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L.A. Acoustic Music Festival satisfies

Santa Monica, Cal., June 6, 2009

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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In the days leading up to this SoCal weekend beach festival, the skies threatened rain like a cartoon anvil precariously hovering over a wedding cake. June gloom had set in - a full week before it was even June - and Californians hadn't complained this much since Gov. Arnold recently asked them to vote for new taxes. We pay a lot to live here, so we at least expect great weather!

But where the weatherman failed to comply on Saturday and Sunday, the folk musicians more than held up their end of the deal during two full days of dazzling (mostly) acoustic music. Renee Bodie, who regularly hosts intimate folk concerts in her Southern California home, has long dreamed about putting on a Los Angeles folk festival. And her wish came true.

Saturday's lineup could brag about two of the finest one-man bands in all of popular music. Richard Thompson took the stage with just one acoustic guitar in his hands. But as he played the driving I Feel So Good, however, one would almost swear there was a rhythm and a lead guitarist on stage. But, alas, it was just one man. He then proceeded to construct a dream set for diehard Thompson fans by including Richard & Linda Thompson favorites, such as Wall Of Death and I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight, as well as solo highlights like 1952 Vincent Black Lightning.

Bruce Cockburn, another one-man band, was the last performer to grace the stage on day one. And although he flubbed the lyrics to World Of Wonders, he nevertheless wooed the small, chilled, but devoted audience with the rumbling engine that is Night Train and had many singing along with him during Wondering Where The Lions Are. Toward the end of his set, Cockburn picked up a 12-string guitar to perform a new song about Richard Nixon where he wakes up one morning as a woman named Rose. That's one strange visual image, but Cockburn's skillful playing and playful wordplay somehow made it work.

Natalie MacMaster was sandwiched between Thompson and Cockburn, and her Celtic fiddling was the perfect antidote for cold, stationary limbs. Many in the audience danced, whether they knew how to do it the right way or not.

Earlier in the day, The Kingston Trio still found life in folk oldies, like Where Have All The Flowers Gone, while Jimmy LaFave and Joel Rafael provided their individualistic spins on crusty singer/songwriter fare. Eliza Gilkyson was as equally tough as the boys, but revealed her tender side with The Beauty Way, her ode to guitarists.

The second day's lineup was not nearly as strong as day one's, but David Lindley's menagerie of acoustic stringed instruments was a pure delight. His set included a take on Steve Earle's Copperhead Road, the old blues tune, Soul Of A Man and Bruce Springsteen's gripping song about homeless Vietnam vets, Brothers Under The Bridge.

Early on, Joel Rafael narrated a touching tribute to Woody Guthrie's legacy, which included performances by Slaid Cleaves - who had his own solo set earlier in the day - among others. Later, David Bromberg also put plenty of gusto into his set of slightly naughty blues.

Nanci Griffith literally hobbled on stage to close out the festival. She had two broken toes, while her lead guitarist topped these injuries with a broken leg. But these physical inhibitors didn't rob Griffith of her natural charm as she sang familiar hits, like From a Distance and John Prine's Speed of the Sound of Loneliness.

By night's end, Bodie was all smiles and so were we. Let's hope the L.A. Acoustic Music Festival becomes an annual tradition; we don't even care if we need to bring umbrellas.