The Los Angeles Folk Festival

Less than an hour away from the glitzy facade of Hollywood (Tinseltown, Lipstick City. Plasticopolis) (the idea, not the actual neighborhood), to the north lies a sleepy suburb called Altadena, CA. It is there, on top of a mountain (or giant hill) that you’ll find the magical, burn-out oasis of Zorthian Ranch.

Ten years before Disneyland opened, Jirayr Zorthian created this wild, untamed 45-acre art retreat that has welcomed outsiders and gentry alike to groove among rusted out husks of classic cars, art from kitchen sinks, railroad ties and old movie sets, hang out with llamas, swim in a hillside pool and just do whatever. And for the past three years the ranch has hosted a first-class festival of young folk, country-rock and psych-influenced groups,.

Sure, we all hate rock festivals, with their corporate sponsors, beer tents, loudmouth yahoos, weekend warriors and complete absence of Llamas. This is … not that. This is the L.A. Folk Festival. It has plenty of llamas, a swimming pool and it is splendorous.

Sure, Altadena can be a hassle to get to for L.A. denizens more used to driving their motor vehicles to the corner 7-11, however once you arrive – well, you have to park a couple of miles away, but, after you walk uphill through a suburban neighborhood that apparently saves taxes by not having streetlights, you arrive finally … at the foot of the mountain that must be climbed.

At night, the mountain path is pitch black except for a some LED torches and the stars in the sky (Big Dipper and whatnot). There’s something quiet and not-at-all foreboding about this particular mountain path, because you know that on the other side is a veritable Valhalla of good vibes and art damaged rock and folk.  Without the gift of sight, you find yourself staying close in concert other bodies moving up, trusting that they are not wolf people or maniacs and that you will NOT trip on a crack and sprain your ankle in three places. Yes, I should have brought a flashlight. If only I’d known. And yes, if I had read the website for the L.A. Folk Festival, specifically the bit under the heading “Prepare for Zorithian Park”, I would have.

When you reach the top of the mountain, at last, you’re greeted by two friendly young women at a table with Macbooks and there’s a food truck to the right – civilization.  But when you walk past that what happens is you’re dropped into the set of Goonies, transported to a timeless land, or if you wanted to put a time on it, the 1960s. Just over yonder, some warm, trippy country psych from the Outpost Stage (one of four) sets the mood.

If I may fall back on Hollywood reductionist spin for a minute – because who doesn’t love the old “something meets something” trope? – it’s the Grand Ole Opry meets the Manson Family, Mad Max meets Hee Haw, Nashville meets Alice in Wonderland.

It takes awhile to get a feel for the layout, which on this steep hillside unfolds like an Escher drawing. You walk over bridges built from telephone poles, navigate steep hills next to art that will literally impale you. There’s genius and creativity to spare and not a hacky-sack in sight. And with 26+ acts on four stages, there’s never a shortage of tunes.

For a guaranteed good time, leave it to great female country folks like Jenny Long, Leslie Stevens or Emily Lacey who stick to the essentials of classic country rock and folk – good songs, solid arrangements and a woman’s voice to melt your heart.

Easy going L.A. stalwarts Beachwood Sparks reward mountain climbing musos with their pretty folk-rock melodies, and the haunting harmonies of Yellow Red Sparks take you to Laurel Canyon in the 1960s. It’s not mentioned in the website guide, but you really want to keep a one-hitter handy for transference and transportation purposes. That’s just me saying this though.

Some electrical issues up on the Dustbowl Stage delayed but did not deter the dusty spaghetti western soundtrack stomp of Spindrift. The Dustbowl offers the best view of the stars and is flanked by some old mobile homes in which people seemed to be living.

He’s My Brother, She’s My Sister opened their stellar set on Jerry’s Stage with The Mommas and Poppa’s ‘Straight Shooter’ and continued to dazzle with their joyous brand of garage rock stomp, brother/sister harmonies, slide guitar and tap dancing (!) drummer.

Even more than the high-quality headliners, I liked the weirder stuff at the Lemon Tree Stage, like the morbidly whimsical Dirt Bird or the strange and intense folk of Guy Blakeslee.

As the night comes to a close (around 1ish) with the exquisite Tall Tales and Silver Lining and the exotic Oliwa and The Pleasure Circus you begin to contemplate the walk back down the mountain. It’s a wonder old Zorthian hadn’t devised a zip-line for this purpose.

All in all, it’s a tremendous privilege to see so many great acts in such a magical setting and well worth the uphill trek.

– Gregg Lopez


Food & Drink

The Pikey

Situated next to the famous Samuel French Theatre Bookshop, one would expect to run into a playwright or two at The Pikey. In fact, when this place was The Coach & Horses, as it had been since the 1920s, one could expect to see William Holden sipping gin with William Faulkner or insert name of any cocktail loving Hollywood legend from the dawn of the silver screen. Now the C&H has been reborn as The Pikey. The original 20s-era bar has been lovingly restored with two additional rooms retrofitted as a contemporary UK-style gastropub.

The new front room greets you with it’s tiled floor, dark wood booths and open kitchen with white-hatted chefs preparing steaks, fish and fowl. And the kitchen is open until 1:30am! It’s the perfect meeting place for lunch and dinner.

To the right is the original room which preserves the bar and classic atmosphere of the old Coach and Horses, a favorite watering hole of Alfred Hitchcock among others. Whether you accompany your Fish and Chips with absinthe, one of over 25 single malt scotches, or just a tall can of Red Speckled Hen, you can disappear into the luxurious red booths and slip into the past, while being watched over by garden gnomes, a skylight and the Union Jack.

A dark wood corridor takes you to the back room, a private event space from Sun-Thurs that accommodates 40-50 guests. The entire venue (all three rooms) can be rented out to host up to 150 Dramatis personæ. The new owners are the same folks who gave us Bar Lubitsh and The Roger Room, so you know that every detail has been expertly rendered, and the overall experience will never disappoint. If you’re looking for a proper London Pub in the heart of Tinseltown, The Pikey will surely exceed your expectations.


Mulholland Drive: The REAL Anne Heche Story

There’s nothing more controlled or well thought out than the conspiracy to assassinate a public figure. A public figure disappears and a ‘Hollywood’s Mysteries and Scandals’ pops up on A&E. Who killed Marilyn? Was Jayne Mansfield the victim of a satanic curse? What the hell was Anne Heche doing wandering barefoot into someone’s home? We’ll never know because THEY have carefully plotted, obscured hints and led all sleuths down blind alleys, or in the case of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, behind the dumpster at Winkie’s Diner. This is where a nasty looking troll holds a small blue box, a box that may be a portal between time, the afterlife and your most terrifying nightmares.

But alas even the most well orchestrated conspiracies are prone to real life chance. So as the story opens, what seems like a clean killing on the dark hills of Mulholland Drive is thrown sharply off course by a pair of speeding cars in a head-on collision. The would-be victim (Laura Elena Harring) survives and wanders ‘Carnival Of Souls’-like into the dream theater that is Hollywood USA. What happens afterward could possibly the near-death hallucination of a ‘top actress’ revisiting her life’s journey and the people and events that facilitated he rise and eventual fall.

Enter Betty (Naomi Watts), as fresh as the day is sunny, arriving at LAX with a pink cardigan and a suitcase full of dreams to be an actress. So pure, so nice she seems to have spent her entire flight from Ontario chatting with LA’s friendliest elderly couple. Or are they? Lynch’s patented sound palate of heightened atmosphere suggests otherwise.

You’ve had those nightmares before. Seemingly random unrelated persons and events come together for the sole purpose of scaring the hell out of you and forcing you to second guess all that you hold as safe and normal. Even the Hollywood facade has been studied over and over until the corrupt studio execs, the social climbing wannabes are just the norm. Enter Lynch, Badalamenti and co to fold these ideas eight ways shred them and put them into a magic blue box in order to recharge the force of the nightmare.

Before Betty arrives at her aunt’s apartment, the accident victim seems to have snuck in to hide. If you ask yourself how she chose this apartment out of the millions of tiny lights she descended into from her walk from the accident you come up with that word again: fate.

The initial contrasts of the two women slowly blur along with the plot. With her memory wiped out, Rita as she now calls herself, begins the search for her identity.

She was to be the lead in the Connie Stevens Story. Now the film is hanging in development hell and depends upon the director not being ‘a smartass’. The vast nothingness of the night sky thunderous silence, the very night air is deafening. What does paranoia sound like? Thousands of crickets chirping in the distance. It sound like the wind howling.

Will Betty get the part? It seems irrelevant when the director is forced by some mafia types to cast an actress of their choosing. At some point you realize that it no longer matters if The director (Justin Theroux) tried to rebel but the mafia brings on the heaviest of hitters to convince him. Who might that be? You guessed it, a cowboy.

More clues emerge. A name, a barrel full of Red Herring. The plot doesn’t necessarily twist as much as it transmogrifies and flip flops and deliberately confuses like a Zen riddle.

So now events are completely out of out characters hands. They are helpless in the decisions of others. The only thing left to do at this point would be to morph into one another’s identities and distort the sequence of time with the help of the magic cube. But what is the cube, really? Ask Gene Ray.

Since we’re talking David Lynch, you know there is no easy resolution. None of the mysteries are explained yet he does manage to pull thing full circle. The goons and bogymen laugh and drink together at a beautiful hilltop mansion. It was all pre-planned. It was all prerecorded. Sure it’s fake but the fake version is more life shattering the genuine. It’s all in the blue box. And the key to the blue box

In this Hollywood, Philip Marlowe is dosed with high grade mescaline, Nancy Drew is slipped roofies and sent bungee jumping into her own nightmare basin.