May-June 2007

47th Annual
Topanga Banjo & Fiddle Contest

By Warren Garfield


Photo of Richard Greene
Richard Green

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.

At Topanga, you'll also see TOM BALL & KENNY SULTAN, who have been bringing their unique blend of guitar and harmonica blues, rags and other American roots styles to audiences in the US and Europe for more than two decades. They have eight recordings as a duo, two solo CDs each, a dozen instructional books and videos and they appear as sidemen on hundreds of other CDs, film soundtracks and TV shows. Their new release, Happy Hour, finds the boys still firmly rooted in the acoustic-folk-blues tradition that keeps them at the forefront of their field. As usual, Tom Ball plays world-class blues harmonica and guitar as well as the vocals, while Kenny Sultan is featured on various guitars.

You won't want to miss MOLLY'S REVENGE, a band with a genuine affection for the music they play. Born out of the timeless tradition of Celtic music, their classic combination of solo instruments such as Highland bagpipes, uilleann pipes, whistles, fiddle, and mandolin against a backdrop of guitar and bouzouki accompaniment, with an occasional rousing chorus song mixed in, guarantees an enjoyable and memorable listening experience. Add the visual excitement of award-winning Irish step-dancing and you've got yourself a party! Molly's Revenge has performed at many of the top folk festivals in the U.S. and at prestigious events in Australia and China. Their latest CD, Raise the Rafters, was released in 2006.

Photo of Fur Dixon and Steve Werneri
Fur Dixon and Steve Werneri

On the Railroad Stage you can enjoy STEVE WERNER & FUR DIXON's Songs of the Open Road. Fur and Steve will take you on a rollicking musical joyride through the back roads and highways of the West. Perfect harmonies, awesome guitar picking, and old and new-timey traveling songs are sure to please oldsters and youngsters alike. Fur Dixon is a hand-crafted songwriter and angel-voiced cowgirl. She gathers her musical influences from Gillian Welch, June and Mother Maybelle Carter, Hazel Dickens and Johnny Cash. Steve Werner is an unrepentant, motorcycle-riding, hard-traveling, Travis-pickin' son of a gun and his original songs have the timeless quality of classic folk songs. He's an old-school troubadour trained in the ways of his heroes: Woody Guthrie, Townes Van Zandt, Doc Watson and Ramblin' Jack Elliott.

Look for Topanga veteran RICHARD GREENE and his workshop, "Bluegrass and Old-time Fiddle" In the words of a fellow fiddler, Richard is "one of the most innovative and influential fiddle players of all time." Growing up in Los Angeles, he dabbled in classical music until his encounter with the pyrotechnic fiddling of Scotty Stoneman, which permanently changed his musical direction. Richard was the winner of the very first Topanga Contest back in 1961. A few years later, he turned professional, joining Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys. Several of his releases in the folk and bluegrass genre have been honored with Grammy and IBMA awards and his solo CD Sales Tax Toddle, was Grammy-nominated for Bluegrass Album of Year.

You can also see JOHN WEED AND STUART MASON with "Celtic-American Crossover Fiddles." In this workshop, John and Stuart perform traditional tunes and songs that explore the musical connection between Ireland and Appalachia. A classically trained violinist, John Weed doesn't let that get in the way of his fiery fiddling. John has also taken advantage of his skills on other instruments to tour professionally with bands of various musical persuasions. Stuart Mason is known in the California traditional music community for his driving, rhythmic guitar, melodic mandola picking, traditional singing style and his inability to hold his whiskey. Stuart is on the guitar teaching staff at the CTMS Solstice Festival and Lark Camp. He spent his early years in West Virginia and southern Ohio, playing bluegrass and country music. While living in the mountains in the old family house, he was exposed to the oldest forms of Appalachian fiddle music, which led him to traditional Irish music.

SUSIE GLAZE, backed up this time by Dan Sankey and Steve Rankin, presents "The Appalachian Songs of Jean Ritchie." Broadway actress, singer and recording artist Glaze is quickly becoming known as the next generation of Appalachian roots music interpreters, and a specialist in the work of American folk music legend Jean Ritchie. The native Tennessean's concert/theatre piece Singing the Moon Up: The Voice of Jean Ritchie, premiered to critical acclaim in September 2005 at the Pennsylvania Centre Stage Company. "Susie Glaze is nothing less than transfixing...she draws a song from deep inside and delivers it straight into the eyes and heart of her listener," says Michael Casper of the Altoona Mirror. And Jean Ritchie herself writes of Susie, "Quite suddenly I know that, with people like this to trust, my music will go on living, and soaring. And so will I."

ROSS ALTMAN will sing out with "Folk Songs & Human Rights." Of Ross, "A real flair for writing on a par with the best of Tom Paxton," says the CTMS Journal. LAs most sought-after activist folksinger, he has sung with Arlo and Pete and Sam Hinton and Johnny Walker. But more than that, he has sung with the very people who created the music he sings - the folk, meaning the poor folk. He has sung - even daily for the last dozen years - at nursing homes, psychiatric facilities, and schools for the developmentally disabled. He has sung for the disadvantaged and disenfranchised, for the homeless and homebound, for human rights groups and animal rights groups, for peace groups and environmental groups, for labor unions and outreach programs, for folk festivals, fringe festivals and at Topanga.

On the covered Pavilion stage, Topanga fans will be treated to a most unusual presentation, DAN SLOSBERG with Pierre Cruzatte on the Lewis & Clark Trail. Cruzatte was a member of the Lewis & Clark Expedition (1804-1806) who entertained the explorers with his exuberant fiddle-playing, keeping spirits high during non-work periods. Playing fiddle, jaw harp, bones, spoons, and other instruments of the period, Daniel takes his audiences on an unforgettable musical voyage with stops along the way for humorous and moving stories about the journey and Cruzatte's critical contributions to it.

COWBOY NICK, host of Twang, LA.s only country music show on FM radio, can always be heard playing his signature mix of Bluegrass, Cowboy & Classic Country Music every Saturday morning starting at 10am on KCSN 88.5FM and around the world at - Arts & Roots Radio for Southern California. Cowboy Nick will present a number of musical acts, including MERLE JAGGER, an instrumental trio ready to blaze a new trail of amped-up Country Rock with a mix of Bluegrass and Jazz for the new Western millennium. Veteran session guitarist Mark Christian, a native of Southern California orange tree ranches, has teamed up with barnyard pals Patrick Flores and Brandon Goldstein for the ultimate progressive hillbilly experiment.

Cowboy Nick will also bring you I SEE HAWKS IN L.A., a trio which was formed in 1999 by Rob Waller and brothers Paul & Anthony Lacques during a philosophical discussion and rock-throwing session on an East Mojave desert trek. This band has established a signature sound of high lonesome, three-part harmonies, twang guitar and unadorned acoustic arrangements, with lyrics musing on mortality, whales, and the geography of pre-apocalyptic LA The band has received rave reviews, a #1 spot on the F.A.R. Alternative Country Chart, and The L.A. Weekly's Best Country Artist of the Year Award for 2002 and 2003.

47th Annual Topanga Banjo Fiddle Contest & Folk Festival, Sunday, May 20, 2007 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Paramount Movie Ranch, Agoura, CA. For details call the hotline: 818-382-4819 or visit the web site: