LA media is dominated by Big Music’s incestuous infatuation with sh-thump-thud / revolving-door-rehab / pop-tart-du-jour drivel. L.A. radio has 14 million potential listeners, the nation’s largest market, yet there’s more program diversity in Kansas City. Big entertainment, headquartered here, has a single-paradigm profit model of, well, junk.
Vastly larger than what’s touted and superficial is a vibrant underground music scene that, by far, is mostly folk-friendly acoustic music, often virtuosic. We can enjoy everything from blues to bluegrass to borderlands, Cajun to cowboy to Celtic, new-old-trad-alt-post folk, sweet vocal harmonies to brilliant instrumentals, innovative arrangements, improvisational excursions, everything from old time music to a thriving fresh acoustic renaissance.
Let’s explore it, at some of Southern California’s best summer festivals, series, and venues.
Folk / acoustic music festivals
From spring through early fall, acoustic and folk festivals are richly astonishing. Many attract 40,000-100,000 people or more.
· the Topanga Banjo Fiddle Contest & Folk Festival (50th annual TBFC; in Agoura; www.topangabanjofiddle.org);
· Simi Valley Cajun Creole Festival (www.simicajun.org);
· Live Oak (22nd annual, above Santa Barbara; www.liveoakfest.org);
· Huck Finn Jubilee (34th annual, Victorville; www.huckfinn.com);
· The Equinox Festival in the San Fernando Valley (a reinvention of the long-running Summer Solstice Festival, returning from hiatus; www.ctmsfolkmusic.org/equinox);
· Claremont Folk Music Festival (29th annual, returning from a year of hiatus; www.folkmusiccenter.com);
· “5th Ever” Old Time Social (music/dance/workshops, in L.A.; www.oldtimeisagoodtime.com).
There’s a variety of music at
· Topanga Earth Day (www.topangaearthday.org) and
· Topanga Days (37th annual; www.topangadays.com), plus there’s the
· Topanga Blues Festival (www.theatricum.com) – all in Topanga Canyon; there’s the
· Long Beach Bayou (www.longbeachbayouandmardigrasfestival.com),
· Long Beach Crawfish (www.longbeachcrawfishfestival.com), and
· Long Beach Blues (www.jazzandblues.org) Festivals;
· Doheny Blues Festival (www.omegaevents.com/dohenyblues);
· Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival (17th annual; www.cowboyfestival.org);
· Boulevard Music Summer Festival (Culver City; www.boulevardmusic.com);
· L.A. Accordion Festival (www.losangelesaccordionfestival.com);
· Harvest of Dulcimers Festival (16th annual, OC; www.scdh.org);
· Sierra Madre Art Fair (48th annual; www.sierramadrelibraryfriends.org);
· Scottish Festival & Highland Games (www.unitedscottishsociety.com), the 78th annual, in Costa Mesa; and the
· Seaside Highland Games (Ventura; www.seaside-games.com).
And, there’s the new
· Americana Music Fest (www.americanamusicfestkw.org), all-acoustic, at Paramount Ranch in Agoura;
· L.A. Djangofest (www.djangofest.com/la); and the summer-long
· Sawdust Art Festival (Laguna Beach; www.sawdustartfestival.org);
· Temecula Bluegrass (www.tinyurl.com/TemeculaBluegrassFestival) and
· Old Town Temecula Western Days (www.oldtowntemecula.com) Festivals;
· Arrowhead Arts Music Festival and the
· Big Bear Cowboy Gathering (www.bigbearcowboygathering.net) up in the cool of the local mountains;
· Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire (Irwindale; www.renfair.com/socal); possible return of the
· L.A. Acoustic Music Festival (www.laacousticmusicfestival.com);
· San Bernardino’s 2010 Bicentennial in late May promises events with music (www.sbcity.org).
In San Diego, there are:
· Gator by the Bay (www.sandiegofestival.com),
· Adams Avenue Roots Festivals (www.adamsaveonline.com/rootsfestival) and, the
· Sea Chantey Festival (maybe the last one) aboard the Star of India (www.sdfolkheritage.org).
Within a drive of a day or less, there are the:
· Stagecoach Country Music Festival (in Indio; www.stagecoachfestival.com), and the two
· Strawberry Music Festivals (www.strawberrymusic.com) near Yosemite, Memorial and Labor Day weekends;
· Kate Wolf Memorial Festival (Northern Cal; www.katewolf.com/festival),
· Hardly Strictly Bluegrass (San Francisco; www.strictlybluegrass.com), and the end-of-summer
· Millpond Music Festival (Bishop; www.inyo.org/millpond.asp).
Summer seasons and acoustic-friendly series arrive at local venues large and small – municipal, nonprofit, commercial, and more, indoors and out.
The Acoustic Americana Music Guide has a massive directory of acoustic music-friendly venues (over 500 of them!) at http://acousticamericana.blogspot.com/2010/04/venue-directory-from-tied-to-tracks_16.html. Be sure to check the Guide as events are added.
Meanwhile, here are links for the most prolific venues, indoors and out, plus more.
Big outdoor venues
If you think of them in terms of other genres of music, but the seasons include folk-friendly offerings at:
· The Hollywood Bowl (www.hollywoodbowl.com),
· Greek Theatre (www.greektheatrela.com), and
· Santa Barbara Bowl (www.sbbowl.com), and the
· L.A. County Fair’s concerts (www.fairplex.com) always offer stars beyond the aging rock acts.
Outdoor municipal or other community group-sponsored series
· The John Anson Ford Amphitheatre (www.FordTheatres.org) is all about summer concerts, each produced independently, including bluegrass and Celtic concerts and additional acoustic events; ticket prices vary, always bargains.
We have two Levitt Pavilions with extensive free series including folk music –
· Levitt Pavilion McArthur Park (www.levittla.org), and
· Levitt Pavilion Pasadena (www.levittpavilionpasadena.org), plus
· Pasadena Senior Center’s series (not in Levitt’s listings; www.pasadenaseniorcenter.org) is often folk music.
· Lou Bredlow Pavilion’s season (www.valleycultural.org) in Warner Center Park, Woodland Hills, includes folk.
· The L.A. County Arboretum (Arcadia) hosts music, chiefly Cal Phil’s (www.calphil.org) picnic-friendly Concert on the Green series, L.A.’s most accessible classical music.
· Descanso Gardens’ Under the Oaks stage (La Canada; www.DescansoGardens.org) hosts some folk music, but their large-lawn series with Pasadena Symphony moved this year to the Rose Bowl Lawn.
· Disney Hall’s outdoor stage and the Music Center courtyard (www.musiccenter.org) offer free downtown series.
Many cities present folk-friendly free music, usually summer evenings, outdoors. Arcadia, Temple City, Sierra Madre, Torrance, Santa Clarita, and notably, the
· Redlands Bowl (www.redlandsbowl.org), and
· Olivas Adobe (Ventura; www.cityofventura.net) feature folk concerts.
· Culver City’s Summer Concert Series (www.culvercity.org), produced by Boulevard Music’s Gary Mandell, is weekly and always good.
· Santa Monica Pier’s Twilight Dance series (www.twilightdance.org) includes folk shows.
· Pershing Square’s concert series (www.laparks.org/pershingsquare) though scaled-back this year, offers lunchtime and evening concerts downtown, accessible by subway.
Many other city parks, especially in L.A. County, present free summer concerts.
Commercial complex-sponsored outdoor series
Some are obvious, some aren’t.
· Grand Performances (www.grandperformances.org) at California Plaza’s Fountain Court presents a downtown music series, accessible from the Red Line subway’s Pershing Square Station (4th Street end) and the newly-reopened Angel’s Flight funicular (a fun, must-ride).
· The Hollywood & Highland Jazz series (www.hollywoodandhighland.com) is also accessible from the Red Line subway.
· Disneyland alternates Cajun or pirate music, plus Dixieland jazz, and Billy Hill & the Hillbillies have played 20,000+ bluegrass shows there (or catch ’em when they play the Coffee Gallery Backstage and avoid mouseland’s pricey ticket.)
Summer’s nonprofit venues, series, & concerts
The offerings are rich. There’s:
· Grand Annex and Warner Grand Theater (San Pedro; www.grandvision.org);
· Rancho Cordillera del Norte (Northridge, www.mcmafn.org);
· Western Music Association concerts at the Autry Museum; www.westernmusic.org);
· The Grammy Museum’s SoundStage (L.A.; www.grammymuseum.org);
· Bluegrass Association of Southern California (BASC; www.socalbluegrass.org) with it’s monthly “Bluegrass at the Braemar” series and more, and the
· Southwest Bluegrass Association at various venues (www.s-w-b-a.com).
Orange County has
· The Living Tradition series (Anaheim; www.thelivingtradition.org) and
· Lord of the Strings (Dana Point and Mission Viejo; www.lordofthestringsconcerts.com).
Ventura County has
· Performances to Grow On / Fresh Roasted Concerts (www.ptgo.org), and the
· Ojai Concert Series (www.ojaiconcertseries.com).
Santa Barbara has the
· Sings Like Hell series (www.singslikehell.com) and
· Song Tree Concert Series (Goleta; www.songtree.org).
Down south, there’s the
· San Diego Folk Heritage (www.sdfolkheritage.org),
· Acoustic Music San Diego (www.amsdconcerts.com), and
· Fallbrook Americana Music (www.fams.ws) series.
Excellent house concert offerings are everywhere, with
· Russ & Julie’s (Agoura Hills; www.houseconcerts.us),
· Bodie House (Thousand Oaks library; www.bodiehouse.com),
· FolkWorks (www.folkworks.org) and
· Noble House (www.jrp-graphics.com/noblehouse), both in Sherman Oaks;
· Starlight (Van Nuys; www.starlightconcerts.com),
· Duncan House (Ventura; www.myspace.com/duncanhouseconcerts),
· Gelencser (Claremont; www.gelencserhouseconcerts.com),
· Bloomfield (North Hollywood; www.LittleFriendmpg.com ),
· House On The Hill (Highland Park / Mt. Washington; email@example.com),
· Canyon Folk (El Cajon; www.canyonfolkhouseconcerts.com); and there are more.
Summer’s indoor venues
In or near downtown L.A. and Hollywood, there’s
· Disney Concert Hall (www.musiccenter.org);
· Nokia Theatre / L.A. Live (www.nokiatheatrelalive.com);
· Universal City’s Gibson Amphitheater (www.citywalkhollywood.com);
· Hotel Café (Hollywood; www.citywalkhollywood.com) with many younger acoustic acts, sound that’s good but loud, most patrons must stand;
· Pantages Theater (www.broadwayla.org) is a good bet for musical theatre;
· Molly Malone’s (www.mollymalonesla.com); and
· The Grand Ole Echo series (www.myspace.com/thegrandoleecho) makes its every-
Sunday summer home at the Echo (in Echo Park).
East of L.A., there’s:
· The Coffee Gallery Backstage (Altadena; www.coffeegallery.com), with far more shows than any other primarily-folk venue;
· The Fret House (Covina; www.frethouse.com), and
· The Folk Music Center (Claremont; www.folkmusiccenter.com).
To the west, there’s:
· McCabe’s (www.mccabes.com) Santa Monica’s landmark;
· Boulevard Music (Culver City; www.boulevardmusic.com); their site has a local dining guide;
· West L.A. Music (www.westlamusic.com) with many seminars and workshops;
· West Valley Music (www.westvalleymusiccenter.com), a new venue in the SFV;
· The Blue Ridge Pickin’ Parlor (Granada Hills; www.pickinparlor.com);
· Santa Paula Theater Center (www.santapaulatheatercenter.org) in Santa Paula; and
· Zoey’s (Ventura, www.zoeyscafe.com) in their new larger location.
There are two locations for
· The House of Blues, on the Sunset Strip and in Anaheim, and both sometimes offer acoustic, less-rocky blues and even folk music (www.hob.com).
Libraries – city and county, in many communities – present summer concerts, often collaborating with sponsors including Topanga Banjo Fiddle Festival, BASC, Bodie House, Western Music Association, various Library Friends groups, or others. Check your local branch.
Performing Arts Centers
Many performing arts centers feature folk shows. They include:
· UCLA Live in Royce Hall (www.uclalive.org),
· Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts (www.cerritoscenter.com),
· Carpenter Performing Arts Center (Long Beach; www.carpenterarts.org),
· Long Beach Performing Arts Center (www.longbeachcc.com),
· Countrywide Performing Arts Center (Thousand Oaks; www.toaks.org/theatre),
· Covina Center for the Performing Arts (www.covinacenter.com),
· Lancaster Performing Arts Center (www.lpac.org),
· Orange County Performing Arts Center (Costa Mesa; www.ocpac.org),
· Oxnard Performing Arts & Convention Center (www.oxnardpacc.com),
· Plaza del Sol Performance Hall (Northridge; www.ArtsNorthridge.csun.com),
· Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center (www.canyonspac.com),
· Boston Court Performing Arts Center (Pasadena; www.bostoncourt.org),
· Broad Stage Theatre (Santa Monica; www.thebroadstage.com),
· Ruth Shannon Center for the Performing Arts (Whittier; www.shannoncenter.org),
· Big Bear Lake Performing Arts Center (firstname.lastname@example.org),
· The Mercantile (www.LiveattheMerc.com) and
· Temecula Theatre (www.temeculatheater.org) both in Temecula; and
· Poway Center for the Performing Arts (www.powayarts.org).
Most performing arts centers are sponsored by cities or colleges and are nearing the end of their annual seasons, but still have tickets for summer offerings. And check with them near summer’s end for their new season announcements and the best seats.
The Acoustic Americana Music Guide recently celebrated many “Recurring Events” around L.A. They include weekly or monthly offerings by:
· The Western Music Association (WMA; www.westernmusic.org),
· SongNet (www.thesongnet.org),
· Los Angeles Women in Music (LAWIM; www.lawim.com) with a showcase and a Young Talent Night, both monthly,
· Songmakers “hoots” throughout Southern California (www.songmakers.org),
· Bluegrass Association of Southern California (BASC; www.socalbluegrass.org) jams,
· CTMS traditional music jams (Encino; www.ctmsfolkmusic.org),
· Sabrina & Craig’s L.A. Acoustic series (www.SabrinaandCraig.com),
· Grassroots Acoustica (www.grassrootsacoustica.org),
· Celtic Arts Center’s céilí and seisiúns (www.celticartscenter.com),
· Songwriter Sanctum (Santa Monica; www.churchop.org),
· Songsalive (www.songsalive.org), with monthly events in L.A. and Orange County,
· Camarillo Café (www.CamarilloCafe.com),
· Fireside Concerts (Newbury Park; 805-499-3511),
There are three local blues societies –
· L.A. Blues Society (www.lablues.org),
· Santa Clarita Valley Blues Society (www.scvblues.org), and
· Santa Barbara Blues Society, (www.sbblues.org).
Plus, there are numerous weekly acoustic showcases, open mics, and many more events. On any budget (or none) you can have a music-filled summer!
Whether you’re a musician or music-loving fan who sings in the shower, it’s easy to build a summer vacation around a live music event you’ll remember forever.
Musicians look forward to annual music camps, mostly specific to their instruments. For a broader approach, in California, there’s
· Summersongs (www.summersongs.com), and in various parts of the world are
· Brett Perkins’ International Songwriter Retreats (www.brettperkins.com). Both are acclaimed by participants.
Most festivals offer jams and many offer contests, in addition to a lot of delightful listening.
Some top summer festivals elsewhere are:
· The Smithsonian Folk Life Festival (www.festival.si.edu) on D.C.’s National Mall,
· Seattle’s North West Folk Life (www.nwfolklife.org), the largest free music event in North America;
three big Colorado festivals –
· Telluride Bluegrass (37th annual),
· Rocky Mountain Folks Festival (20th Annual), and
· Rockygrass (38th annual) with info on all at www.planetbluegrass.com – plus the newer multi-genre
· South Park Music Conference & Festival (www.SouthParkMusicTour.com); and Texas offers three weeks of the
· Kerrville Folk Festival (www.kerrville-music.com); there’s the fine
· Tucson Folk Festival (www.tkma.org) if it’s safe to go to Arizona by then;
· Walnut Valley Festival (www.wvfest.com) in Winfield Kansas, with eight national / international acoustic instrument championship competitions; and, the
· National Old Time Fiddler’s Contest & Festival (www.fiddlecontest.com) in Weiser Idaho, with most of the other national acoustic instrument championships that aren’t at Winfield;
· Northern Rockies Folk Festival (www.nrff.net) in Hailey, Idaho;
· Darrington Bluegrass Festival (www.glacierview.net) in Washington state’s Cascade mountains;
· Pete Seeger’s Clearwater Festival (www.clearwater.org) on New York’s Hudson River; and the
· International Bluegrass Music Association awards (IBMA; www.ibma.org) in Nashville.
It’s a good idea to watch for newer events, like the
· Americana Music Conference (Nashville; www.americanamusic.org), and the
· Roots Music Association’s (www.rootsmusicassociation.org) Roots Music Festival, Radio Convention and Conference, which rootlessly moves around.
We freely accept that we probably omitted your favorite out-of-the-area summer festival. Let us know for next year’s round-up.
Stay-at-Home Summer Music
A search often yields a web radio simulcast from a festival somewhere, nearly every summer weekend.
You can find Larry’s great obsession, the Acoustic Americana Music Guide, with additional web links, the most extensive “guide” to live acoustic music events in and around Southern California (and festivals everywhere), and detailed info on folk-Americana radio shows (mostly on the web), plus the Guide’s list of over 500 acoustic music venues in the L.A. region, all at www.acousticmusic.net. Have a tuneful summer!