Freak-folk

Freak-folk

New music festival at El Cid showcases an emerging genre

By Michael Saltzman 07/13/2006

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Some call it “freak-folk,” others the “new weird America” and still more “naturalismo.” But whatever handle you fancy, a new musical movement has taken root. Inspired equally by the fanciful visions of English folk and the wandering-outsider figure of American country-blues, the new music first made its mark in 2004 with the emergence of singer-songwriters Joanna Newsom and Devendra Banhart. Since then, rather than suffer the fate of many over-hyped genres, freak-folk has blossomed.

This month, Banhart takes the movement to Silver Lake, where he curates the multi-syllabic “Hypnorituals and Mesmemusical Miracles Hanging in the Sky: 5 Nights of Soleros and Bandaleros” at El Cid. The festival runs July 18 through 22 and offers a wide sampling of gentle, hallucinatory sounds. Expect everything from Indian duo Stuart and Caan to experimental Argentine folkie Mountain Party to psychedelic rapper Subtitle.

Mostly, though, it’s emerging stars of American underground folk. Highlights include the silken “organic disco” of Rubies (on night four), the Renaissance-pop of Feathers and the electrified troubadour strut of Entrance (both on night one). Banhart himself is not scheduled to appear, though he might make special appearances.

While younger artists dominate the bill, “Hypnorituals” also hosts rare performances by a few freak-folk forebears. Banhart is known for honoring his elders (he famously boosted the career of British folksinger Vashti Bunyan), and here he presents originators Ruthann Friedman and Michael Hurley.

Friedman, a thoughtful and understated singer-songwriter, penned the ’60s hit “Windy” for The Association before releasing her lone solo LP, “Constant Companion.” Her songs, spare and evocative, need no bells and whistles to sound psychedelic. Night two includes her first live appearance in decades.

Meanwhile, night five offers perhaps the finest treat of all with the highly anticipated set by Michael Hurley. A legendary wanderer with four decades of songwriting behind him, Hurley has built a loyal cult following for his sleepy, good-natured hobo-folk. Despite tireless touring, he hasn’t come through Los Angeles in a long while.

Combining the old and new of outsider folk, “Hypnorituals” should satisfy any music fan looking for some unusual nightlife. And even if Banhart doesn’t perform, as curator of this freak-folk bonanza, he deserves a standing ovation.

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Night one, July 18:

Feathers, Jana Hunter, Entrance, the White White Quilt.

Night two, July 19:

Ruthann Friedman, Casual Fog, Adam Tullie & Friends, Dhayan Roark.

Night three, July 20:

Nobody and the Mystic Chords of Memory, Subtitle, Mountain Party.

Night four, July 21:

Rubies, Hecuba, Coconut, Hello Elohim.

Night five, July 22:

Michael Hurley, Sir Richard Bishop, Stuart and Caan.

Every night:

Astral advancement by Eric Ernest Johnson, dublab DJ sets all night on the patio.

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