'South by South Pas'

'South by South Pas'

The Eclectic Music Festival & Art Walk celebrates community and creativity Saturday with Eliza and Tony Gilkyson and friends 

By Bliss Bowen 04/30/2014

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South Pasadena is fairly sleepy. The 2010 census determined that its residents number more than 25,000, but its look and layout make it feel more like a small town. It’s home to a considerable amount of Craftsman architecture, an old-fashioned soda fountain, a couple of coffeehouses, an Irish pub and a library, not to mention parks and a section of the Arroyo Seco — all powerful attractions for the numerous artists who live there, many of whom chose to do so because it is family-friendly. So it is somewhat ironic that one thing it doesn’t have is much of a cultural nightlife. When it comes to live music, South Pasadena’s weekly offerings are meager.

The city’s annual Eclectic Music Festival & Art Walk strives to compensate for that. Now in its sixth year, the all-ages festival hosts a diverse lineup of Afrobeat, bluegrass, country, folk, jazz, klezmer, pop and more on five official stages this Saturday, shining a spotlight on local artists and the connections between them.

“As opposed to a lot of festivals, we really have a priority to support artists in the community,” says Music Director Brad Colerick, who jokingly refers to the Eclectic Festival as “South By South Pas.” “I really try to find a place for people who want to perform to be able to do that. We have a lot of great musicians in the community.” He rattles off the names of several scheduled to play Saturday: Grammy-winning jazz pianist Billy Childs, former Ray Charles trumpeter Mark Hatch, singer-songwriter Anny Celsi, South Pasadena Transit Authority, classic rockers Grondle.

“And Eliza and Tony [Gilkyson],” he continues. “It’s kind of a neat coming-home story. It’s the first time that Eliza’s played in South Pasadena since she started her career as a musician. Tony’s been at Wine & Song [weekly showcase at Firefly Bistro] a number of times, but it’s going to be great having Eliza there. I ran into her in Kansas City at the Folk Alliance conference and she’s excited about it.”

Artists often refer to creative colleagues as family, but the bonds between festival headliners Eliza Gilkyson and Tony Gilkyson truly are biological. The daughter and son of folksinger and songwriter Terry Gilkyson (Oscar nominated for his song “The Bare Necessities” in the 1967 Disney animated film “The Jungle Book”), Eliza and Tony lived in South Pasadena as children. Tony recalls “chasing alligator lizards” and walking the Arroyo “in the days when the dog was spared the leash.” He was proud to be the son of a musician — not an ordinary job description amongst their friends’ parents — and he absorbed some of their mother’s fascination with California history. He also remembers playing music with Eliza, “bands and everything,” before they each struck out to establish solo careers. For both Gilkysons, those early influences later emerged in their songs in the form of vivid natural imagery, an abiding sense of place and a willingness to champion underdogs.

Tony first made his name as a fret-burning guitar slinger for X and Lone Justice. Opting to stay in Los Angeles with his family, he eventually started fronting his own band and released a pair of solo albums, 2000’s “Sparko” and 2005’s excellent “Goodbye Guitar.” Eliza, meanwhile, hit the road hard and eventually settled in Austin, building a reputation as a prolific, socially conscious artist with an emotive soprano over the course of more than a dozen critically lauded albums. Her newest, “Nocturne Diaries,” sensitively produced by son Cisco Ryder, finds her imagining Noah and “The Ark,” and “An American Boy” plotting violent revenge, then looking inward with intimate, melodic confessionals like “No Tomorrow.”

Eliza has recorded some of brother Tony’s songs — “He’ll Miss This Train” for her 2002 album “Lost and Found,” “Death in Arkansas” for 2011’s “Roses at the End of Time” — but it isn’t often that the two get to perform together. For Saturday’s concert on the Carnegie Stage, they plan to each play solo before teaming for a shorter set.

Over on the Emerging Artists Stage, 14-year-old South Pasadenan Charlie Hickey will also be carrying on family tradition: His mother, respected singer-songwriter Sally Dworsky, performed at the festival in 2011, and has strong musical connections to several artists at this year’s festival, including Colerick, Moira Smiley and Powdercoat — all part of a productive community of artists in which Hickey is already earning a name for himself. He’ll be playing songs from his thoughtfully written EP “Odds,” which has been getting airplay on KCRW and KCSN and features the quicksilver harmonies of Phoebe Bridgers, who will follow Hickey with a set of tunes from her own fine EP, “Killer.”

Harmonies also figure prominently in the music of Powdercoat, a folk-pop collaboration between singer-songwriters Claire Holley and Kristin Mooney. [Full disclosure: Holley and Mooney are friends who have played house concerts at this writer’s home, and we sang together in the group Musette.] The two share the kind of close, stirring vocal chemistry associated with siblings. Performing songs from their critically praised debut EP, Powdercoat will follow Smiley (with Billy Childs) on the Carnegie Stage.

“I met Moira [Smiley] and Sally [Dworsky] quite a few years ago at a mutual friend’s party where everyone shared a song,” recalls Holley. “I’ve been trying to hear Moira ever since. I’m excited to hear some of these people.”

Those people may include Hickey and Bridgers, and also Loafer’s Glory, featuring bluegrass legend Herb Pedersen, ex-Desert Rose Band bassist Bill Bryson, and the father-and-son musical team of Tom and Patrick Sauber. Or Rosa Pullman and Mitch Grainger (whose sister Kara Grainger was a hit at last year’s festival), aka the Lovers, who will be sandwiched between Wilberta’s jazz and 13-piece Eastside Afrobeat ensemble Mexico68 on the Gold Line Stage. The Lovers have become a regular feature at Hollywood’s Piano Bar thanks to their uninhibited banter, country-dusted originals and quirky covers of Willie Dixon and Tom Waits, among others. 

Festivals are a great opportunity for artists to reconnect with and also hear one another, Holley says. “Club gigs are a little more specific and may be all business. Festivals feel more like, ‘Come one, come all; it’s time to let loose and be free for the day.’ People are just so happy to be hearing music, and there’s a good spirit in the air.” 

The bottom line, according to Colerick: “We are doing this for the community and the businesses in the community, to get people aware of the cool little town we have. It’s great to get people coming in. And it’s great to give a creative outlet to artists here.” 

The Eclectic Music Festival & Art Walk takes place from 2 to 10 p.m. Saturday on multiple stages across South Pasadena. The Carnegie Stage (South Pasadena Public Library Community Room, 1115 El Centro St.) will host Eliza and Tony Gilkyson, Rick Shea, Powdercoat, Billy Childs with Moira Smiley, Elliott Caine, and Loafer’s Glory featuring Herb Pedersen. On the outdoor Gold Line Stage (913 Meridian Ave.): California Feetwarmers, Rick Solem, Mexico68, the Lovers (Mitch Grainger and Rosa Pullman), Wilbert, Aaron & Jane, Mark Hatch & Group 5, Aireene Espiritu, Grondle, Chauncey Bowers and South Pasadena Transit Authority. On the Emerging Artists Stage (BurkeTriolo Studios, 538 Mission St.): Tapioca and the Flea, the Buttertones, the Felt Blanks (formerly Jacaranda Red), White Dover, Breakfast, Phoebe Bridgers, Charlie Hickey and DJ Conway. On the SOPA Studios Stage (1025 Hope St.): Jonah Smith, Anny Celsi, Shadowlands, Lisa Finnie. On the South Pasadena Music Center Stage (1509 Mission St.): Walter Zooi, Ally Hasche, Extreme Klezmer Makeover, South Pasadena Music Center & Conservatory Chamber Music Consortium. Admission is free and open to all ages. Info: (626) 441-2339. eclecticmusicfestival.com

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