10/12/15 (Following 2015 Festival:
“Like old times – Stow House hosts 44th annualOld-Time Fiddler’s Convention and Festival”
By JOSEF WOODARD, NEWS-PRESS CORRESPONDENT
One of the oldest and most respected of Santa Barbara’s now vast and growing list of festivals, the 44th annual Old-Time Fiddler’s Convention and Festival, takes its “old” status proudly and seriously, as part of its very core identity and mission. Modernity and future-think are scarcely considered, in a festival that pays homage to pre-20th century American music — and its 21st century descendants.
And it was mostly just like old times again on Sunday at the historic and well-preserved Goletan compound of the Stow House, a happy and music-filled day at and all around the property, with the annual competition aspect of the gathering mixing in with showcase performance by those well-known in their bluegrass and “old-timey” music fields (here including Grammy-winning Kathy Kallick and Bay Area “newgrass” band Front Country), workshops, jam sessions hither and yon, and other rootsy matters at hand.
At this festival, launched in 1972 by musician-folk musicologist Peter Feldmann at the UCSB lagoon and based at the Stow House for most of its life so far, changes entered in, by small degrees. A thinning out of trees on the property made the yawning lawn where the main stage sits — in its earthy bamboo-and-canvas fashioned glory — seem larger and more open-feeling.
In the last few years, things have changed slightly, while organizers vow to stay the same in upholding its founding blueprint. Artistic director Andy Doerr, who also presents the folk-bluegrass radio show “Road Tunes” on KCBS-fm, has been key in ushering in a new policy of hosting more high profile acts on the main stage, while the competition stage has moved back to the “Ranchyard and History Education Center” area of the property, which houses the historical museum, rusty tractors, a 1920s vintage Buckeye Ditcher farming implement and a blacksmith shop replica.
A logistical change this year had to do with a passing of organizational forces, from the Rotary Club’s long governance of the festival to the Goleta Valley Historical Society. As GVHS’s Amanda de Lucia said of the new guidance, “As an organization dedicated to history and education, we are excited to play a larger part inspiring the next generation about Old Time Music.”
Generations of all stripes and vintages could be found on and about the Stow House grounds and stages. Over at the competition stage, longtime competition organizer and announcer Mary Catherine Aldin was introducing the elementary school-aged likes of beginning fiddler players Claire Masters (in a black cowgirl hat and boots) and Blake Ekonomis, both of whom later appeared at the main stage to accept awards for their work.
Ms. Aldin also introduced the ad hoc group with the ad hoc name Pookie 2.0. When they began to introduce themselves, she interrupted, saying, “You get a free introduction. That comes with the territory. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Pookie 2.0? which may also win the band name of the day.” Duly cued, they launched into the old bluegrass classic “Doin’ My Time.”
Also on the competition stage was the singing category entrant Rebecca Stout, singing by her lonesome and nailing an old Appalachian song, a grisly and gothic tale of an accidental beheading, to a haunting melody. Later, Ms. Stout was announced as the second-place winner in her category, but at that moment, she was on another corner of the property, kicking up heels in the “clog-dancing” workshop.
Other winners included the band Toben Road, double winner – in singing and guitar-mandolin – Mark Humphrey, intermediate banjo player Audrey Abbey (who also won the special Frank Javorsek Award for Outstanding Young Musician), advanced fiddler Susan Platz, and advanced banjo player Cristian Gallo.
Close to the end of the day, as Front Country was serving up its mix of old-time, newgrass and “Americana” stylings on the main stage, the ever-kinetic Mr. Doerr gave a quick appraisal of 2015 festival. “I think we pulled off another good’n,” he said. “I’m so impressed with the crowd. This is really a listening audience. During the Kathy Kallick set they were really in it.”
During that keynote set by Ms. Kallick and her band Good Ol’ Persons, the song list ranged from originals to old-timey songs such as “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down,” Bill Monroe’s “The Kentucky Mandolin,” and a fresh version of British folk-rocker Richard Thompson’s “A Tear-Stained Letter,” done up in bluegrass.
Ms. Kallick commented, “It’s especially great to be here, with Annie (young ace fiddler Annie Staninec) having her new record out and her being able to give a fiddler workshop here. She has brought a lot of old-time music influence into the group – and yet she’s the same age as my daughter.”
In introducing the encore, an unusual twist on the old song “Cotton-Eyed Joe,” bandleader Ms. Kallick – whose resume includes work with Bay Area fiddle star Laurie Lewis, a highlight of the 2010 Convention – talked about how she channeled memories of how she heard it as a child, however “wrong.” “Folk music can change,” she said. “It’s mutable. It doesn’t have to stay the same.” Once again, the change/stay the same issue and challenge tickled the Stow House air.
Next year, same time, same lawn, same musical manifesto, with twists attached.
UCSB students Emily McCord, 21, and Evin Selling, 22, jam at the 44th annual Old-Time Fiddlers Convention and Festival In Goleta on Sunday.
ERICK MADRID/NEWS-PRESS PHOTOS
The Kathy Kallick Band performs at the event.