TBFC is virtually here!


DAVID BYRNE’S REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL — “Part magazine, part therapy session, part blueprint for a better world.” Although not strictly music, Byrne’s non-profit editorial project “Reasons To Be Cheerful” has been a much needed salve to counterbalance the avalanche of bad news we are all inundated with. Browse the website for collections and categories (Climate/Energy, Health, Science/Tech, Culture, Economics, etc) to read stories of hope rooted in evidence. These are not fluff pieces, these are diligently researched stories that balance informed optimism with great journalistic integrity. As their mission states, “There are, in fact, a surprising number of reasons to feel cheerful. Many of these reasons come in the form of smart, proven, replicable solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. We’re here to tell you about some of them.” Subscribe to their weekly newsletter or visit their website: https://reasonstobecheerful.world/ (also on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram)


That we all remember the independent venues so vital to the world-famous music and performance scenes here over the decades, and that sudden closure for weeks or months could spell the end for most, without help. Somehow I don’t think the guy who gives Rush Limbaugh the Medal of Freedom is going to take money away from hotels, golf courses and cruise ships to give to the Troubadour in West Hollywood, or the Ruskin Group Theatre, here in SM.

So we did. It was my wife’s Mother’s Day cash gift that she decided to split between those two venues. The Troub is an historic institution writ large in the annals of folk and rock, and the Ruskin is a local treasure we must keep going. (In SM, let’s also remember Harvelle’s, certainly the oldest music venue in SM if not LA, and McCabe’s, every bit as historic as the Troubadour.)

For the Ruskin: https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?contribution=rgt

For the Troubadour: https://www.gofundme.com/f/troubadour-relief-fund


Not fire, not plague, not changing locations, not downloads and streaming, not shifting consumer habits.

The first competition ever for the Topanga Banjo Fiddle Contest, a music-only event in 1961, was called the “Banjo Pickers and Open Fiddling Contest,” created by Margot Slocum and Margaret Jean “Peg” Engwall Benepe. There were 26 five-string banjo pickers, five fiddlers, four judges and 500 fans amid the California scrub oak of the Santa Monica Mountains.

For the next eight years it was held on the grounds of the 1920s-era Camp Wildwood, until a city ordinance forced a move. The next 19 years saw the festival move around Southern California until finally landing at its current location at the Paramount Ranch near Agoura Hills, near its origins. Then last year the terrible fires damaged so much of the ranch it seemed like they would break the string, so to speak. But the show went on, and now, when there are no live shows anywhere, they have found a way to keep pickin; and singin’, fiddlin’ and dancin’ alive.

Alumni include Jackson Browne, David Lindley, Taj Mahal, John Hartford, Byron Berline, Dan Crary, The Dustbowl Revival, Frank Hamilton, the Show Ponies, Erik Darling, John Hickman, Stuart Duncan, Peter Tork, Steve Martin and Nicole Andrews.

The bluegrass-only event has evolved to include other acoustic music, folk singing and folk dancing. The contest mixes beginning, intermediate and advanced players, and professionals. Ages range from just past toddler to approaching a century. I discovered it late but have been several times and it is one of the best days you can spend, outdoors, under the big shade trees, music everywhere, people of all types from all over with a love of music in common, jam opportunities you won’t find anywhere else. I can’t wait to go again in person — next year, hopefully.

But for now TBFC is roaring back, in the spirit of folk music’s rich history of perseverance, with Gimme Shelter (In Place): a Virtual Performance Contest. Performance videos must be recorded during this Covid-19 quarantine, and uploaded to YouTube. Contestants are urged to be creative and reflect the times, while still following social distancing guidelines.

Applications accepted until June 1, applications and rules are on the website: www.topangabanjofiddle.org. There will be cash prizes, and it’s absolutely free to enter.


A Jon Bon Jovi fan. Don’t dislike him, just never clicked with me. But I’ve always admired him as a human being and he is still up to his old tricks, giving back hand over fist.

Nine years ago he and his wife Dorothea opened up a restaurant in his home state of Jersey, named Soul Kitchen. (Now there are three.) Typical. Rock stars with a big bank account will take that gamble. But this was no gamble. They knew it would not be profitable, at least not in dollars.

“One in six people in America are suffering at night and going to bed hungry, and one in five families live at or below the poverty line,” he said at the time. The motto of Soul Kitchen — “All are welcome at our table where organic, locally-sourced ingredients, dignity and respect are always on the menu.”

Pay on a donation basis; there are no prices on the menus. Can’t pay? If you’re disabled, elderly or a family with children, it’s free. Otherwise you volunteer to work an hour in the kitchen either learning to cook, washing dishes or tending the large vegetable and flower garden. They’re doing take-out now, just come in and get your meals and take it home, no volunteering. So volunteer Jon can often be found in the kitchen lately, washing dishes, pots and pans. The sixth-richest rock star on the planet is not waiting out this pandemic at some estate, ranch or penthouse.

The restaurants are part of the JBJ Foundation, which includes several such enterprises. They fund more than 600 units of affordable and supportive housing in 10 states, for thousands of people who need it, especially reaching out to youth and veterans. Emphasis is on providing a path out of chronic homelessness.

My great and good friend Michael Blum, from the LA Weekly days, early ‘80s, has worked with Bon Jovi since forever, as a producer, advisor, friend. Thank god and rock and roll Michael just came through an intense surgery and I was grinning ear to ear when my phone lit up today with his name. This one’s for you, Miguel. Welcome back. We need you now. Your work’s not done.


Remember I gave you a heads up? Well, now you have to remember to tune in tomorrow afternoon, 5 p.m. PDT, to join her on Facebook for “Live from my Living Room.” Rickie Lee is one of those handful of career artists always worth a look, with no idea of what she will be doing.

Charles Andrews has listened to a lot of music of all kinds, including more than 2,000 live shows. He has lived in Santa Monica for 34 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at therealmrmusic@gmail.com

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