BY ELLI PAPAYANOPOULOS
To describe Los Angeles, one often conjures images of palm trees, traffic, and the Pacific Ocean; rarely would bluegrass or square dancing be the first thing to come to mind. However, in terms of foot-stompin’ this here city has a great thing going for it and some incredibly talented people leading the charge. The phrase ‘The best is often found in the unexpected’ certainly holds true here.
Ben Guzman, Kelly Marie Martin and Mike Heinle (of the old-time trio Triple Chicken Foot, voted ‘Best Folk Band in LA’ by LA Weekly in 2011) not only play a mean banjo/fiddle/mandolin/guitar but are also the masterminds behind Old-Time is a Good Time, and will be hosting this year’s 8th Ever Los Angeles Old-Time Social (LAOTS). The LAOTS is an all-volunteer run grassroots festival that has grown out of a love and passion for old-time music. It is part of a bigger movement to entice out of town players in areas rich in folk traditions to travel to Los Angeles, while also exposing current residents to pure old-time music. With acts hailing from North Carolina to Vancouver and all places in between, and plenty of workshops on everything from banjo playing to clogging, this year is sure to be another clawhammerin’ good ol’ time.
LAOTS will open Thursday night at a truly unique venue, the Echo Country Outpost that not only feels like, but actually is, someone’s living room. Kicking off the 3 day binge of fiddlin’, knee-slappin’, square dancin’ and more, is a lineup of 3 excellent acts: Kurt MacInnis & Frank Hoppe (Los Angeles), Emily Rose (Vancouver BC), and Bob Carlin & Dan Levenson (Arizona).
Friday night’s venue, The Velaslavasay Panorama, is an old theater and garden tucked away on an unassuming street in the West Adams Historic District. How appropriate to host an event that aims to bring back music from generations past in a space dedicated to an art form that has been nearly lost to the current generation. And what better way to watch old-time music than in a small theater with an upright piano in the corner and seats from your 3rd grade school auditorium. The performers for the evening, providing high-energy, toe-tapping tunes include: King Baby (LA), Paul Rangell & Emily Abbink (Santa Cruz), and Jesse Milnes & Emily Miller (West Virginia). The latter are representative of a younger generation of old time musicians who grew up playing and singing this music. It is certainly a rare opportunity to see these out of town folks. Seating is limited, so be sure to get your tickets in advance!
After enjoying the first two days as a spectator and with the creative energy running high, head over (with instruments in hand) to the American Legion Hall Post 206 in Highland Park on Saturday to join in on workshops from 12-6 p.m. for fiddle, banjo, mandolin, guitar, clogging, harmony singing and square dance calling. At 6:30, there will be a Family Dance and Cakewalk. To top off the evening, a square dance begins at 8 p.m. featuring music of Hollywood Boll Weevils (LA), and Sausage Grinder (LA), with calling by Susan Michaels (LA) and Amy Hofer (Portland).
And if you finish off your Saturday night square dancing (as you should), and are still craving more, rest assured as the Topango Banjo and Fiddle Festival will be happening all day Sunday at the Paramount Ranch in Agoura Hills.
Thurs., May 16, 8 p.m: Echo Country Outpost, 1770 Glendale Blvd. $5-10.
Fri., May 17, 8 p.m: The Velaslavasay Panorama Theater, 1122 W. 24th St. $20.
Sat, May 18, 12 p.m: American Legion Post 206, 227 N. Avenue 55; Highland Park; $10-20.