Less than an hour away from the glitzy facade of
Hollywood (Tinseltown, Lipstick City. Plasticopolis) (the idea, not the actual
neighborhood), to the north lies a sleepy suburb called Altadena, CA. It is
there, on top of a mountain (or giant hill) that you’ll find the magical,
burn-out oasis of Zorthian Ranch.
Ten years before Disneyland opened, Jirayr Zorthian
created this wild, untamed 45-acre art retreat that has welcomed outsiders and
gentry alike to groove amongst rusted out husks of classic cars, art from
kitchen sinks, railroad ties and old movie sets, hang out with llamas, swim in
a hillside pool and just do whatever. And for the past three years the ranch
has hosted a festival of young folk, country-rock and psych-influenced groups.
Sure, we all hate rock festivals, with their corporate
sponsors, beer tents, loudmouth yahoos, weekend warriors and complete absence
of Llamas. This is … not that. This is the L.A. Folk Festival. It has plenty of
llamas, a swimming pool and it is splendorous.
Altadena can be a hassle to get to for L.A. denizens more
used to driving their motor vehicles to the corner 7-11, however once you
arrive - well, you have to park a couple of miles away, but, after you walk
uphill through a suburban neighborhood that apparently saves taxes by not
having streetlights, you are finally there … at the foot of the mountain that
must be climbed.
At night, the up hill path is pitch black except for some
LED torches and the stars in the sky (Big Dipper and whatnot). There’s something
quiet and not-at-all foreboding about this particular mountain path, because
you know that on the other side is a veritable Valhalla of good vibes and art
damaged rock and folk. Without the gift
of sight, you find yourself staying close in concert with other bodies moving
up, trusting that they are not wolf people or maniacs and that you will NOT
trip on a crack and sprain your ankle in three places. Yes, I should have
brought a flashlight. If only I’d known. And yes, if I had read the website for
the L.A. Folk Festival, specifically the bit under the heading “Prepare for
Zorithian Park”, I would have.
When you reach the top of the mountain, at last, you’re
greeted by two friendly young women at a table with Macbooks and there’s a food
truck to the right - civilization. But
when you walk past that you’re dropped into the set of Goonies, transported to
a timeless land, or if you wanted to put a time on it, the 1960s. Just over
yonder, some warm, trippy country psych from the Outpost Stage (one of four)
sets the mood.
If I may fall back on Hollywood reductionist spin for a
minute - because who doesn’t love the old “something meets something” trope? -
it’s the Grand Ole Opry meets the Manson Family, Mad Max meets Hee Haw,
Nashville meets Alice in Wonderland.
It takes awhile to get a feel for the layout, which on
this steep hillside unfolds like an Escher drawing. You walk over bridges built
from telephone poles, navigate steep hills next to art that will literally
impale you. There’s genius and creativity to spare and not a hacky-sack in
sight. And with 26+ acts on four stages, there’s never a shortage of tunes.
For a guaranteed good time, leave it to great female
country folks like Jenny Long, Leslie Stevens or Emily Lacey who stick to the essentials
of classic country rock and folk - good songs, solid arrangements and a woman’s
voice to melt your heart.
Easy going L.A. stalwarts Beachwood Sparks reward
mountain climbing musos with their pretty folk-rock melodies, and the haunting
harmonies of Yellow Red Sparks take you to Laurel Canyon in the 1960s. It’s not
mentioned in the website guide, but you really want to keep a one-hitter handy
for transference and transportation purposes. That’s just me saying this
Some electrical issues up on the Dustbowl Stage delayed
but did not deter the dusty spaghetti western soundtrack stomp of Spindrift.
The Dustbowl offers the best view of the stars and is flanked by some old
mobile homes in which people seemed to be living.
He’s My Brother, She’s My Sister opened their stellar set
on Jerry’s Stage with The Mommas and Poppa’s ‘Straight Shooter’ and continued
to dazzle with their joyous brand of garage rock stomp, brother/sister
harmonies, slide guitar and tap dancing (!) drummer.
Even more than the high-quality headliners, I liked the
weirder stuff at the Lemon Tree Stage, like the morbidly whimsical Dirt Bird or
the strange and intense folk of Guy Blakeslee.
As the night comes to a close (around 1ish) with the
exquisite Tall Tales and Silver Lining and the exotic Oliwa and The Pleasure
Circus you begin to contemplate the walk back down the mountain. It’s a wonder
old Zorthian hadn’t devised a zip-line for this purpose.
All in all, it’s a tremendous privilege to see so many
great acts in such a magical setting and well worth the uphill trek.
/ Murdered Man
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