You know a music festival has really made an impact on the community when a large number of people miss its absence. Fortunately, the Claremont Folk Festival will return after a two-year hiatus on June 15 at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden.
“I can’t tell you the kind of disappointment I have to field when we don’t have it,” says Ellen Chase, festival co-director and manager of the equally revered, long-running Folk Music Center, Museum & Store in Claremont.
Now marking 30 years, the event began in 1970 as the annual Dulcimer Festival at Claremont’s Memorial Park. By 1979, it had transitioned into a non-profit organization and became known as the Claremont Spring Folk Festival. Supported by donations, sponsors and fundraisers, the festival helps the FMC bring unique live music to the area, provide school tours and lend instruments to music teachers.
“It started out tiny with American traditional music and has grown to include all kinds of music,” Chase explains. “This year, we have Henry Rollins (pictured, top) doing spoken word, which I think fits fine, because it’s an anti-commercial philosophy that the festival comes [from]. It is roots and folk in every sense of the word. We’ve got a very eclectic show.”
Back in the ‘80s, Rollins fronted the influential LA hardcore punk group Black Flag and later, a self-named alternative metal band through the mid-2000s. In the interim, he became a respected author, activist, TV personality and spoken word artist. Currently, Rollins hosts a radio show on KCRW-FM and writes a regular column for LA Weekly.
Another major headliner on the festival bill is David Lindley (pictured, above).
A veteran multi-instrumentalist and San Marino native, his extensive resume includes session work with Jackson Browne (his vocals are heard amid their hit cover of Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs’ “Stay” during Running on Empty), Linda Ronstadt, Graham Nash, Emmylou Harris, Rod Stewart, Warren Zevon and many more since the 1970s.
Even Chase’s Grammy-winning musician son Ben Harper has utilized Lindley’s talents on albums and cited him as an influence.
Chase calls Lindley a “quintessential musician” and notes he will be playing solo with several instruments. “He’s brilliant and one of the most tasteful players I’ve heard in my life; he’s also a personable entertainer. It’s been about 30 years since he played in Claremont.”
Then there’s the gypsy jazz of Janet Klein & Her Parlor Boys. “They do a fun type of naughty ‘90s ukulele [thing],” she says.
Leon Mobley & Da Lion make a return appearance to the festival (Mobley plays drums for Harper’s backing band The Innocent Criminals and a West African Djimbe ensemble). Additionally, several performers will conduct music workshops in the garden.
For Chase, the festival’s primary goal is “to bring folk music to the community” and have them learn about it. “We get people from all over Orange County, the Inland Empire and LA.”
A venue switch from Sycamore Elementary School - where the festival was held in 2010 - to the expansive garden allows for more activities (self-guided tours, nature workshops geared toward children) and flexibility. Local artists are expected to sell art and musical instruments while gourmet food trucks, local micro-breweries and caterers offer food.
“We’re going to have a beer garden, which we’ve never had before,” notes Chase. “Everybody is excited because the botanic garden and Folk Music Center are two venerable non-profit institutions here. I like the fact that we’re combining with nature. I think it’s a good fit for folk music; it’s going to be beautiful.”
Claremont Folk Festival, featuring performances by David Lindley, Henry Rollins, Janet Klein & Her Parlor Boys, Leon Mobley and Da Lion, Moira Smiley and Voco, Round Mountain, Gonzalo Bergara Quartet, Black Tongued Bells, Tremoloco, Ross Altman, Peter Harper, Phoebe Bridgers.
Workshops held in African drumming, songwriting, European and American folk songs, Gypsy guitar , ukulele, Mosaic making studio, drum circle, slide guitar, printmaking, puppetry, Didgeridoo, harmonica and protest songs.
10:00 a.m. June 15, Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, 1500 North College Avenue, Claremont. $25 general, $100 VIP (includes preferred seating and festival t-shirt), children 12 and under, free. Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden members can receive 20 percent off admission by contacting: firstname.lastname@example.org or (909) 625-8767, ext. 221 in advance.