Source: San Diego Troubadour, March 2003
The 30th Annual Adams Ave. Roots Festival is coming up
April 26-27 right here on Adams Ave. in the Normal Heights area
of San Diego. Since it's been call[ed] the Roots Festival these
past 10 years (the first 20 were called the San Diego Folk
Festival), I figure it's about time that roots music got a
definition. Because I've booked the previous 29 and I'm booking
this one, I guess that I should be the one to do that.
Well, we start with our own traditions,
ranging from blues, jazz, country, gospel, cajun, tejaño, and
zydeco, and add to that all the ethnic minorities that brought
their music here. Now we add to that the fact that this is "roots"
music, so what we look for is music the way it was and music that
was influenced by that music. For instance, we book a bluegrass band
for the old-timey content of their music. We book a singer-song-writer
whose songs are influenced by old-time songs and whose way of playing
them sounds old timey.
The interesting thing is that my concepts of "old
time" and "roots" have changed in the years I've been doing this festival.
There are people being booked today who play in a style I didn't consider
old time 30 years ago. My tastes have changed and the music I consider
old timey and worth preserving certainly have too. Add to that the fact
that 30 years ago it was still possible to get artists who were performing
music in the 1920s and '30s, but that is mostly past us now. We need to
locate the survivors, but I'm seeing fewer and fewer of them every year.
There is more old-time roots music available today on CD reissues, on
the Internet, and on the radio. You can find great old-time music on
vintage 78s and LPs. Why do so many people write dismal songs with
two-chord accompaniment and think they are accomplished performers? Lots
of the coffee houses hire such people and they develop a following, and
some give me a bad time because I don't want to hire them to play at the
Roots Festival. However, just because some misguided people out there
with little or no taste in music tell you how great you are doesn't
mean that you are. Learn five or six more chords, listen to songwriters
like Cole Porter, Bill Monroe, Bob Dylan, Mary McCaslin, Bob Nolan, or
Lalo Guererro. Learn a couple of their songs. Learn a couple of new
tunings on your guitar, mandolin, accordion, or whatever. You might
wind up at the Roots Festival.
I find that different kinds of roots music often
tug on each other. Cajun accordion guys learn stuff from tejaño
accordion guys. You'll hear an old-time Blind Lemon Jefferson lick in
a tune by Bob Will and his Texas Playboys. The best contemporary pop
music draws on roots music for lyric content and hot licks. There's
nothing wrong with that. To be a [complete] performer, you've got to have
all these things. To be a unique performer, you've got to put them
together with your own stuff, where it be interpretive or original, to
get what works right for you and for those who want to hire you.
Listening to a wide range of music can do one of two things. It can
teach you how stuff is done or it can discourage you from wanting to
perform. If the latter is the case, then maybe you don't want to be
a performer. Maybe we'll actually hear some roots music in the coffee
At any rate, festival number 30 is coming up.
Along with that are several other anniversaries for me. Festival
number one took place 35 years ago, which was the same year I opened
Folk Arts Rare Records, and for 25 years Folk Arts has been located
on Adams Avenue (3611 Adams Avenue: shameless plug). I also did my
first radio show in 1967 for KPRI. Along the way, I've been on KGB
and KDEO (remember Radio Kay-Dee-Oh). For the past 16 years I've
done "Jazz Roots" on KSDS (now on Sunday nights, 8-10 p.m.) and for
the past three years I've been doing "The Melting Pot" on World
Music Webcast [http://www.worldmusicwebcast.com/] which runs
about four times a
week (Saturday, 8-9:30 a.m.; Sunday, 1-2:30 p.m.; Thursday, 5-6:30 p.m.;
plus a floating show that might up anywhere). This winter and spring
"The Melting Pot" has been rebroadcasting tapes of some of the early Folk
Festivals we did. There's great stuff here from such artists as Jean
Ritchie, Ray and Ina Patterson, Roscoe Holcomb, Mike Seeger, U. Utah
Phillips, Wilbur Ball and Cliff Carlisle, Frankie Armstrong, Kenny Hall,
Robert Pete Williams, Lydia Mendoza, Joel Sonnier, and so many more.
It's been a big kick for me to revisit so many of these fine people
we've had at festivals over the years. I'm trying not to talk too
much but I'm hoping the occasional story puts some of this music in
context. Listen in if you can. And you musicians/performers, listen
to what these people are doing. This is the best of the best in roots
music. I find so many wannabe performers who don't know how to listen.
I spend most of my life (whether by selling records, playing music on
the radio, or presenting music at festivals and concerts) giving you
opportunities to listen. Most of these opportunities don't cost you
anything, and the rewards are what ever you make of them. As the old
harmonica player said: "Go thou and blow now." Good luck.