Does much of today's rock 'n' roll make you reel? Do you find yourself tearing up when you hear a refrain of "Puff, the Magic Dragon?" Fear not, there is an antidote for what ails you. Folk music is alive in Ventura County.
Although this grass-roots music enjoys a popular resurgence from time to time, it has always had a faithful following and folk musicians will keep on picking and strumming no matter what comes and goes on the hit charts.
Folk music itself represents the creative expression of people worldwide. But what is typically thought of as American folk music comes from many ethnic influences including black gospel, Irish working and drinking songs and Appalachian love ballads. While the omnipresent guitar has become the symbol of folk music, the banjo, fiddle, mandolin, harp, autoharp and dulcimer are also used extensively.
The Ventura folk scene offers plenty of opportunities for those who enjoy participating as well as those who don't. Hootenannies, or "Hoots" for short, are essentially sing-alongs and are held several times a week in the homes of various enthusiasts who call themselves the Songmakers.
The group has been meeting continuously since it first got together in the '40s as a way for songwriters to share their material with their fellow composers. Their most famous member has been American folk singer Pete Seeger, member Jackie Smith said.
The Songmakers, which boasts 300 paid members, has grown to include those who enjoy singing and playing as well as writing folk music. On any given evening, 20 to 30 musicians gather to listen to one anothers original compositions or interpretations of more traditional melodies. All instruments and levels of ability are welcome, both professional and amateur, said Smith, as the emphasis is on fun.
The Ventura chapter meets in Simi Valley every Wednesday as well as the third Friday of each month. Call (805) 527-7340 for more information. There is no charge.
Several cities in the county also offer Friday night concerts for those who prefer to sit back rather than sing along. The oldest in the series is a "coffeehouse" in Thousand Oaks, which is held the first Friday of each month. Now in its 10th year, this event draws both local and out-of-the-area musicians.
This month, Paul Sanchez and Rabbit MacKay, two Ventura County residents, performed a combination of folk, blues, country, rock and original music.
On Aug. 3, Mickey Bochard, a mother-and-daughter contemporary gospel duo are scheduled to perform. Call (805) 499-4355, the Arts Council of the Conejo Valley, for more information on the August concert. Admission is free.
In response to the many musicians who wanted another showcase for their talents, Newbury Park started its own series of concerts called Fireside Offerings, said Dawn Kuznkowski, program organizer and musician. Now, five years later, 100 folk music lovers gather in a cozy nook of the Borchard Community Center on the second Friday of each month to hear anything from foot-stomping bluegrass fiddles to twanging Hawaiian ukuleles.
The center attracts everything from semiprofessional performers to amateurs, with the only restriction being that all performers play acoustic instruments.
This month's offerings included a balladeer from the Santa Cruz area, Mark Levy, who performed original political satire/protest songs, followed by mother and daughter, Mary and Dana Crooks, who sang haunting Appalachian harmonies, and continuing with local musicians Jim St. Ours, Paul Sanchez and Glenn Scrivner, who played a variety of traditional ballads. They are also preparing to perform at the county fair later this summer.
The next concert will be Aug. 10. The performance, like all Fireside Offerings, is a surprise for the audience, said Kuznkowski, since the evening agenda isn't set until right before concert time. For more information, call (805) 498-3124 or 495-5118. A $2 donation is requested and refreshments are served.
Camarillo is the latest community to catch the folk vision, and has been hosting a third-Friday-of-the-month "Camarillo Cafe" at the "O" Club at the Camarillo Airport for the past year. It goes from 8 p.m. to 12 a.m., event coordinator Jack Zigray said.
The cafe has been around for nearly a year and offers an eclectic mix of acoustic music, from traditional folk and blues to classical and even some rock 'n' roll (of course, without amplifiers).
At the July show, Harvey Taylor played blues and ragtime acoustic guitar, Barbara Brussels sang show tunes, guitarist and singer Elyna Le Fevre performed traditional folk songs, followed by acoustic duo Jerry Faigin and Linda Marie.
For information on the August show, call (805) 482-1996, 482-0978 or 482-0986. Concerts sponsored by Pleasant Valley Recreation and Park District are free and refreshments are served.
No attempt at covering folk music in the county would be complete without mentioning two popular groups who perform regularly. The Old Time Fiddlers Assn., a group of 30 or more, get together on the second and fourth Sundays of each month at the Community Center in Oak View to play their old favorites. Families bring blankets and picnics. A snack bar is also available. The event is free. Call (805) 486-8744 or 646-1583 for details.
Another group is the Acousticats. Until recently, they called themselves The Phil Salazar Band and played predominantly bluegrass. According to Kim Louks, wife of the band's leader, the five-member group has had a change of style. They now characterize their music as "new acoustic," which is "progressive with traditional folk and jazz influences."
The Acousticats will play at Henson's Music Festival in Camarillo on Aug. 11. Call (805) 482-6115 for details.
* ON THE COVER: Mark Levy of Boulder Creek performs at the Borchard Community Center in Newbury Park.