (A.P., Mother Maybelle, Sarah, June and her little known husband, the greatest country/folk singer of the 20th Century, Johnny Cash).

Read more: Arlo Concert Review

Crowfoot

at Coffee Gallery Backstage, January. 5, 2010

By Tom Cheyney

crowfoot2.jpgSo a Canadian, a Vermonter, and an Englishman walked into a bar.... Well not a bar in Crowfoot's case, but the performance space behind a coffee house. The trio, now based in Quebec, brought their deeply felt confluence of Irish, English, Appalachian, French Canadian, and other musics to Bob Stane's fulcrum of folk and roots in Altadena. A pretty good crowd turned out (only a handful of empty seats); you could certainly do a helluva lot worse finding a Tuesday night alternative to "NCIS," I s'pose.

Read more: Crowfoot Concert Review

BANSHEE IN THE KITCHEN

PETER STRAUSS RANCH

JUNE 14, 2009

BY KATHY BAWN AND ANYA STURM

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Celtic trio Banshee in the Kitchen came out from their homebase in Bakersfield to kick off  this summer's series of free concerts at the Peter Strauss Ranch. Sponsored by the Topanga Banjo Fiddle contest, these concerts are family events, great fun for grown-ups and kids alike. So this review is brought to you by one grown-up and one kid.

A GROWN-UP PERPECTIVE (by Kathy)

There are only three Banshees: Jill Egland, Brenda Hunter and Mary Tulin. It seems like there should be more of them, though, from the number of instruments you see on stage. Between them, the Banshees play hammer dulcimer (Brenda), fiddle (Brenda), piano accordion (Jill), flute (Jill), bodhran (Jill), bouzouki (Mary) and guitars of various types and tunings (Mary). They all sing, too.

Read more: BANSHEE IN THE KITCHEN

LOS LOBOS RETROSPECTIVE:

Long on Song/Short on Story

By Audrey Coleman

HidalgoPerez_s.jpg

Over 35 years ago, Garfield High School students David Hidalgo and Louie Perez began composing songs together. As Perez expressed it to the adoring audience at Torrance Cultural Art Center on Sunday, January 11, "It all started in 1970 when I went over to David's house and stayed about a year." Their collaboration evolved into Los Lobos, the Grammy-winning band from East L.A. that has traveled the world with its unique blend of Chicano rock, Tejano music, rock en Espanol, and Mexican roots music.

So, when a small entry in South Bay's Beach Reporter announced David Hidalgo and Louie Perez of Los Lobos: Stories and Songs at Torrance Cultural Arts Center, it seemed like a rare opportunity to learn how the pair's experiences have driven the development of this home-grown musical phenomenon.

Read more: Los Lobos Retro

Opa Cupa!

with guest vocalist, Eva Primack

Live at Boulevard Music

By Joel Okida 

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As the boundaries between some countries become more strictly enforced, the borderlines continue to blur between international music. What was once considered almost the outlaw music of the gypsies is now stealing its way overseas into the American music mix by way of the internet, amalgams of expatriates, and local musicians who have traveled the caravan routes. Maybe just being a musician today is to be a gypsy of sorts, and the cyber world allows for wandering freely across musical perimeters. Exposure to what was once obscure, esoteric, lost, or dying music is now available for the masses.

Read more: Opa Cupa

Beyond the Pale

at Skirball Cultural Center, Feb. 4, 2010

By Tom Cheyney

BTP_Photo_by_Bonnie_Perkinson.jpg
Photo by Bonnie Perkinson

Calling Beyond the Pale a "klezmer band' would unfairly pigeonhole the Toronto-based group's big-eared take on Eastern European, Balkan, and other musics. But then, that characterization would be true of much of the klezmorim new wave, restless reinventors who honor the tradition while pushing the boundaries farther afield.

  The version of BTP at the Skirball was pared down to a quintet and featured a different accordionist than on Postcards. Percussionist/violinist Bogdan Djukic was unable to accompany the group for its California mini-tour. Milos Popovic, credited as playing squeezebox on the album, was replaced by fellow Serbian expat Dejan Badnjar, who joined the core four on stage-mandolinist/cofounder Eric Stein, bassist/cofounder Bret Higgins, violinist Aleksandar Gajic, and clarinetist Martin van de Ven.  

Read more: Beyond the Pale

Mark Fosson

at the Un-urban Coffeehouse

Lost and Found

By Joel Okida

mark fosson

Mark Fosson's music got waylaid back in the 1970s by an unfortunate incident that slowed down a young man's climb up the industry fretboard. He lost his record and his contract when legendary guitarist, John Fahey, proprietor of Takoma records, who Fosson had signed with, was forced to sell the company to Chrysalis. But not with Fosson or his record. That event took him on a long roundabout way of getting back to those roots, but if his recent show on the Westside is any indication, the talent that Fahey noticed way back then, has never left him.

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KRIS KRISTOFFERSON
Brings Saturday Night Magic

to Sunday Afternoon

October 19 Haugh Performing Arts Center, Glendora

By Terry Roland

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"Sometimes heroes happen when you need ‘em." Kris Kristofferson

Sometimes, it seems, heroes and legends just kind of roll through town, quietly, under publicized and unassuming. This happened Sunday afternoon October 19 as the Haugh Performing Arts Center in Glendora hosted a concert by Kris Kristofferson with next to no promotion. Even so, the concert was filled to near capacity. Now in his early 70's, the singer-songwriter kept joking about trying to imagine it was Saturday night rather than Sunday afternoon. However, by the end of the earthy, magical show, he announced to the enthusiastic audience, they had made him feel like it was a Saturday night. This is high praise from the poet laureate of the counter-culture dusty honky tonks of the 1970s.

Kristofferson, who has traveled with various back up musicians over the years, has decided to appear alone in the same way he did when he first appeared in Nashville and later on his first trek as a songwriter to LA's Troubadour in 1970. It was a risky but a wise move for this artist who has always performed best in the most intimate settings. It was as honest and real a performance as he has ever given in his long career. There were no fancy guitar parts, no soaring harmony vocals to cover up any limitations. There was barely even any talk between the songs. It was just Kris, the guitar, the songs and a privileged audience.

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Fur Dixon and Steve Werner at the Getty

September 19, 2008

By Carl Gage

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Who could fill up the beautiful 500-seat Harold M. Williams Auditorium at the Getty Center in the middle of the Sepulveda Pass during Friday night rush hour? Alison Krauss? Springsteen?The Pope?

How about the local "Travelin' American Folksingers" from Van Nuys, Fur Dixon and Steve Werner? With ever-growing audiences of fans andfriends, including high percentages of bikers and fellow musicians, the popularity of this duo continues to grow by leaps and bounds. And now the regular denizens of the Friday Nights at the Getty series can be added to that fan base as they were wowed by the talent, diversity and down-home great entertainment that filled the packed auditorium.

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FOURTH SEMI-ANNUAL: FOLKTACULAR

A HUGE SUCCESS

By Carl Gage

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With three behind him there was no reason that the latest FOLKTACULAR held August 31st at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica should be anything less than a great evening of folk music. Robert Morgan Fisher's twice a year bash once again featured a full (eight-hour) schedule filled to the brim with some of the most talented singer-songwriters from the Los Angeles area and beyond.

Robert opened the 2008 Labor Day showcase with a brief intro, a couple of his poignant songs and a jump into an aggressive schedule that attempted to bring another act to the stage every fifteen minutes.

The ever-present Dave Morrison, Chad Watson with wife Pam Loe, and Freebo were joined by repeat performers Severin Browne, Paul Zollo, Piper-Grey, Dale LaDuke and Mother Nature's Army. New additions this time around included Allan Comeau, Lee Domann, Manda (Mosher), "Banjo" Fred Starner, Garret Swayne, Tim Tedrow & Terry Vreeland, Joyce Woodson and headliner Dan Bern (www.danbern.com).

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A Tale of Two Dylans:

CONCERT review:

DYLAN AT THE Santa Monica Civic Auditorium

- September 3, 2008

By Ross Altman

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It was the best of times; it was the worst of times-a time to kill, a time to heal, a time of war, a time of peace-a time to be reminded of the greatness of Dylan's catalogue of songs, the songs that have earned him the title of "poet laureate of rock and roll," and a time to wonder whether his recent persona of rocker at the keyboards really does those songs justice.

It was the best of Dylan; it was the worst of Dylan. But first the bad news: for those who remember Bob as the guitar-slinging, harmonica blowing troubadour of times past (extending all the way into the 90's-which is the last time I had seen a live performance) that Dylan is long gone. He has a great five-piece band, including two first rate guitarists, but at no time during the show did Bob himself pick up the instrument that defines both the folk and rock troubadour of his early and middle periods.

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LINDSEY BUCKINGHAM FINDS THE CROSSROAD OF TRIBUTE AND LOSS AT JOHN STEWART MEMORIAL CONCERT IN MALIBU (May 3rd)

BY TERRY ROLAND

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If I'm missing you, then soon

I'll be bringing down the moon

Turning midnight into noon to keep you here

            John Stewart

 If there was ever a way pure love for a folk singer could bring back one who has passed away, the audience Saturday, May 3rd at Pepperdine's Smothers Theater in Malibu, could have brought John Stewart back to life; banjo and guitar in hand, a wry joke to tell and songs with visions of a unique and overlooked America in his voice. Unlike many tribute concerts, this one truly honored the man and his work. Through multi-media, spoken tributes, videos from the past half-century and most of all a collection of musicians who all shared the influence of this innovative folk musician and poet; a retrospective was presented encompassing, not only one man's life and art, but that of a generation and the history we have all passed through.

For the concert opening, Timothy B. Schmidt, sauntered on-stage, fresh from an Eagle's appearance at the Stagecoach Festival in the desert. His rendition of the John Stewart/John Phillips song, Chilly Winds, set the pace for the roller-coaster of emotions to follow.  

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March-April, 2008

CARRIE NEWCOMER BRINGS EVERYDAY MAGIC TO MCCABE'S

by Terry Roland

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  Among the gifts of many a fine singer-songwriter is the ability to tell stories which bring out the ordinary miracles in the world around us. On Saturday night, March 29th, at McCabe's in Santa Monica, Carrie Newcomer brought her own brand of natural magic through song and story. A Quaker from Indiana gifted with an uncommon richness in her voice and insightful songwriting, Newcomer guided the audience through many of the songs on her new, critically acclaimed CD, The Geography of Light. The songs were straightforward and simple with an inner elegance that supported her spiritual insights and songs of compassion. For example, in the song, There is a Tree, she gives voice to her affinity for finding words for life experiences, which are sometimes beyond words. The humor-through-song of the evening was an old-time jazz styled song called "Don't Push Send." It tells stories of the now common and sometimes disastrous experience of sending knee-jerk emotional e-mails.

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November-December 2007

The 60'S are Alive and Well in Live Show with BARRY MCGUIRE and TERRY TALBOT

By Terry Roland

barryterryarch-1-175.jpg"It's time to celebrate life!" These were the words of folksinger and 60's legend, Barry McGuire last Saturday night at The Coffee Gallery in Altadena, California. His new live show with country-rock pioneer, Terry Talbot of Mason Proffit is called Trippin' The 60's. It is a celebration of life in the present that draws from folk-rock era of the '60's. McGuire and Talbot have capably assembled a review in story and song that reminds us of the significance that music has played in our history and how important it continues to be today. They should know. They experienced it first-hand.

During this show, they took the audience through a chronological bullet train of a ride through the early to late 60's. Both musicians drew from personal experiences with Bob Dylan, The Byrds, The Mamas & The Papas, John Sebastian, Janis Joplin and John Denver among others. During the concert they told stories and performed the songs that changed the lives of a generation. Included in the show were McGuire's own Green, Green that he recorded while he was in The New Christy Minstrels and his hit, Eve of Destruction. Also included in the show were Talbot's hits with Mason Proffit, Better Find Jesus and Two Hangmen. The other songs performed by the duo were Monday, Monday, Creeque Alley, Suite Judy Blue Eyes, Here Comes The Sun and a host of others.

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July-August 2007

SOMEBODY SCREAM!!!

PASSING A GOOD TIME AT THE

LONG BEACH BAYOU FESTIVAL 2007

June 22-24, 2007

By Joel Okida

Guyland Ledet BAYOU 2007.jpgIt's a bit of a challenge when you try to recreate a Louisiana bayou in a sprawling southern California park.   Located across the street from a harbor which embraces the Queen Mary and the Pacific Ocean on one side and a major hotel and convention center on the other, it's a stretch to imagine the rustic swamplands of the south.  You won't see a ‘gator launching itself out of the water nor will you be digging crawfish out of a muddy marsh.  The man-made Rainbow Lagoon isn't Lake Ponchartrain or even Lake Charles and nothing resembling the mighty Mississippi River snakes through the groomed green turf of the park.  However, for one weekend in June, the sounds emanating from the 21st Annual Long Beach Bayou Festival's Center (Bayou) stage can transport you and your 

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Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks

McCabe's 4/14/07

By Rex Butters

NoCal city slicker Dan Hicks brought a crackling edition of the Hot Licks to the venerable show room stage at McCabe's. And, he threw the audience a substantial curve ball. Rather than performing his own substantial catalogue of beloved classics, Hicks took the sold out house on an extended history of American Folk Music. Billed on his website as "A Salute to the Folk Years," Professor Hicks read prepared historical contexts and artists' bios as song introductions, usually interjecting wry comments. On one roll call of artists, he mentioned Jean Ritchie and Richie Havens, then pointed out they weren't related.

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