L.A. Acoustic Music Festival June 6-7, 2009
L.A. Acoustic Music Festival: a Good Start
By Glen Creason
I couldn’t help but think as Nanci Griffith sang “Love at the Five and Dime” nearing the final sweet notes of the initial L.A. Acoustic Music Festival that it could hardly get better than this for seriously good music within a an hour’s drive. Behind me was the mighty Pacific Ocean and a deep blue sky dotted by dramatic cumulus clouds, while the Ferris wheel of the Santa Monica pier produced a man-made counter-point to the full moon overhead. Nanci was the bittersweet finale of two days of truly fine songs and memorable performances by some eighteen diverse acts. Some singers braved cool ocean breezes on the first night that blew their coiffures back and challenged their voices but the preparation here was thorough and the sound was great in these widest of wide-open spaces. I salute those who had the gumption to hear every song of every act which I did not but those I heard were examples of all that is right about acoustic music. These are songs with lyrics worth hearing from the blues moans of David Bromberg to the edgy politics of Bruce Cockburn to the otherworldly sounds of David Lindley to these precious words of Nanci Griffith.
The only problems I saw in my two days on the pier were a lack of audience which certainly should improve when word of mouth spreads about the venue and quality of the music. There were plenty of good libations, adequate nourishment, the nearby Pier with all of its enticements and a really nice old-school peaceful vibe that extended from the volunteers to the artists who spread love like it was Woodstock on the sand in the Twenty-first century. Even the Ferris wheel was green, as it is solar powered and whirred its shrieking passengers around without wasting any energy. Then, of course, there was the music and this feast of words worth committing to memory providing reams of good stuff. Eliza Gilkyson’s “Tender Mercies” certainly struck a chord and young Jimmy LaFave sang beautifully and with great insight. Later the music of the Kingston Trio shone again and made you remember why, where and when you began to love folk music. As the winds blew and rain kept suggesting it might fall the incredible dancing and fiddling Natalie MacMaster banished chill after Richard Thompson heated the stage and Bruce Cockburn showed the left-coasters why he is really Canada’s finest songwriter.
Sunday brought better weather and glorious songs especially during the Woody Guthrie tribute lead by his granddaughter and other songwriters and singers. Slaid Cleaves demonstrated why I believe he is the most talented young songwriter in America and the kids of the Acoustic Music Project gave some hint as to the future of this music that seems to be thriving right where it matters most. David Bromberg brought gritty blues and awesome guitar licks but David Lindley’s powerful rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “Brothers Under the Bridge” was something to treasure. The festival was sung farewell by the ultimate veteran singer-songwriter in Nanci Griffith who wasted no notes in her wonderful set. She told stories, sang some of her very best and sent us to back home with the feeling of those ocean breezes on our skin warmed by a knowledge that we are all in this struggle together. The music sure helps and I very much hope the promoters can get some traction from this year and keep this very special event going into the future. Let us hope it is like “Field of Dreams” and if they build it, they will come.