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A Gentle Wind: LA Acoustic Music Festival:

Neither the threat of rain nor the sound of overhead planes could dampen the spirit of the first LA Acoustic Music Festival, held on the Santa Monica Pier June 6-7. The sun shone by day and a full moon beamed by night, as a largely baby-boomer audience enjoyed a lineup of first-rate folk and acoustic artists.

The festival was a benefit for CAMP (California Acoustic Music Project), which provides instruments and music training for schools. Organizer Renee Bodie has been working for several years to get LA Acoustic off the ground and hopes to hold the festival every year.

It did not resemble your average music festival. People actually sat on the provided folding metal chairs -and they remained seated except for ovations. Wine, beer, and gourmet refreshments were served in an area at the rear of the festival area, and people put their trash in receptacles. No wild behavior was observed, but that didn’t mean the audience wasn’t having a party.

Saturday’s musical highlights included sets by the friendly Joel Rafael, and longtime local singer-songwriter Eliza Gilkyson, whose song “The Party’s Over” aptly captured the state of things economic in the 2000s. Later, some teens from CAMP’s “Americana” project performed, impressing the audience with their voices, guitar playing, and songwriting skill.

The legendary Kingston Trio, who first had a hit in 1957, is now composed of folk veterans who replaced the group’s original members. The current lineup still sounded great as they harmonized on classics like “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” and “Tom Dooley.”

Richard Thompson’s set showed why he has been ranked by Rolling Stone as one of the top ten guitarists of all time. Playing with one acoustic guitar, Thompson sounded like an entire band. His set list included songs of political comment like “ ’Dad’s Gonna Kill Me,” (about the Iraq war), and amusing numbers like “I’ve Got the Hots for the Smarts,” about his attraction to brainy women. (Not your typical rock star.)

Natalie McMaster had the crowd dancing along to her Celtic fiddle music, a good idea as the wind came up and people needed to keep warm by moving around.

Even the night chill however, did not deter people from staying to hear Bruce Cockburn, a truly original voice from Canada, whose songs covered all human emotions and were played on an assortment of guitars from which he wrung every possible sound.

Sunday’s lineup included sets by Woody Guthrie’s granddaughter Sarah Lee Guthrie, with her musical partner Johnny Irion, the irrepressible Slaid Cleaves, the country-rock group Stonehoney (whose sound suggested what the Eagles could have been), and a tribute to Woody Guthrie starring several of the weekend’s performers, with Rafael reading from Guthrie’s writings between beloved sing-alongs like “Dough Re Me,” and “Deportee.”

LA Acoustic was a great way to kick off the summer music scene on the Santa Monica Pier and hopefully will indeed become a tradition. For more information on CAMP go to californiaacousticmusicproject.org. 

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