The Spring Festival Circuit
Festival Season Arrives in March and April
The annual Temecula Bluegrass Festival returned March 21 & 22 with many top acts on two stages in Old Town Temecula, including the IBMA mega-winning Claire Lynch Band, along with Bluegrass Etc., The Silverado Bluegrass Band, Sligo Rags, Flinthill Special, This Just In, Whistle Stop Bluegrass, The Bluegrass Brethren, Scott Gates, and more. This year, in addition to the free daytime festival’s two stages, Saturday evening brought a concert in the beautiful Old Town Temecula Community Theater that required a ticket, and was nearly sold-out.
April brought a great many events with live music for Earth Day. As usual, the biggest was Topanga Earth Day, the weekend of April 18 & 19. In addition to world music (folk-related) and world beat (thudding pop) and belly dancing that drew the biggest crowds of all, there were folk-Americana performances including a fine one by Jon T. Howard accompanied by Eric Schwartz.
The 16th annual Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival, a first-rate time machine to the Old West returned April 22 to 26 at Melody Ranch Motion Picture Studio. The compromises during the years that HBO filmed Deadwood there are now past. It’s back to being Brigadoon in chaps and ten-gallon hats, as festival merchants occupy storefronts throughout the movie-set western town and its numerous performance stages.
Some of the music is traditional; some is very new and excellent singer-songwriter and band fare. Characterized by narrative styles, clever lyrics and fine melody lines, it’s all punctuated by the cowboy poets and their sometimes hilarious, sometimes touching tales and performance prowess. Headliners were Hot Club Of Cowtown, Don Edwards, Dave Stamey, R.W. Hampton, Sourdough Slim, Joni Harms, Baxter Black, Sons of the San Joaquin, Joe Herrington, Gary Robertson, Syd Masters & The Swing Riders, The Booher Brothers, Randy Reiman, and more, many of whom have been covered in FolkWorks.
There simply weren’t enough hours that April weekend to get to the 36th Annual Adams Avenue Roots & Folk Festival in San Diego with its massive lineup, or the annual Djangofest L.A. in Laguna Beach (with Fishtank Ensemble, Gonzalo Bergara Quartet, Jessica Fichot, and Andreas Öberg), or the Newport Beach Film Festival‘s acoustic music performances, or to see Louisiana’s Pine Leaf Boys at Lancaster’s Poppy Fest (that festival name is the conservative town’s way of avoiding Earth Day).
Stagecoach Festival 2009
That same April weekend saw the third annual return of the Stagecoach Festival in Indio. Punctuated by the long drive, Saturday was spent at the Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival and Sunday at Stagecoach. Making the same trek were that marvelous band Hot Club of Cowtown, who brought their Bob-Wills-meets-Django-Reinhardt western swing to both festivals. And that’s a good place to note that Santa Clarita has taken great pains to separate their stages for no cross-talk. Stagecoach continues to have a major problem with that.
Since you’re less likely to have gone to Indio, we’ll focus on the Stagecoach Festival. It became the first of this year’s inclusive-of-folk-music Southern Cal festivals to draw over 100,000 people. Billed as a country music event, its organizers and bookers happily mix plenty of roots Americana icons with Nashville’s current crop of hipster twangers with their fah-ke ack-scents and red-state-trailer-park-rock. The latter were denizens of the Mane Stage (that’s how they spell it). One guess which stage was avoided in favor of the other two stages’ offerings.
Weather in the low desert was delightful, and not too hot. What was hot was Hot Club of Cowtown, who delivered the best show I’ve seen from them, despite Kid Rock’s apocalyptic amplification a half-mile away. Hot Club’s splendid set at Stagecoach required you to crowd as close as possible to the banks of speakers. Even then, you were pounded by Kid Rock covering Werewolves of London (yes, at a so-called country music festival). Now, Hot Club was not bashful, playing plenty loud, and the sound crew for their stage was first-rate.
It’s just that the Mane Stage at Stagecoach overpowers everything. It would drown-out a launch of the Space Shuttle. And that wasn’t a problem unique to Hot Club’s set. It’s like a rock in your shoe wherever you go, and you constantly think of new ways to characterize how annoying it is. When the Mane Stage was operating, the lights in downtown Indio must have dimmed. Stagecoach’s pair of roots-Americana stages felt like being in Ft. McHenry during the bombardment: by dawn’s early light, you wanted to see if the flag was still there.
Even with that, Ralph Stanley was marvelous, much better than when I saw him a few years ago at UCLA Live in Royce Hall. He was in splendid voice when he delivered his a cappella of O, Death and when he sang, with his full band, Man of Constant Sorrow (you remember that song from O, Brother Where Art Thou?)
Of course, his band is all-stars, and his grandson, Nathan Stanley, is coming along as a real pro. Nathan wrote me a letter on lined notebook paper just three years ago. He isn’t a kid any more.
Ralph did stop at one point to apologize to his audience, saying, “My goodness, I’m sorry, some kind of noise comin’ in,” and his banjo player instantly added, “Horrible noise.” It was, of course, a reference to the Mane Stage. His audience cheered him to show support, and the consummate old pro adjusted, having the band jump into a fast bluegrass instrumental. Then he went quickly from one song to the next, just to minimize the impact of the din.
I saw part of the Duhks show (pronounced “ducks.”) From Canada, they were a FolkWorks cover story a few years ago. Musically, they were all over the map for their Stagecoach performance, which was both good and bad. Hard to find much in what they did that seemed aimed at a “country” audience, and I sure wouldn’t consider them a folk band anymore. Even though they did a fine French Canadian song and a very good Cajun song, they were mostly – despite a fiery fiddler and a first-rate female vocalist – loudly percussive, metallic, and rather thunderous. But they could power a small town.
Taking it all into account, despite maddening choices of acts scheduled at the same time on neighboring stages, Stagecoach gets an “A” for booking acts, and an “F” for failure to manage the Mane Stage’s invasive amplification.
But let’s look at more of the lineup. It was such a buffet, moving back and forth between stages, catching partial sets. I was really happy to see Jerry Jeff Walker perform. He and his band have taken their legendary Texas honky-tonk music to a more rock-guitar dimension, no doubt for a younger audience. But he still had people singing along, as when he sang London Homesick Blues, the old “home-with-the-armadillo” theme from TV’s Austin City Limits during the many years that show was the PBS roots music showcase, and not so alt-rock.
Following Jerry Jeff came the reunited Pure Prairie League who did their old hit Amy in their best concert style, going into it from their song, Falling in and Out of Love, the perfect prelude, then and now. The great Fats Kaplan, who was everywhere, sat in with them, too.
A really big deal was the full reunion of Poco, with Richie Furay, Jim Messina, Timothy B. Schmidt (the Eagles), and George Grantham. George had suffered a stroke a few years ago, in his 50s, and is just now back and able to perform. Each band member took turns with lead vocals that included some old Buffalo Springfield songs, and all were in great voice. Jim Messina brought-out Lynn Anderson to sing a song that he wrote and she recorded as a #1 country song, Everybody Starts Groovin’. Of course, country music festival or not, they brought down the house with Your Mama Don’t Dance (and your daddy don’t rock ‘n roll).
More stage-hopping for some of Peter Rowan’s show, again for some of Ricky Scaggs’ set with his great bluegrass band. I caught a very little of The Knitters, and found the supposed Americana stars to be rockers, interesting but loud, as in their song, Wrecking Ball. Ultimately, I couldn’t have stayed at their show even if I’d wanted, because Hot Club of Cowtown was about to go on the other stage.
I knew it meant I would miss, altogether, Jim Lauderdale & The Dream Players. Fortunately, Ralph Stanley had Jim sit-in for a song, so I got to see him in that cameo.
One more note about HCOC. Their audience grew and grew during their hour-long set, and it makes you wonder if the Mane Stage (I had, by then, taken to calling it the Loud Stage) was so loud, up-close, that some just couldn’t take it. I spoke to one of the sound people at the end of the night on one of “our” stages, and complimented his fine job under challenging circumstances, getting all he could from his gear without driving it to distortion. He thanked me and said he was surprised all weekend at how loud it was from over there.
Ah, well, what are ya gonna do… other’n write a review of the event that points-out the good and the bad. Stagecoach, by the way, had three stages this year. It had five stages in its first year, simply preserving the five-stage arrangement from the previous week’s Coachella Fest, the annual mega rock-and-pop festival. Following that first year’s event, they were taken to task in the newspaper pieces written by me and others, for the way that stars like Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Emmylou Harris had been sonically blasted on the then-adjacent B stage by the over-amplified A stage. (The piece I wrote for FolkWorks noted Emmylou’s classy, if frustrated, handling of that.) Other artists were still being subjected to it in 2009. Stagecoach must fix this.
A Full Bloom of May Festivals
As April became May, we missed the 10th annual Ojai Storytelling Festival. And we missed taking the long-day’s drive to the annual Tucson Folk Festival. What would have been the 29th Annual Claremont Folk Festival is on hiatus until 2010, but there were no idle weekends in acoustic festival-land.
The annual Topanga Blues Festival arrived at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum on Sunday, May 4, with Jake LaBotz, the Phillip Walker Blues Band, Jackie Payne Soul Blues Band, and Phil Gates Band. We skipped it in favor of catching most of the two overlapping Pete Seeger 90th Birthday events in L.A., the small cousins to folk music’s show of the year at Madison Square Garden in New York.
By the time the annual one-day Topanga Banjo Fiddle Contest & Folk Festival arrived on its designated Sunday, May 17, spring’s musical abundance was in full bloom. The “4th ever” Old Time Social had occupied its now customary place, Thursday through Saturday night of the same weekend. Triple Chicken Foot, that charming band of unamplified young ‘uns, again booked fine performers from across the spectrum of the old time genre for two evenings and a full Saturday of concerts, jams, workshops and dancing.
Sunday’s one-day Topanga Banjo Fiddle Contest & Folk Festival isn’t in Topanga, but at Paramount Ranch. Here at FolkWorks, we’ve previously cited it as the best one-day festival anywhere, with multiple stages of scheduled acts, prestigious contests, and all-day jams under the oak tress and on the wooden boardwalks of the buildings in the movie-set old west town. Yours truly was again privileged to be a stage emcee all day. You were probably there and know all that, so let’s look at other events.
As it always does, that weekend brought even more choices. We caught part of the 47th annual Sierra Madre Art Fair and its first-rate professional acoustic musicians on two stages. Acts included Cow Bop, String Planet, the Tom Corbett Band, Vin Fizz Flyer, and more. Because of the other events, we had to pass on the Worldfest 2009 Festival on May 16 in Encino’s Woodley Park. That one is musically all over the map. It happily included Bonne Musique Zydeco and folk-rock-Americana singer-songwriter Manda Mosher, just after her performance on the CBS Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.
Memorial Day Weekend’s Cornucopia of Festivals
A week later, it was Memorial Day Weekend, and crazy all over again with acoustic festivals. We managed to get to three of ’em that each draws tens of thousands of visitors, and enjoyed a day of Cajun / zydeco and blues, a day of Celtic Music, and a day of rootsy-musical cornucopia.
The L.A. area is blessed with two Cajun / zydeco music festivals, beginning with the Simi Valley Cajun Creole Festival, always the Saturday and Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. It’s run by the Rotary Club for a plethora of local charities. The second occurs after summer arrives, and that’s the Long Beach Bayou Festival, benefiting the children’s charity that produces the show. Both festivals have a Cajun / zydeco stage with an adjacent dance floor, plus a blues stage, and both offer delightful tastes of Louisiana culture and food, kids activities and workshops.
The Simi Valley Cajun Creole Festival‘s “Front Stage of Acadian” brought Louisiana’s brilliant young Feufollet (who returned this summer to play Squeezefest – the L.A. Accordion Festival) and a strong lineup with Lisa Haley & The Zydecats, Bonne Musique Zydeco, JT & The Zydeco Zippers, Cedric Watson, Bayou Brothers, Dennis Jones Band, Cajun Kids Parade, Andy Walo, and more. Playing the “Back Stage of Blues” were Bernie Pearl, The Phil Gates Band, Jumpin’ Jack Benny, Andy Walo, Dennis Jones Band, the Laurie Morvan Band and more.
Finding myself with Grammy-nominee and friend Lisa Haley just after her main stage set in Simi was especially opportune, as it brought a sudden invitation to join her and band members at the little daytime encampment of some bayou transplants. Within seconds, we were given heaping platters of crawfish, flown-in the night before from New Orleans, complimented by corn on the cob and red potatoes.
All was perfectly seasoned and cooked, and what could be finer than great food, good company, and the festival’s fiddle-and-accordion-driven live music soundtrack? The aftermath of a big crawfish feast looks like platters from the field of Armageddon, but there were smiles and genuine expressions of gratitude all around for our hosts.
Tales of the summer’s events, including the Long Beach Bayou Festival, will have to wait. We haven’t even surveyed the rest of the Memorial Day Weekend festivals yet.
That Sunday, May 24, we caught the final day of the 77th annual Scottish Festival & Highland Games at the Orange Co. Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa. Performers included Molly’s Revenge, Brother, The Wicked Tinkers, Alex Beaton, The Browne Sisters & George Cavanaugh, and Celtic Spring. It was marvelous to see Celtic Spring and Molly’s Revenge again, two bands who have performed live on radio’s Tied to the Tracks. And the following night, it was especially fun to hire the latter to play Happy Birthday on the bagpipes for a friend’s celebration at the Coffee Gallery Backstage, where Moira Smiley (VOCO) joined them in a concert.
Memorial Day Monday brought a visit to the 36th annual Topanga Days, the only one of the local festivals to run all three days. In addition to Tony Gilkyson, City Fritter, Tim O’Gara, David Serby, Killing Casanova, and more, we saw March Fourth, a marvelously entertaining band from Portland. They combine a horn-driven swing band with colorfully costumed dancers on very high stilts, marching and dancing amongst the crowd. Topanga Days operates multiple stages and is very acoustic-friendly, though it books big classic rock acts. Saturday and Sunday, when we were elsewhere, brought Blood, Sweat & Tears and the Santana Band, respectively.
Other one-day events are festivals. This spring, they included two Folktacular shows, the second of those on Memorial Day Sunday. Folktacular is singer-songwriter Robert Morgan Fisher’s semi-annual fete in Santa Monica with entirely too many artists and sets. It always goes into the wee hours, and always has good acts and plenty of food and beverages. The May 24 edition’s highlight was the return to the stage of Lori Lieberman, whose folk songstress career was derailed when her original Killing Me Softly with His Song was appropriated by Roberta Flack before Lori’s own recording was released by the label. Lori’s decades-overdue return showed neither rust nor cobwebs, and she has wonderful new songs. We hope to see much more of her.
The same three-day weekend, many journeyed north for the 20th annual Strawberry (Spring) Music Festival near Yosemite. Alas, we missed it, and its lineup of Sourdough Slim, Marty Stuart, The Flatlanders, Dry Branch Fire Squad, Dave Alvin & The Guilty Women, Rodney Crowell, the Avett Brothers, Ruthie Foster, Suzie Bogguss, the Greencards, Bearfoot Bluegrass, the Timejumpers, Kane-Welch-Kaplin, Alison Brown & Joe Craven, Chelsea Williams, and many more. Try for tickets to its fall counterpart; both spring and fall festivals always sell-out early.
The same holiday weekend, even farther north, was the 38th annual Northwest Folklife Festival at Seattle Center (the former World’s Fair site) in Seattle, WA. The vast expanses of venues and workshops always come alive for four days of singing, playing, dancing and so much more. You must go, at least once. Missing it always feels like we really did miss something.
The following weekend, May 30, was again full of nearby festivals. The 19th annual Bob Dylan Fest hosted by Andy Hill and Renee Safier brought more than 60 musicians playing over 60 Dylan songs with no repeats. It’s always the closest weekend to Dylan’s birthday. Big highlights were guest musicians Bob Malone and Marty Rifkin, who has toured and recorded with Bruce Springsteen. Andy and Renee play over 200 dates a year as a duo or with their band locally and at folk festivals that have included the Telluride Blues Festival (where Renee’s blues and jazz vocal chops won the 2005 Acoustic Blues competition), Kerrville Folk Festival, Napa Valley Folk Festival, Sierra Songwriter’s Festival and Winery Music Awards Festival.
The same holiday weekend brought the two-day BuFest. Folkies may think they should ignore that one, but no so. On four stages at Paramount Ranch, it had more than 75 local bands. Some are known for fine acoustic performances, including Marina V, Manda Mosher, Arlene Kole, Alissa Moreno, and Brian Travis.
We thought it looked primarily like a big indie rock festival with a few signed artists and we chose not to go. Then, too late, we “got it” the audience there has more diverse tastes than Big Music acknowledges, and the festival’s bookers understand. Accordingly, they booked quite a variety. So, lest you think that sh-thump-thud is all that anyone hears at non-folk festivals, think again.
Can an event in a nightclub qualify as a festival? May 30 brought the first annual Hep C Aware event, eight hours of music to raise awareness of Hepatitis C. Kelly Zirbes (Kelly’s Lot) produced the event, and some excellent artists, including Bernie Pearl, Michele Mangione, Evonne Rivera, and Scott Detweiler were all in the lineup.
That weekend and others surrounding it brought the annual series of American Cancer Society Relay for Life events. Nearly all these events include continuous live music for up to 36 hours. Many are being carefully produced, with very talented acoustic bands and artists. In Santa Clarita on May 30, it became the Music for the Cause Festival, one of the biggest of these nationwide events. The Santa Clarita Blues Society, a Bronze Sponsor, fielded both musicians and a relay team. In Altadena on June 6, Julie Sandoval of the Coffee Gallery produced the music portion with Dave Morrison, Paul Zollo, Paul McCarty, Chad Watson, John Gannon, Lisa Turner, Brad Colerick, Robert Morgan Fisher, Tedrow & Vreeland, Carrie Wade, Andy Allen, and others.
June, and the L.A. Acoustic Music Festival
The first week of June, word arrived that L.A.-based songwriter-composer Ernest Troost had just won the coveted New Folk Award at the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas. Past winners include Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Nanci Griffith, Lyle Lovett, and Robert Earl Keen.
The inaugural L.A. Acoustic Music Festival arrived June 6 and 7 on the Santa Monica Pier. Though ostensibly there to celebrate the pier’s 100th Anniversary, financial support was absent from the pier and the city. In fact, it was just the opposite, a very expensive venue and one with sound perimeters so porous that some people remained outside and enjoyed it for free.
The festival delivered an amazing line-up, all headliners at other festivals. The Kingston Trio, Nanci Griffith, Bruce Cockburn, Natalie MacMaster, Richard Thompson, David Lindley, David Bromberg & The Angel Band, Jimmy LaFave, Eliza Gilkyson, Slaid Cleaves, Joel Rafael, Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion, The “Ribbon of Highway, Endless Skyway” Woody Guthrie Tribute, The Refugees, and Stonehoney all performed.
Though the performances were all quite good, most of the bands included electric instruments and even FX pedals, compromising the concept of an acoustic festival. And Stonehoney is always electric.
Like many first-time events, it was not free of other problems. The event was sorely under-attended. Tickets were expensive, and like a metaphor for too many aspects, the city jacked-up the price of parking for the festival weekend.
Most of the acoustic singer-songwriters in L.A. were volunteers, and great credit goes to them for not succumbing to frustrations, sucking it up, acting innovatively to help patrons on the spot despite conflicting instructions, and all the while, smiling for the public.
Lots more was happening the same weekend. The Venice Carnevale was a simultaneous and free event, just down the beach on that same June 6. We didn’t get there, though we know that the variety of music included good sets by Suzy Williams, Gail Day, and others, and a lot of hip hop and urban thud-thud-thud. The 6th annual Cochina Acoustic Music Festival was free in Claremont, and included Missincinatti with Jessica Catron (VOCO) on cello and vocals. Down in El Cajon, the annual Olaf Weighorst Western Heritage Days festival brought a strong lineup of western-folk musicians. And out in the desert, the first Annual Harvey House Hullabaloo was a three-day festival at the old Santa Fe (now Amtrak) Depot / Harvey House complex in Barstow, and it featured acoustic music.
An evening showcase on June 10 could easily have qualified as a festival lineup. It was the Los Angeles Women in Music (LAWIM) Best of Soiree, an evening of the best performers from the monthly Soiree event, named among the “Top Ten / Best of 2008” in FolkWorks. The lineup was Jane Bolduc, Nicole Gordon, Karen Hart, Gaby Moreno, Janel Parrish, Kat Parsons, Sally Zito, and Joy Graysen. Google any one of them and you’ll be impressed. Yours truly was privileged to be the guest emcee.
Spring Becomes Summer with Solstice Weekend Festivals
Despite the absence of the California Traditional Music Society’s Summer Solstice Festival this year, there were multiple major festivals, including the Live Oak Festival and the Huck Finn Jubilee, and making its debut at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, the new Johnny Cash Festival. New in the U.S. is the French import, Fete de la Musique, always on June 21, regardless of the day of the week. It took root last year to become Make Music Pasadena on dozens of stages, and returned this year on ten stages. Not being at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival meant that three of the four local festivals required a visit.
The 21st annual Live Oak Music Festival in the hills above Santa Barbara brought a strong lineup with Rodney Crowell, Anonymous 4 with Darol Anger & Scott Law, the Subdudes, Dave Alvin & the Guilty Women, the Jim Lauderdale Bluegrass Band, Old Blind Dogs, Mamadou Diabate, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue, Po’ Girl, Los Pinguos, Terry Evans, Amanda Shaw and the Cute Guys, Girlyman, Masanga Marimba Ensemble, Rancho Deluxe, Dawn Lambeth with the Reynolds Brothers, Rhythm Rascals, Redskunk Jipzee Swing Band, the Cache Valley Drifters, Andrew Jackson and Duende, and the Basically Bluegrass Boys. It’s a benefit for KCBX FM, a wonderful public radio station that’s far better than anything we have in L.A., and the festival is that station’s principal annual fund-raiser.
Despite a profound absence of signage, arrival Friday was made in time for the Old Blind Dogs, from Scotland, and their main stage set. They returned after the last act to play the dance pavilion, and for both, they were marvelous. In between were Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women. I hadn’t seen Dave in awhile. Before the show, he told me, “With these women artists, Cindy Cashdollar, Laurie Lewis, Christy McWilson, Amy Farris, Nina Gerber, Lisa Pankratz, all I have to do is show up.” After the show, I spent a few minutes with two of the Guilty Women who I know. They are all-stars, and the performance was superb. If that show was all I’d seen all month, I’d have had reason to be happy.
There had been misty rain on the way to Santa Barbara, and there would be more driving back. But the festival site had perfect weather. Just chilly enough at night for hot tea and a few minutes at the fire pit, before dancing with Old Blind Dogs playing. After the dance, it was time to hit the road for another festival Saturday.
I didn’t even get close to home, driving back. A couple hours’ sleep in the car at an all-night IHOP, then a couple more hours at home Saturday morning.
Then it was time to head for the desert for the Huck Finn Jubilee, another top-rated, multiple-award-winning event. Again, misty rain on the way there and back, before descending the desert side of Cajon Pass into the clear skies and seriously increasing temperatures.
Just when it was starting to get hot at the festival, the wind came up and it was sweater weather. Making the rounds and enjoying the shows, I was flattered when Claire Lynch told me she still has my biz card on her refrigerator with a magnet. She is IBMA everything-champ.
I heard the Grascals, who are even better now than last time I heard ’em, thanks to young banjo champ Kristin Scott Benson, who they call “Girl Scruggs.” The band won the top 2009 awards for best album and best instrumental group, as well, all from SPBGMA – the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America. Claire Lynch, Nathan McEuen & Scott Gates, Wayne Taylor & Appaloosa, Sawmill Road, the Lonesome River Band all performed Saturday. I heard a band that was new to me, Hey Boyz, a fine cowboy bluegrass band from Arizona. Huck Finn does all the, well, Huck Finn sorta things, like a river raft building contest, fishing derby, Injun Joe’s Treasure Hunt, etc.
Only thing that was not good was the profoundly creepy intrusion of the Nazis – real wannabe Nazis, in red t-shirts emblazoned with giant white circles and big black swastikas. It was a WTF moment. What they were doing there, I don’t know. As soon as I saw the first one, I found a park ranger. He said they knew, and were spending the taxpayers’ money by calling-in every off-duty park ranger so they would be better prepared to handle anything that might happen. The cretins seemed to be rallying around the fringes and backwaters. As I was walking out that night, I could hear them sieg-heiling from somewhere in the dark. As I said, profoundly creepy. And dammit, the festival is such a nice family event.
Despite the frame of mind that gave me, I still didn’t quite get home before I had to sleep in the car again. A couple hours sleep in the hinterlands of LaVerne, then a couple hours at home.
A slow start on Sunday’s Make Music Pasadena, one of the prime stateside versions of France’s Fete de la Musique. I didn’t get to a lot of stages. I knew every musician playing the library venue, a really nice theatre that they call an auditorium. Had I stayed for some and left for others, it would have been a slight, so I stayed for all the acts there. Not that I’m complaining, because all were at least very good and a few were stunningly good. Marina V is so talented that every time I hear her play, I’m convinced that the record industry has a lot of ‘splainin’ to do that she isn’t a big star.
After the Library stage’s shows, a friend and I went to the Levitt Pavilion Stage to see Red Molly. They are Laurie MacAllister, Abbie Gardner and Carolann Solebello, three young women from NY, playing all acoustic instruments and singing in splendid harmonies. Abbie plays tasty dobro, and she won the most recent John Lennon Songwriting Contest in the folk category. The Levitt Pavilion has money, and flew them here just to play the one show. One irresistible quote from them: “It’s our first show in California. We knew we are in California and not New York because backstage, instead of slipping in doggie doo-doo, Carolann slipped in guacamole!”
After hearing and meeting Red Molly, we headed for the One Colorado Stage to catch Juana Molina, who quickly proved to be so loud and stylistically annoying that we abandoned dinner plans and went to the Alliance Francais Stage. As last year, they were hosting an open house, though nearly all the food was gone. We drank French wine and ate pate and bread, visited with some friendly French folk, and caught some of the musique. I had expected to get to more of the 10 stages, but most of the acts I wanted to hear were playing simultaneously, as usual with multi-stage festivals.
Festival Season – Past the Solstice
The arrival of the Summer Solstice traditionally marks the end of the spring festival season, and things resume after the summer heat fades into the fall. But it’s no different than how baseball now extends from late February through October – popularity tends to extend things. The first full week of summer kept the festival spirit rolling.
A mid-week concert at the Greek Theatre three nights past the solstice brought major festival overtones. “Three Girls and Their Buddy,” with Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin, Patty Griffin and Buddy Miller had just headlined at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival before arriving here to delight fans on June 24. Other festivals are included in the ensemble’s tour.
Then came the Long Beach Bayou Festival and its excellent lineup of acts on the Cajun / zydeco and blues stages, June 27 & 28. The same Sunday brought the first-ever L.A. Sea Shanties Festival at Point Fermin Lighthouse in San Pedro, and that evening, the 2nd annual L.A. Accordion Festival’s big move to the Ford Amphitheatre as Squeezefest L.A.
The notion develops to be backwards of a bear, and hibernate for the summer. But we’d miss too much.
Ongoing, Through the Summer
Whether you reminisced or lamented not being at any of the spring festivals, there are a few that run all summer. The most prolific is the Laguna Beach Sawdust Festival which brought Lisa Haley & The Zydecats to play the opening day. It runs daily, June 26 through August 30, with several different musical acts each day. Find schedules at www.sawdustartfestival.org/summer_show/summershow.htm.
Many local cities sponsor summer music series in parks and band shells and some of the music is folk-Americana or world-folk (watch out that it’s not world beat pop).
Every Friday, 5:30-10 pm is the Monrovia Family Festival along Myrtle Av, in old downtown Monrovia. It’s a year-round street festival and farmers market that’s been running 17 years, and it gets extravagant during the summer. There’s often a lot of music, and in addition to the scheduled acts on the stage, the Kattywompus String Band plays 8-10 pm at 412 S. Myrtle Ave. and Ron Ely does authentic and original maritime songs most weeks, usually at Myrtle Ave. and Colorado, or at Myrtle Ave. and Lemon Ave., on the North end of the festival.
Nowhere else in America are there so many festivals with acoustic music performances – or so many simultaneous festivals on so many weekends – or so many live acoustic music performances in clubs, coffeehouses and other venues, even if the L.A. Times and L.A. Weekly continue to ignore almost all of it.
While there’s no need to leave to hear great music, those traveling this summer should check the Acoustic Americana Music Guide for the extensive coverage of festivals through the US, Canada, and beyond. It has extensive write-ups of what happens here, and acoustic festivals everywhere. It’s available many places, and easiest to access at www.acousticamericana.blogspot.com.
You can read Larry’s Acoustic Americana Music Guide with its extensive descriptions of upcoming folk-Americana and acoustic renaissance performances, and its companion, the Acoustic Americana Music News; both are updated frequently at acousticamericana.blogspot.com. He contributes regularly to No Depression, at community.nodepression.com/profile/TiedtotheTracks. Contact Larry at email@example.com.