Reviews of shows from the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts and other local venues published by the Los Cerritos Community News. The writer and paper are in their twentieth year of covering these events.

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Location: Fear City, Ca., United States

"My name is Addison DeWitt. My native habitat is the theater. In it I toil not, neither do I spin. I am a critic and commentator. I am essential to the theatre - as ants to a picnic, as the boll weevil to a cotton field." George Sanders in "All About Eve"

Friday, August 24, 2012

Rocky Mountain Folks Festival 2012

Rocky Mountain Folks Festival: Approaching Perfection

                                          By Glen Creason

                              “And it's a great day to be alive
                                I know the sun's still shining when I close my eyes
                                It's hard times in the neighborhood
                                But why can't everyday be just this good”

                                      “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive”- Darrell Scott

    I have a dream too. After wandering the hallowed grounds of Planet Bluegrass Park in quaint Lyons, Colorado for three days and over thirty hours of amazingly high-quality music I am still savoring the sweet vibe that permeated this annual Rocky Mountain Folks Festival. From the artists to the tarp-squatting folks mentioned in the event title there is the purest form of cooperation and fellowship you will see anywhere, anytime, anyhow. Even with the sensory overload of thirty-six hours of attention demanding lyrics, gallons of delicious beer, hours of sun and the presence of everybody from grand folks to actual infants I never heard a lone discouraging word from a single, solitary soul at this tribal-tie-dyed gathering. Nary a “shut the …up, “not a “sit down man!” nor as much as a sigh from thousands of people tiptoeing through the labyrinth of blankets and blue rectangles set out in this little pasture/venue. People smiled at each other, complimented each others t-shirts or hats and sort of looked out for the kids that darted happily among the sun splashed gathering. I have a dream that the people who run the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival will go to congress and start organizing such a love-fest so we can spread this vibe across America and start working together.  Well, I said it was a dream. This was my third visit to this blessed event and it just seems to get better, run smoother and offer what I consider the best music on this planet. Yes, I love the Folks Festival.
    There is much to see and hear at Lyons but maybe it is best I mention some music and leave the mondo-corn dogs, the New Belgium beer, the curried pot-stickers and the Boulder ice cream to my own digestive happy memories. In between sets there were musical conversations, refreshing dips in the St. Vrain River, the view of the sun painting the ruddy rocks of the canyon and darting Cliff Swallows who put on their own aerial show.
       There were great, heaping helpings of music heard and much of it truly amaranthine despite the sometimes talkative festivarians and sonic demands of an outdoor space. While it is impossible to go in depth about the twenty-some performances I did hear I can say there were some that stood awfully tall and none that disappointed. On day one old pro Holly Near showed what experience can mean for an artist and her call for the kind of spirit that so abides at Lyons was inspiring and sounded as fresh as tomorrow. She was wise and confident and had a voice that endured decades of singing and teaching the right lessons. Her “We’re Still Here” was an anthem the children of the 60’s should sing with heads thrown back today. Justin Townes Earle delivered an hour of power that belied his youth. His illustrious folk music bloodlines were unimportant except when he sang the wonderful “I am my Father’s son” but his guitar skills and expressive voice were all his own. I am in no way prejudiced toward my Southern California brethren but “Dawes” owned this festival. From their late afternoon day one slot this four man band commanded the big crowd with honest, beautiful rock and roll. Lead guitarist Taylor Goldsmith made a lasting impression with his high-voltage solos that left many a festivarian open-mouthed in admiration. This is not a band you want to follow but Canadian Kathleen Edwards kept the bar high and her “Calling It Quits” left Goosebumps in the 75 degree Colorado night. Day one was closed by the rhapsodic “Iron and Wine” who sang the gorgeous “Such Great Heights” and the lovely “Please Remember Me” until sound goblins nibbled at his finishing material. Day two was one winner after another including the evocative “Wisteria” by Richard Shindell, “These Things About Ourselves” by the fantastic Elephant Revival that included spirited washboard playing by Bonnie Paine and fiddling by Bridget Law. Another pert near perfect set was turned in at the magical 5:30 slot by the under sung Darrell Scott who is not only one of the best guitarists in music but a singer and writer of great songs. I don’t know if you can write them better than “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive” or “Passing.” Australian C&W star Kasey Chambers was a complete change of pace in song and story but when she sang “Captain” a thousand Yanks joined in. The finale was excellent with the bluesy Amos Lee who seduced in the blues idiom and hit a bull’s eye on “Border Road” to close the evening.
     The surprise of day three was the harmonies and charmingly droll banter of “the Milk Carton Kids” who probably hate to be compared to Simon and Garfunkel but there is that same pristine harmony with maybe even better acoustic guitar. These “kids” completely won over a crowd who may have not known them when they set foot on stage but certainly did after if the line to the merch tent to buy their CDs was any barometer. Peter Himmelman, as usual, got the crowd literally on their feet in a huge conga line of a great cross-section of laughing fans that stretched around the concert. Himmelman is the master of getting a crowd involved as is his song “Tremble” that made us…well… tremble. Neko Case showed her unique and uncompromising songs with little frills but fine musicianship, especially from the superb Jon Rauhouse on pedal steel and un-credited drums and a stalwart stand up bass. Ms. Case worked a brisk hour plus, overcoming some sound problems early and slamming out truly different songs like “Margaret vs. Pauline,” “Invisible Children” and “Invisible Parent” that made you see some lessons in the lyrics. She is plenty rough around the edges but it just seems part of her grown-up punk-persona. The very grand finale was the large band of Lyle Lovett who got the big crowd ramped up after a very full three days. Lovett took it to the limit and kept on going with a half hour encore after great stuff like “This Old Porch,” “Isn’t That So” and the countrified “Please Release Me.”
    The music and revelry finally ended on Sunday evening and we reluctantly gathered up our stuff and shone little flashlights to guide the way out. When we trudged back to camps and campers, people were still smiling and helping each other like they cared about one another. No one was in the bubble of selfishness we see so much of today. The spell of the Folks Festival continued, into the next day when a parking lot owner called my sister and let her know he had found her Visa card in the dirt and would be mailing it back that morning. I returned to Los Angeles hoping to take some of that good will back with me.


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