May-June 2007

47th Annual
Topanga Banjo & Fiddle Contest

By Warren Garfield

Photo of Richard Greene

Since the first Topanga Fiddle Contest in 1961, numerous bluegrass, folk and old-time musicians have graced its stages, including Jackson Browne, David Lindley, Taj Mahal, John Hartford, Byron Berline, Dan Crary, Frank Hamilton, Eric Darling, John Hickman, Stuart Duncan, Phil Salazar, Pat Cloud, Larry McNeeley, Bill Knopf, Howard Yearwood, Tom Sauber and many more. Others who got their start as contestants became musical headliners. This year on Sunday, May 20th, the Topanga Festival will again present some of the finest bluegrass, old-time and folk musicians ever assembled in Southern California.

On the Main Stage, it's all-out, unadulterated bluegrass with PETER FELDMANN AND THE VERY LONESOME BOYS, which always includes high energy instrumentals and heartfelt singing. Peter Feldmann has been the pre-eminent bluegrass artist of the Santa Barbara area for decades. Tommy Marton has a great sense of finesse, blending several bluegrass, old-time and Western contest fiddle styles. David West is known as one of the founding members of the Cache Valley Drifters, and currently divides his time between performances and record production for Los Angeles-based CMH Records. Tom Lee is one of the West Coast's premier bass players in bluegrass, jazz, and blues circles. Guitarist Mike Nadolson is a great singer as well as a hot-picker and he also runs Tricopolis Records, a new venue for Western bluegrass bands.


May-June 2007

Walking on Bilgewater

Eefing, bilabial fricatation, and the "strum" and "twang" of the Bilgewater Brothers

By Joel Okida

bilgewater hell
Design by David Barlia
Photo by Thomas Hargis

The act of grinning comes naturally when you hear the very tongue-in-cheek tune, Give It to Mary with Love. And when David Barlia resurrects the lost art known as "eefing," the grin becomes a chuckle. For those not in the know, eefing is the vocal ability to nasally impersonate a coronet, oddly named by uke old timer, Cliff "Ukulele Ike" Edwards. John chirps in with a melodic whistling solo and you know there's a spectacle of rare entertainment to be had. Over the course of an evening with the Bilgewater Brothers, you get a very lively variety show without having to change channels. Mostly you get uke strummer, David and plectrum banjo and National guitar wiz, John Reynolds, having a good time for your listening and viewing pleasure. They are often supported by other local musicians and surrounded by makeshift props which give a wink and an elbow of embellishment to whatever theme they are imbedded in. No matter how ragged the production may get, the music stays up front and engaging. It's an excuse to have a good time for what is really a madcap romp through vaudeville, burlesque, a backroom speakeasy, a squat in the parlor room and always a Keystone-Kop-run down tin pan alley.

Read more: Walking on Bilgewater

May-June 2007

Chicks Nix Hicks' Picks

By Ross Altman

After striking out in Nashville at the CMA awards, the Dixie Chicks hit a grand slam home run in Los Angeles at the Grammy's last February 11. They swept all three major awards: Song, Record and Album of the Year, on the way to winning all five categories in which they were nominated. They added insult to the injury of the red states' defeat in all the major contested elections last November, throwing control of the House and Senate into blue state Democratic hands for the first time in a generation.

Call it the last nail in the southern coffin. The bi-coastal cultural power centers New York and LA showed that they have no objection to country music - it was the politics they abhorred. Give us a country band not tied to Bush country, and we'll embrace it wholeheartedly, which we did.

It was also a great night for folk music, as Joan Baez - who was there to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award - looked resplendent as she introduced the Chicks to an international TV audience, as well as the Staples Center crowd. Joan drew abundant applause when she reminded us that over the years she too has been told many times to shut up and sing (the title of last year's documentary on the Dixie Chicks). She ended her brief but bravura performance by quoting Woody Guthrie: This Land Is Your Land. For one beautiful evening, it felt like it.

May-June 2007

Ross Altman's Mailbag

Occasionally a column elicits some interesting differences of opinion that our readers might enjoy-so herewith are a few of the comments on Barry Manilow from three FolkWorks readers with an afterthought by columnist Ross Altman (How Can I Keep From Talking-Jan/Feb 2007 issue).

Hi Ross-I picked up a copy of FolkWorks' Jan-Feb issue at the Coffee Gallery Backstage last week and read your article.

I have no difference of opinion with you on the subject of the King of Pap; however, I do feel inclined to point out that your selection of The Greatest Songs of the Sixties bears some glaring omissions, notably Ohio and Joni Mitchell's Woodstock by CSNY and For What It's Worth by Buffalo Springfield.

I'm sure I could comb my memory to discover dozens more...these are just the first that came to mind. The point I would make is that there's a certain liability in labeling something "the greatest" (unless one floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee), and it would be best to title a collection the likes of which we speak "Great Songs of..." and let the superlatives lie.

Tom Fair

Read more: Ross Altmans Mailbag

May-June 2007

Support Your Local Folk Festival

By Ross Altman

Photo of Crooked Jades
Photo by Cesar Rubin
The Crooked Jades

In the summer of 1927, Babe Ruth was on his way to hitting 60 home runs, Charles Lindbergh had just flown solo across the Atlantic, Ralph Peer discovered the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, and the rhododendrons were blooming in Asheville, North Carolina.

The Asheville City Council decided to have a rhododendron festival to celebrate their favorite local attraction. Only it didn't turn out to be the flowers. They asked Asheville's old-time banjo player and folk song collector Bascom Lamar Lunsford - The Minstrel of the Appalachians - to invite a few of his musician friends to liven up the festival, and suddenly a new tradition was born: The Great American Folk Festival.

If the name Bascom Lamar Lunsford doesn't ring a bell, you have probably sung his songs. He wrote Good Old Mountain DewI Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground.


So when you make your plans for May 5, the day of the 27th annual Claremont Folk Festival, and May 20, the 47th annual Topanga Banjo and Fiddle Contest and Folk Festival, and June 22-24, the 25th annual CTMS Summer Solstice Festival of Traditional Music, Dance and Storytelling, remember that you are doing more than supporting your local folk festival, you are participating in an American ritual that is now 80 years old.


Read more: Support Your Local Folk Festival

May-June 2007

The Nautical Trail of Pint and Dale

By Audrey Coleman

Photo of PINT and DALE

Call them folk singers or perhaps sea song gypsies. William Pint and Felicia Dale travel the country, singing seafaring songs at gigs such as the Renaissance Faire here in Southern California and the Mystic Seaport Festival in Connecticut. Their 2003 Dodge Sprinter is outfitted with camping gear for all weather. Their constant travel companion, parrot Ranzo, whose name appears in many a sea shanty, belts out "There's a good bird!" and imitates the sounds of cell phones to amuse them. Together 21 years now, Pint, 53 and Dale, 49, cross the salt seas regularly to perform in England and throughout Europe in pubs and folk clubs and at sea music festivals. In concert, they definitely seem touched by the maritime folk music muse - Pint with his stubbly beard and robust baritone, Dale cradling a hurdy-gurdy, her delicate features framed by flowing dark hair threaded with silver strands.


May-June 2007

San Pedro Shanty Sing

By Audrey Coleman

San Pedro Shanty Sing

On a warm spring evening, you're strolling down West Seventh Street in San Pedro, headed towards the Whale and Ale. Friends have recommended the traditional British restaurant-pub and you are looking forward to the beef Wellington and for dessert, that uniquely delectable "sticky toffee pudding." Approaching, you can see the Victoriana furnishings and oak paneled walls through the thick, green-paned picture window. Then you hear something between a song and a chant emanating from the open second story window.

Leader: Oh, poor old Reuben Ranzo!

Chorus: Ranzo, boys, Ranzo!

Read more: San Pedro Shanty Sing