The Topanga Banjo Fiddle Contest had a hit with their virtual event but nothing beats the real thing live and in person. Courtesy photo.

MO’ AUSTIN (NOT MO OSTIN) MEMORIES

Last week I revisited my adventures at the glorious Austin City Limits (ACL) Music Festival in 2007, because I was writing about 79-year-old Bob Dylan’s recent explosion of creativity, and how I had to back off some from my assessment then, 13 years ago, that he was washed up, not worth seeing, fuhgeddaboudit. But, Dylan once again has proven himself to be one of those rare transcendent artists; never count him out, I reminded myself, after listening to three songs from his new album.

I can’t comment on his live performances because I haven’t seen one in quite a while, but he has not given up live shows. He was scheduled for a tour of Japan last April but was forced to cancel, also several festival appearances for this summer, because of coronavirus concerns. But he promises, on his website, to be back at it as soon as it’s safe. I would say now, go see him, if you can. How many artists can start out at his heady level and nearly 60 years later still be worth your attention and applause?

He may have been reduced to a croak in ‘07 and that ACL performance was pretty lame, but on his brand new double album, “Rough and Rowdy,” released Juneteenth in two-LP gatefold vinyl, two-disc CD, and digital, he sings in a lively, expressive and even tuneful croak. It’s his first album of original material in eight years. I‘m listening to it as I write this, and liking it a lot. The music is mere background, but Dylan has often been fascinating and successful presenting himself as a poet, with musical accompaniment.

I may get back to Bob (who maintains a home, coffeehouse and temple here in Santa Monica), this week or next, he’s got so much going on that’s good, but the reason my mind wandered back to Austin was a recent event — The Juneteenth 2020…

TULSA BLOCK PARTY

Virtual, streaming online still available. Presented, of course, as a counterpoint to Trump’s crass, disrespectful, medically dangerous, spectacularly failed indoor campaign rally there, in a city with spiking coronavirus infection. Tulsa was home to the famed Greenwood District, the “Black Wall Street,” a renowned, thriving self-contained black community that was very economically successful, until one of the worst race massacres in U.S. history destroyed it 99 years ago. Trump’s choice of city and date was an obvious thumbed nose to the history of pain of black Americans.

This year’s celebration brought together music and celebrity speakers, including CA Sen. Kamala Harris (still in consideration as a Democratic VP pick), NBA MVP and nine-time All-Star Russell Westbrook (who left UCLA to play his first 11 pro years in Oklahoma), former Attorney General Eric Holder, actresses Alfre Woodard, Sophia Bush and Amber Valletta, former MA Gov. Deval Patrick, “Watchmen” creator Damon Lindelof and many others including … singer-songwriter Danielia Cotton. I doubt that very many knew that name, far down the list, but I did.

Danielia Cotton. Still around, still rockin’. Not a star or even a well-known name… yet. But here she is, age 52, 14 years after she caught my ear on a small side stage at ACL, still making music, good, worthwhile music, still pursuing the dream. Good. For. Her.

I can tell you, from then in Austin and from now, on her new album, she’s worth your attention. Excellent songs, from soul to ballads to the hardest rock, and the woman can thrash an electric guitar with the best of them. When she grabbed my attention at ACL in 2006 she was doing AC/DC covers, with as much magnetism as the Scottish boys from down under themselves.

GNARLS BARKLEY

Remember them? The superstar duo of Ceelo Green and Modest Mouse. (The name makes me chuckle because I love NBA legend/announcer “I’m not a role model” Charles Barkley.) I was on my way across Zilker Park to see them, a huge act in 2006 (they broke up in 2010), not to be missed. But I never got there.

I walked past a small side stage, really tucked away, and heard this monstrous screaming and guitar wailing. AC/DC, coming out of a tornado in the form of a small Black woman. Her singing, playing and personna stopped me in my tracks.

OK, let’s hear the next song, then on to Gnarls. Um, one more. My brain told me to head on over but my ears and heart told me to stay put. Why would I leave something so good? Could Gnarls Barkley be any better? Maybe. Maybe not.

I wound up staying until the last note, introduced myself and got a business card. Maybe I still have it somewhere. I think I reviewed her next album. But I never forgot her. Great to see she’s still at it.

Obviously I have no regrets over that choice to miss Gnarls over some “unknown” rocker. I see a couple of music takeaways there: the biggest isn’t always the best, bragging rights don’t outweigh pure art, trust your ears not the hype, and appearances can be deceiving.

It’s possible that Gnarls Barkley show could have been the best thing I’d ever heard. I’ll never know, will I? Same as for the hundreds of thousands of concerts I’ve missed, versus the 3,000 I’ve caught. So maybe another takeaway is, the old bird in the hand, grass is greener. And I may get another chance because Green announced in February that GB is getting back together.

TOPANGA! BANJOS! FIDDLES!

And tons of great singers and swoon-worthy harmonies. The results are in for this year’s virtual competition (‘Gimme Shelter/In Place”) and the viewing is varied and compelling (for the most part), but I can’t wait to get back in the pines for next year’s, where some of the best music making happens between the stages. Congrats to all involved for pulling this off. The 59-year-old festival can’t be stopped by devastating fires or pandemics, and is one of the reasons living in SoCal is so rich.

NICOLE RECOMMENDS:

BLACK BANDCAMP — While Bandcamp’s Juneteenth fundraiser has ended (for 24 hours the online music company donated 100 percent of their take to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and pledged to do so every Juneteenth hereafter, as well as donate an additional $30,000 per year to partner with organizations that fight for racial justice and create opportunities for people of color) — you can still browse a growing crowd-sourced list of Black musicians on Bandcamp. Search by literally hundreds of genres and stream, purchase, and amplify these artists: https://blackbandcamp.info/#/

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