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Scenery, storytelling characterize folksy music festival

The Claremont Folk Festival, held on Saturday at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden (RSABG), was a rousing success this year, with guests raving about the lineup and the scenic new venue. 

Along with ongoing musical entertainment, kids programs and workshops, the setting allowed families to roam through the botanic garden dedicated to native California plants, including a stop in the RSABGs annual Butterfly Pavilion.

There’s no sugarcoating it. With the festival running all day starting at 10 a.m. and with temperatures approaching the 90s, the event was a real scorcher. There were plenty of trees to duck under, however, and with vendors selling snow cones, ice cream and cold beer, there were plenty of ways to beat the heat.

“It was really enjoyable. The crowd was surprisingly mellow and manageable,” reported Emily Moultrie, co-owner of Claremont Craft Ales, whose brews proved to be one of the festival’s more popular wares.

“We had a great time being able to enjoy ourselves also while serving beer,” Ms. Moultrie continued. “A lot of people hadn’t tried our beer before, so it was a lovely way to get people to discover us.”

Henry Rollins’ spoken word presentation was a pleasant discovery for Claremonter Tim Tipping, who is more familiar with Rollins’ past music career.

“I was hoping he’d play some music, but I love what he did,” Mr. Tipping said.

What Mr. Rollins did was a combination of storytelling and proselytizing as he urged the audience to help the world move towards what he sees is an inevitable destiny. A time in which people look past details like race, geographic origin and sexual orientation to focus on their shared humanity.

He could tell from looking at the crowd at the Claremont Folk Festival that they are suited to lead such a charge.

“Your kids are not getting hit—they’ll be reading before they get in school—and you know McDonalds and Coke and corn syrup will kill you,” Mr. Rollins said.

He exhorted the crowd to open their minds and find the stories everywhere they go, an endeavor to which he has dedicated his life.

“Sometimes you’ll hear someone say, ‘Henry, it’s all going to hell in a handcart.’ [But] amongst you I feel safe,” Mr. Rollins said. “I’m brutally optimistic. We’re on this and we’re not going to drop the ball.’”

The next performer to take the stage, internationally renowned string musician David Lindley, likewise emphasized the importance of telling stories. One of the more poignant tales he told was of homeless Vietnam veterans in a moving rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “Brothers Under the Bridge.” “Campsite's an hour's walk from the nearest road to town/Up here there's too much brush and canyon/For the CHP choppers to touch down/Ain't lookin' for nothin', just wanna live/Me and the brothers under the bridge.”

Like every good raconteur, Mr. Lindley knows how to make listeners squirm for effect, as was the case with his tale of a gig where the hosts served a dubious treat of “Cat Food Sandwiches.” According to his song, Mr. Lindley partook, with ill-effects that he proceeded to describe in excruciating detail: “That image is still in my brain. And now it’s in your head, it don’t get away.”

A far lovelier image was that of the canopy of greenery surrounding the main stage as Mr. Lindley’s evocative sliding and picking on a Hawaiian slide guitar providing an orchestral backing for Warren Zevon’s bittersweet “The Indifference of Heaven.”

Mr. Tipping attended a Claremont Folk Festival 2 years ago, and heartily approved the change of scene.

“It’s really pleasant here,” Mr. Tipping said. “It’s hard not to enjoy the quiet of the garden.”

Hearing David Lindley perform was a sound for sore ears for Claremont artist Barry Cisneros, who hit the 2013 Claremont Folk Festival with his wife Margaret. For 11 years, Mr. Cisneros’ brother, Tony, a local ceramicist, served as a soundman for Mr. Lindley, he related. Mr. Cisneros got into a lot of Lindley gigs over the years on the strength of that connection, but it had been some time since he had heard him play.

“I’m old enough to remember actual love-ins with the Flying Burrito Brothers and Kaleidoscope [Mr. Lindley’s band from 1966-1970]. This is like a time machine,” he marveled.

If you’re going back in time, some good beer can help smooth the journey.

“I’ve been very fair. I’ve tried both,” Ms. Cisneros laughed, indicating the booths for Claremont Craft Ales and the Dale Brothers Brewery.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com

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