Tuesday, August 7, 2012

2012 New L.A. Folk Festival - Your Daddy's Folk and Beyond

The 3rd New L.A. Folk Festival happened this past Saturday (8/4/12) at the locally legendary Zorthian Ranch, a 45 acre ranch on the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains in Altadena, California. The ranch was home to the eccentric, eclectic artist Jiryar Zorthian until his death in 2004. His wild primavera parties would attract a diverse crowd of intellectuals, musicians, artists, movie stars and us ordinary folk. I can only imagine how happy Jiryar would be if he were around to enjoy the L.A. Folk Festival as founded by L.A. Record editor Daiana Feuer. As you enter the property, the lay of the land pulls you in. Stone and rustic wooden structures (some that seem so exacting and some that seem as haphazard as if they fell out of the sky) stand as monuments to another time. Piles of rusted junkyard artifacts form metal gardens along pathways. An inviting pool overlooks a mountain view surrounded by a rustic fence that surely has its share of stories to tell.

Amidst this apocalyptic psychedelic art show that is the Zorthian ranch itself, there were more than thirty musical acts peppered among the property. Acoustic acts early in the day, gave way to other acts on 4 distinct stages. Sadly I missed many of the early acts but was able to see some artists I have long been a fan of but not seen live like Kera and the Lesbians and Sea of Bees. Kera and her band performed on "Jerry's Stage" which was the venue that was most like a traditional stage. On the large concrete structure with wooden beams, Kera strutted her stuff fully possessing the songs she sings which are like 1940's porch blues colliding with post punk. If Kera and the Lesbians are playing near you- GO see them. Sacramento singer songwriter Julie Baenziger aka Sea of Bees with her best friend Amber performed her dreamy indie folk on the "Dustbowl stage" which was a large domed tent out in (what looked like) a cow pasture. While sprinklers made water dance on top of a shiny blue tarp, llamas strolled in the distance and people huddled close on horse blankets, Jules played a stirring set of old songs and some new ones off her latest album, Orangefarben. It was a truly beautiful experience, not only the songs but the lovely banter in between them. Hearing "Skinnybone" in this intimate setting almost felt like falling in love for the first time. I was stoked to see Tommy Santee Klaws perform on the "Outpost stage" which feels like a kitschy cowboy store front of sorts crowded with all kinds of stuff. I had seen and met Tommy about a year prior and his band is the real deal. In a previous live review I have likened Tommy's vocal presence (with a patina of sadness and yearning) to that of Scott Hutchinson of Frightened Rabbit or Thom Yorke of Radiohead. His voice like theirs can easily embrace your heart. Their music while rooted in early American folk has hints of Irish ballads. Tommy Santee Klaws played in the evening to a packed crowd. They are adored and rightly so.

Most of the day was about new discoveries. Leslie Stevens with a voice as pure as a young Dolly Parton and a knack for penning very endearing western/ country/ folk songs really blew me away. Beachwood Sparks played their Grateful Dead meets the Beach Boys psychedelic country rock on the big stage and people piled in and on every nook and cranny to see them. Even some of the pool people got out of the water and climbed up on the rickety structures. There was a love fest going on. I must mention Jenny Long and her partner who both sported vintage guitars and amps and played cool depression era bluesy fare. Geronimo Getty played country folk rock with an electric edge. Electro acoustic performance artist Emily Lacy sat high on her own stage on the Outpost stage. Her art piece flowed off of her like a dress and she looked very much like a Gothic shrouded soul on a Catholic stained glass window. Wearing almost ghoulish make up and using electronic looping equipment and sound triggered Christmas lights she pushed the folk genre into something else.

Probably one of my favorite stage venues was the "Lemon Tree Stage" which almost looked like an old rock quarry turned into an amphitheater within a forest. The bands played perched up against a shack which itself sat precariously on a ledge. There I discovered Yellow Red Sparks who I had never heard of before. A three piece band (acoustic guitar, cello/stand up base and a drummer) played soulful stirring folk and even lead the crowd on a sing along. Later on that same stage I saw Restavrant who now live in L.A. but are from Victoria, Texas. Not only does the drummer play a mean bucket (as well as a normal drum kit) but Troy rips through his fuzzbox of a guitar shredding down home punk rock blues as he grits out vocals through a distorted 20's style microphone. While founder Daiana Feuer could be seen everywhere making sure everything was running properly, she could also be seen on stage in her incarnation as part of Bloody Death Skull, an experimental / folk / performance art band whose songs on one hand have a sharp witty edge but on the other hand get quickly under your skin. I also enjoyed He's My Brother- She's My Sister, Pisces, Spindrift, Avolcano, Tom Brosseau and Cowboys and Indians.

The New L.A. Folk Fest may need a new name or at least a subtitle to let people know that what they will be discovering is more than traditional folk music. It is a diverse blend of  musical genres from the early part of the century to the present. Feuer and everyone else who spend their precious moments putting this event on should be proud that they are creating this "happening" that is destined to become an L.A. institution for years to come.
Adler Bloom

NOTE: Throughout this week I will be posting up videos as they are rendered but for now you can check out these:

NOTE: For pics visit our facebook page: Folk Festival

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