Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Review of the California Traditional Music Society's 23rd Annual Folk Festival

Let me begin with my two main points about this festival: It was one of the most relaxed weekends I have ever spent; the uke community needs to represent next year.

Let me also qualify comments by saying that this undertaking is a massive one. I guess it's one of the largest of its type in the country. I'm sure there are larger festivals that emphasize performers in a concert setting. But as far as festivals where the focus is on teaching and building community, this is pretty huge.

And the setting, Soka University in Calabasas, is a beautiful one. It is secluded, pastoral, and spacious. It's hard to believe that you are in the middle of Los Angeles County. The campground was very informal. People in huge campers parked next to people sleeping out under the stars. If I were going to do anything different next year, I would get there much earlier so as to secure one of the more shaded parts of the campground.

The campground itself is set up as a community. There is a central picnic area where the morning pancake breakfasts and the evening potlucks occur. The people are friendly and the food was good enough. If you didn't want to participate in the communal dining, it is a short drive to town, where there are a few places to eat.

The workshops and programs were diverse enough to suit anyone's tastes. In addition to the variety of musical instrument workshops, there were a variety of dance, storytelling, craftmaking, and childrens' workshops going on.

The only workshop that I attended that was a letdown was the pennywhistle workshop. But that's largely because I had never played before and was a fish out of water. Those who had a little more musical expertise than me seemed to do ok. But I was lost.

I attended a bodrahn bootcamp and a couple of other bodrahn workshops and was playing in no time at all. Granted, my skill level is at the beginner level, but I know how to hold the tapper and can drum out a jig or reel.

I missed one of the two uke workshops. But it was a Jumpin' Jim workshop and I had taken the first one several times now. The intermediate workshop was fun and I was surprised at the number of ukesters there. One of the organizers told me that there had been a couple of other uke workshops scheduled, but the teachers had to cancel at the last minute. Beloff's workshops are always fun, so I can't complain.

On both Friday and Saturday evening, there were concerts and dance parties. Both nights offered contra dancing for $10. I did not participate in that, but those who did were having a grand time.

Friday night offered a storytelling concert. I was not there, but informal reviews from other participants made it sound wonderful.

I attended Saturday night's concert, which featured Club Carrefour and the duo of Liz Carrol and John Doyle. An exciting concert.

next year, to save some money, I plan on being a volunteer. Participants pay up to $25 per day, but volunteers work a four hour shift and get entrance to the festival for both days for free. Camping is $35 per car for the whole weekend.

I should add that you do not have to camp out if you don't want to to. There are hotels nearby. For that matter, if you live close enough, you could always drive in from home and park on the premises. Parking passe are $5.

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