When troubador John McCutcheon laid plans for a 2023 concert series to be presented online in collaboration with our organization and others, he said to “expect the unexpected” in the last of the four concerts. He will perform that one, “Jackpot! A Wild Card Show,” on Saturday, May 13. Sure enough, there has already been a surprise. The online platform that had been the ticket-handler and log-on address for some excellent livestreamed concerts in the past two years, Mandolin, abruptly went out of business two weeks ago. McCutcheon personnally hustled to arrange another way to stream the concert. If you already purchased a ticket through Mandolin, it will be honored; you will get log-on information via email. If you don’t have a ticket yet, here is the new link to get them.
For May 13, McCutcheon plans to bring out some songs, instruments and stories that haven’t been part of his previous concerts, and also to include some popular favorites from his five-decade, 43-album career. “Expect the unexpected and there might even be a surprise guest or two,” says his web page about this show. What won’t be a surprise for any McCutcheon concert is that you’ll hear powerfully written songs, virtuosity on multiple instruments, engaging stories and impressively clear singing.
Kudos worth repeating: Johnny Cash called McCutcheon “the most impressive instrumentalist I’ve ever heard.” Pete Seeger said, “John McCutcheon is not only one of the best musicians in the USA, but also a great singer, songwriter, and song leader. And not just incidentally, he is committed to helping hard-working people everywhere to organize and push this world in a better direction.”
The “Jackpot!” livestream will begin at 4 p.m. Pacific Time on Saturday, May 13. Ticket-holders get access to unlimited replays within 48 hours after the live show, handy for shifting the concert to a later hour or enjoying it a second time. Twenty dollars gets you a regular ticket. Other options in the drop-down menu for online tickets are discounts for students or unemployed people and premiums for a family/household ticket or music supporter ticket. A bit of the ticket money goes to the Pasadena Folk Music Society, which will help us present in-person shows in future months.
If you already bought tickets to the show, you should have received a note on April 20 assuring you that a link and a ticket code will be sent to you well before the show. (Note: they have not been sent out yet.) If you bought a ticket but did not receive such a message, please contact McCutcheon’s team at [email protected] to make sure that they have you on their list.
Thank you to Bob Stane for great memories
Do you remember that old Greenland Whale Fisheries song about a flick of the flukes capsizing the harpooners’ boat? The best versions have something like: “When the captain heard of the loss of his men, it grieved his heart right sore, but when he heard of the loss of the whale, well it grieved him ten times more.” (More maudlin versions, in a fine example of the mutable-folksong process, reverse which loss saddened the captain most.) That line about tenfold grief came to mind a few days after Mandolin shut down last month, when news arrived that Coffee Gallery Backstage, too, has closed permanently.
Gratitude flows to impressario Bob Stane, who operated Coffee Gallery Backstage for 25 years as a cozy Altadena listening room for a wide diversity of wonderful live music. Folk fans wish him well on recovery from the hospitalization that prompted the closing. He ran the Ice House in Pasadena during the 1960s and ’70s and helped launch the careers of many musicians and comedians. At his Coffee Gallery Backstage since 1998, memorable performances ranged from singer-songwriters to jazz combos, from folk-rock to bluegrass, Western swing, Argentine, Hawaiian, Celtic and more. Stane, 86, is working on a memoir. It should have some wonderful stories. To keep him in mind until you get a chance to read that, you can always appreciate Pasadena’s Fork in the Road sculpture, where northbound Pasadena Avenue splits just south of Bellefontaine Street in Pasadena. It was originally a 75th-birthday present to Stane from Ken Marshall.
Festivals in May
An earlier email mentioned that Rick Shea will be among the musicians performing at the Sierra Madre Art Fair this weekend (Saturday, May 6, and Sunday, May 7). Now, the fair’s full schedule is available here. Besides the set by singer-songwriter Shea “& friends” at 2 p.m. Sunday, opportunities for your listening pleasure include mandolin-wizard Evan Marshall (who, like Shea, has delighted audiences at Coffee Gallery Backstage) at 2 p.m. Saturday; Steve Trovato & Tim Kobza blending jazz, country and blues at 11 a.m. Saturday; and singer-keyboardist Rex Perry at 11 a.m. Sunday. This free-admission event also offers a chance to see works by dozens of visual artists, buy tasty fare from food trucks and local restaurants, and bid in a silent auction to benefit Sierra Madre Public Library.
The Topanga Banjo-Fiddle Contest and Folk Festival will provide a fine opportunity for enjoying live music on Sunday, May 21, in the Santa Monica Mountains, at Paramount Ranch near Agoura Hills. Check out the schedule here and you’re bound to find much to your liking. Besides the five stages with performers, the festival offers music and dance workshops, jamming, food trucks, artisans and a musical-instrument “petting zoo” for youngsters. Contest will begin at 9 a.m., featured performers at noon.
LitFest in the Dena (Formerly Pasadena LitFest, now fully incorporating Altadena) is this Saturday and Sunday (May 6 & 7) at the historic Mountain View Mausoleum. This free event for readers, writers, and thinkers offers a wide variety of panels and authors in a fascinating environment of indoor and outdoor spaces. Walter Mosley and Sandra Tsing Loh are a couple of the bigger names, but half of the fun of this event is discovering new authors of interest.
Two other enticing festivals this month are a little farther afield. The Calico Bluegrass Festival on Saturday, May 13, will enliven a ghost town near Barstow. The Storytellers, whose repertoire includes The Ballad of Bob Stane, are one of the six bands to be featured on four stages. The Strawberry Music Festival will run May 25 to 29 at Nevada County Fairgrounds near Yosemite, with a lineup including Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands, Della Mae, Beausoleil and Yonder Mountain String Band.
Gordon Lightfoot documentary and others
News of the death of Gordon Lightfoot at age 84 this week provided a reminder of how many outstanding songs we owe to the brilliance of this golden-voiced songwriter. They range from personal-relationship explorations such as For Lovin’ Me, If You Could Read My Mind and Early Morning Rain to epic ballads such as Canadian Railroad Trilogy and The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Lightfoot is among the most popular Canadians in history, though his own history also included studies in Los Angeles during the 1950s at Westlake College of Music (which closed in 1961).
A 2019 documentary, Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind, is available on Amazon Prime, if you are a subscriber. If you choose not to pay Amazon, it is available for FREE on Kanopy, which is accessible with a library card from any public library and many University libraries. Kanopy provides access to thousands of wonderful films across all genres, including many about about folk musicians. If you already have a public library or university library card follow this link. If you don’t have a public library card, any California resident can get one at any branch, and you can get a head start here. If you are a resident of the city of Los Angeles, you can get an e-card without even visiting a branch.
Once you have Kanopy access, search for “music,” then narrow in on the name or category that appeals to you. Some examples of folk music documentaries you can find are:
- Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune (2010)
- Mavis!: Gospel Music Legend and Civil Rights Activist Mavis Staples (2016)
- Heartworn Highways (1976), about singer-songwriter “outlaws,” with Townes Van Zandt, David Allan Coe, Steve Earle, Guy Clark and others
- In Search of Blind Joe Death: The Saga of John Fahey (2012)
- Black Fiddlers (2022), with David Roberts, Earl White, Rhiannon Giddens and others
- Transatlantic Sessions: Best of Folk (2014), with 28 stellar artists from North America, Scotland and Ireland
- This Ain’t No Mouse Music (2013), in which the filmmakers join Chris Strachwitz, founder of Arhoolie Records, exploring Cajun, Tex-Mex, blues and other roots music in Louisiana, Texas and Appalachia
- Jamesie, King of Scratch: A Spirited Musical Journey to the U. S. Virgin Islands (2007)
- Chulas Fronteras (1976), with Norteño musicians including Flaco Jimenez and Lydia Mendoza.
Events at Caltech
Caltech’s Public Events is pulling out the stops, with the school year ending in June. We highly recommend taking in the Caltech Glee Club and Chamber Singers Spring Concert, performed twice: this Saturday, May 6, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, May 7, at 3 p.m., both shows in Ramo Auditorium. Admission is free and the program includes music by Palestrina, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Copland, and others. The singing is great and you learn a lot in the brief introductions. Later in the month, enjoy the Caltech Jazz Band on May 12 with Bandorama, and two Chamber Music Concerts — one on Sunday, May 14, at 3 p.m. in Dabney and the other on Friday, May 19, at 8 p.m. in Hameetman Center. The Caltech Orchestra will wrap up the month with shows in Ramo on Saturday evening, May 20, at 8 p.m. and on Sunday afternoon, May 21, at 3 p.m., featuring a dramatic program cut straight from the heart of the Romantic era. Selections include Verdi’s Overture, “La Forza del Destino,” Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, “Pathétique,” and Reinecke’s Flute Concerto.
And there will be some interesting talks at Caltech in May, including the hot topic of artificial intelligence. On Wednesday, May 24 at 7:30 p.m., Caltech professor Yaser Abu-Mostafa will present “Artificial Intelligence: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” as a Watson Lecture in Beckman Auditorium. It will be livestreamed on Caltech’s YouTube channel and later available there for archived viewing. And there’s more, including dance, a program about speculative fiction, and a film, Who Killed Vincent Chen?. Learn about all of the programs, mostly free, at Caltech in May here.