Live Music in the Age of Digital Downloads

Part 1—Ross Altman’s Sixteen Reviewed Concerts for FolkWorks in 2014

These concerts are ranked in the order in which I saw them; when I left academia in 1979 I got out of the habit of ranking art and artists according to merit and value. Each of these artists is superlative at what they do and I don’t usually write about experiences I don’t like; there is thus no need to rank them in order of importance.

Occasionally I make passing reference within the review itself to what I regard as the historical importance of the artist. In that context I wrote in response to seeing Dylan at the Dolby that he is “the greatest artist on four continents in four centuries since Shakespeare.” But every major folk singer and/or guitarist deserves our support and I unstintingly offer it. With one notable exception, losing Pete Seeger on January 27, in terms of folk music at least  was a very good year. Support live music.

1. Stefan Grossman at the Fret House January 2—The Picking Fool From Kicking Mule;

2. David Bromberg at McCabe’s March 16—Who Put the Jangle in Mr. Bojangles?

3. Keb Mo at the Grammy May 14—Straight Out of Compton.

4. Only in America: Rodriguez at the Greek May 30

5. Eric Andersen, Van Dyke Parks and Thou Beside Me at McCabe’s June 7

6. Theodore Bikel at the Saban Theatre June 16 - Homage to Theo

7. Joan Baez and Ginger at the Greek Theatre July 3—When Bad Things Happen to Good Dogs

8. Richard Thompson Played Read Good for Free at the Levitt Pavilion in McArthur Park July 10

9. Don McLean and Judy Collins at the Fox Performing Arts Center in Riverside July 25—A Thing of Beauty

10. Gordon Lightfoot at the Saban Theatre September 27—Down and Out in Beverly Hills

11. John Prine at the Greek Theatre October 5—Happy Birthday, John Prine

12. Bob Dylan at the Dolby Theatre October 24 —Dillon in Dodge

13. Michael Chapdelaine at the Pasadena Conservatory of Music November 18—Michael Chapdelaine’s Guitar Rides With Him

14. Dirk Hamilton at the Alva Showroom in San Pedro November 22—Dirk Hamilton: Reconsider Me—How Warren Zevon’s Roadkill Became L.A.’s White Rodriquez

15. Merle Haggard at the Canyon Club December 9—For Merle Haggard On My Birthday;

16. Cat Stevens-Yusuf at Nokia Theatre LA Live December 14—No Sex, No Drugs, No Rock and Roll: Got Folk?

Part 2—Ross Altman’s Twelve Reviewed Plays, Films, CDs and Book for 2014

I only recommend concerts, plays, films, CDs and Books I have reviewed. If an artist—in whatever medium—is not worth my time to review I see no reason to put them on my “Top Ten” list. So you have here the results of an active year in which I explored every medium FolkWorks covers that gives voice to folk music in the broadest sense. With only one exception all of these reviews are highly favorable; I prefer to praise than to damn, or even, as 18th Century poet Alexander Pope observed, to damn with faint praise. So why is my unfavorable review on this “Top Ten” list at all?

Because we learn something important from works of art—even from works of propaganda disguised as art—that say something well with which we may happen to disagree. To open one’s mind only to those points of view with which we are already in sync is to foreclose the possibility that someone may change our mind, and even at 67 I do not believe that I have arrived at an immutable truth which can never be challenged. Indeed, it is by seeking out those experiences which do challenge our beliefs that we may understand them better. A belief that cannot be defended is not a belief worth holding. Call it my Jewish background, or my faith in democracy, but like my dissertation advisor John Macksoud, I prefer argument to concord, and silence more than most sounds. That is why I relish the companionship of my libertarian friend Jill Fenimore who went to a majority of these concerts, plays and the first film with me; she challenges my beliefs and keeps me from becoming complacent. She hasn’t persuaded me, but she keeps me honest. Both of these “Top Ten” lists are therefore dedicated to Jill, with gratitude and love.

In addition to concerts, I was fortunate to review a number of other cultural experiences this year—7 plays, 2 CDs, 1 annoying film, one essential film and 1 Loch Ness Monster of a book and these are noted below, a separate “Top Ten List”. I also produced a number of cultural experiences for others to enjoy—including tributes to America’s greatest folk singer Pete Seeger whom we lost on January 27, a Centennial Commemoration on October 26 of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas with his poems, Christmas play and the songs of his namesake Bob Dylan, and a December 24th Christmas Eve Centennial Celebration of the Christmas Truce of 1914. Except for losing Pete, it was a very good year. The plays are listed in the order in which I saw them. Support live music.

1. The Book of Mormon at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood February 5 —The Book of Altman;

2. Passion Play 2014: at Shepherd of the Hills Church Porter Ranch, California on Palm Sunday, April 13, Bound for Glory

3. All Alone With Paul Robeson at the Mark Taper Forum April 19

4. The Resurrection of Paul Robeson at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center on Easter Sunday April 20

5. The Gershwins Porgy and Bess at the Ahmanson Theatre—Send In the Clowns April 23

6. The Medical Marijuana Telethon at the Found Theatre; written and directed by Virginia DeMoss—High Hopes; Mother’s Day May 11

7. Hard Travelin’ With Woody—written and performed by Randy Noojin at the Theatre Asylum’s Elephant Studio; Hollywood Fringe Festival June 23;

8. Dinesh D’Souza’s America—His Land Ain’t My Land

9. Selma—a Film by Ava Du Vernay—Paramount Pictures December 20

10. Nameless Heart CD by Donna Lynn Caskey—Profiles in Courage

11. Cracked Streets CD by Jeff Gold—The Power of Critical Thinking

12. The Lyrics: Since 1962 by Bob Dylan; Editors: Christopher Ricks, Lisa Nemrow, Julie Nemrow (NYC: Simon and Schuster, October 28 )—The Rhymes They Are A-Changin’

Los Angeles Folk Singer Ross Altman has a PhD in Modern Literature; Ross may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.