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The New LA Folk Festival: An Interview

The second annual New LA Folk Festival took place last weekend at the Zorthian Ranch. A rousing success, we caught up organizers James Cartwright and Daiana Feuer to get the post-fest skinny.

Congrats on wrapping up a successful second year. How did the New LA Folk Festival originally come about? 

Daiana Feuer: It was probably the mutual feeling that square dancing should be more popular.   

James Cartwright: With all of the wonderful bands in Los Angeles that could fit under the loose  "folk" moniker, it just made sense that we try to get them all together for one day each summer. 

I'm curious as the to the genesis of the name; had there indeed been an 'old' LA Folk Fest?

DF: The last time something called “Los Angeles folk festival” took place around here was during the 1980s, I think.

JC: I've always been into the various legendary folk festivals of the 1950's and 60s.  We figured we'd give ourselves big shoes to fill by naming it after our city.  The "New" part was to keep lawyers away.

The festival took place at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains at the Zorthian Ranch. For those unfamiliar, tell us a little bit about the space.

DF: Zorthian Ranch was established by Jirayr Zorthian in 1945. He built it out of junk and spare parts, and hosted legendary parties there up until his death in 2004. He was known for his long red underwear and having nymphs feed him grapes on his birthday. He was a sort of Bohemian Socrates, a wise man with strange, eccentric habits that seemed to inspire everyone that met him. The ranch has seen better days. We went in and helped clean it up a bit, and I would like to keep pursuing ranch restoration efforts. It feels like you’re walking on a museum and it should get historical monument status. The place is incredible. It was the perfect setting for the folk fest. You can read more about Zorthian Ranch here

JC: The neatest thing for me was how proud the community of Altadena is of Zorthian Ranch.  A large handful of the attendees seemed to have biked over from the surrounding neighborhood and their local newspaper ran a headline about our festival to the extent of "The Spirit of Zorthian Lives" which blew me away.

What was the set up like in terms of the grounds, bands playing, vendors, etc?

DF: There were four stages. One was in the horse ring, one was on the dirt porch of a shack at the bottom of a grassy ravine, overlooked by a terrace. The audience watched from the terrace and spread blankets in the ravine and on a few precipices. There was one stage we created by clearing out what would have been a patio used for skinning horses (which Zorthian used as an outdoor studio at one point), and one actual stage by the pool. We wanted the audience to be guided across the ranch as one band stopped and another started elsewhere, so they felt like they were exploring and discovering things as they went. The Echo Country Outpost brought in a huge slide that was set up outside the chicken coop trailer park known as Alcatraz, just beside a giant cross and a large blue head wearing spectacles where the llamas roam. We had a few wonderful food trucks set up at the entrance, and folks had to walk up the dirt path to the ranch from the parking lot. It got kind of crazy behind the scenes but attendees keep writing emails describing the event as “magical” or the greatest time they’ve ever had, so it all really came together as a unique music going experience.

JC: We're proud to say that in a place so rife with liabilities, our biggest injury was Daiana's finger getting cut.  
 
What do you see in terms of the future of the fest?

DF: We’ll keep exploring interesting venues and ways to present music. There are a few traditions we’d like to repeat that we established over the last year. We’re doing Murder Ballads in October, we’ll do a desert weekend sometime in the spring, and a tribute show. The future ultimately involves Olivia Newton John singing “Country Roads” live on a cruise ship, hopefully. 

Will you look into booking more outside the region, or keep it local?

DF: We’d like to travel and bring the fest (and these bands) to other places, like to other cities or to Iceland. I think the atmosphere and settings we create are just as important as the music, so it’s something that we’d like to share with other people and places. We’re planning a tour of the Salton Sea this November with a group of bands, a sort of traveling showcase that’ll visit unusual landmarks and weird towns. 

Finally, and I know it's hard to choose, but what artist was your favorite during this years festivities. 

DF: Twenty-eight bands performed and they were all our favorite. Alan Zorthian’s nephew visiting from Canada (where he lives with the Crete Indians) had to be a highlight. This eight year old child commanded everybody with one drum and his amazing voice. The square dance by Triple Chicken Foot was really something. You could see the dust cloud being kicked up from across the ranch and the entire horse ring was packed. Really the lineup was designed as a cumulative experience so I can’t pick one band! Every band had a moment. Mecca dancing during “Smoke Spells” by Tommy Santee Klaws was incredible. Nasambu & The Mystic Nomads were a wonderful surprise, Jenny Luna singing under a black parasol, Ramona Gonzalez performing Nite Jewel songs by herself for an audience that included goats, Spindrift ripping into “Drifter’s Pass” next to a blazing fire. Ana Caravelle, Frank Fairfield, Very Be Careful, RT N The 44s, Julia Holter…

Joy Jalapit August 22, 2011 at 07:26 PM
Great interview, Justin. And congrats on a successful event Daiana and James! It was one of the best events of the year in my opinion, and Zorthian's Ranch was the perfect venue. You also did a great job of timing the bands so that we could catch as much music as possible. My friend and I toured the ranch watching bands, from one to the next in a seemless musical treat for 11 hours. The music was so good, time just whizzed on by! Square dancing was a plus, and Zaid Zothian's performance was an unexpected spiritual treat. Kudos!
Anthea Raymond (Editor) August 22, 2011 at 07:41 PM
I loved the square dancing too...and so did the White Dog, who was in attendance. A major addition to the local music calendar!
lafolkfest August 23, 2011 at 09:28 PM
thanks for your kind comments! can't tell you how great it is to hear you describe the event exactly as we hoped people would experience it. kind of blows our mind!

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