Music Mountain: Wind Songs, Drum Beats and Smoke Signals from Topanga Herald the Next Musical Migra
July 14, 2016 - By John Hartmann
Think the third iteration of The Corral in 2017 and “The Great Topanga Battle of the Bands” coming to Topanga.
For centuries the coastal tribes gathered where Topanga Creek meets the sea. Their songs once drifted on ocean-born zephyrs along the ancient walls up to the high place the Tongva natives called “Heaven.”
Their music still echoes in these hills. Its matrix has never been filled but its eternal song continues to be sung. Many great musicians come to Music Mountain to honor the legacy. Some remain intent on perpetuating the legend.
Los Angeles is a sprawling series of flatlands gripped by a bony claw of mountain ranges clutching at the sea. It takes a decade to learn how the vast spider web of streets, avenues, freeways and old back roads weaves all the little towns and villages together to form the greater city.
It takes just a little luck to discover Topanga.
I first came up here to see Canned Heat at the old Topanga Corral in 1966.
More than fifty years have passed and I remain a fascinated witness to her history. Replete with truth, myth, secrets and lies, she is my old friend. I admire her grace, beauty and style. For the past twenty-five years I have called Topanga my home.
In the 1950s the Dust Bowl Troubadour, himself, called Topanga home. The great Woody Guthrie rebelled out of the Theatricum Botanicum with fellow revolutionary, blacklisted actor Will Geer. The motto, “This Machine Kills Fascists,” was etched on Woody’s guitar. That ideal was at the heart of the next great musical migration to these hallowed hills. In 1964, the Hippie Revolution exploded out of California. The anguished blowback from the Kennedy assassination inspired an entire generation to stand up, sing out and fight for something better. Over the next five years sex, drugs and Rock & Roll devoured everyone under thirty.
When the City of L.A. tore down Pandora’s Box on Sunset Strip, provoking the first Rock & Roll riot, they inspired Stephen Still’s revolutionary classic, “For What It’s Worth.” Simultaneously, another treasure chest was opened, the “Big Lie” exposed, and a latent curiosity awakened. The question for the Woodstock generation was, “If they lied about pot, what else did they lie about?” The higher ideals that escaped when the lid was lifted incited a universal rebellion. The Baby Boomers turned on, tuned in, and dropped out.
What they discovered along the way was that war is king, life happens and rebellions are marathons.
A COLONY OF CREATIVE FORCES
The American Revolution II was rooted in the folk music of the ‘50s and fueled by the electric guitar. When Dylan plugged in with The Band the game changed. Suddenly, an army of folkies playing the college circuit was licensed to join the parade. The counterculture they created was led by Bob, The Beatles, Neil Young, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Linda Ronstadt, Joni Mitchell, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, The Doors, Canned Heat, Little Feat, Spirit, Taj Mahal, and many others. Most of them sought refuge in Topanga Canyon.
However, there are forces of modernity that would push history aside that would be a tragic loss of our culture and could never be replaced. The idealists who have long sung in this sanctuary didn’t know they were making history at the time, but they did. However, history is a work in progress and all things change. Our Topanga’s musical heritage must be honored, preserved, protected and prolonged.
Topanga is not a city, a town or a village. It’s a colony of creative forces clustered around a post office where, in the olden days, the Camarillo stagecoach came over Old Topanga Road to change horses for the long descent into Santa Monica.
Officially, it’s just an area designated on an old L.A. County census map.
Actually, Topanga is the product of a glorious mind-set that only we who live here can truly understand. We are rooted deep in her meadows and perched high on her mountain ridges. We are sheltered in the largest urban wildland in America. We live above the smog line, surrounded by oxygen-pumping oak trees and protected to the west by the baby blue pacific. Sing out dear friends, if this ain’t heaven, I don’t know what is.
THE TROUBADORS OF TRUTH
Our musical flag still waves high. The “Topanga Days Country Fair” and “Reggae On The Mountain” festivals attract thousands of locals and low-landers every year. More importantly, they are the tent poles in our musical community. The center-point for the next music cycle is here, where it has always been, safely ensconced in the Santa Monica Mountains. The next big thing could be lurking in your neighborhood.
If there’s a band in your garage or an album in your computer, getting it out is up to you. When you are ready to perform, The Theatricum Botanicum, Hillbillyhip, The Canyon Bistro, Froggy’s, Yoga Desa, Corazon, Jalan Jalan, Abuelitas, and other venues around the canyon regularly present dances and concerts in every genre and style. If you can’t find something to suit your taste, throw a house party and invite your favorite band.
These shows share the heritage that brought us all to Topanga and shine a light on our history, share our art, music, theater, film and literary works, and perpetuate the legacy of this place we all know, love and call home.
The much-anticipated third iteration of The Corral is scheduled to open in late 2017, and this legendary venue will once again provide a cornerstone in our musical heritage. A third festival, “The Great Topanga Battle of the Bands,” is in the planning stages. Every business in Topanga will be invited to sponsor an artist in this multi-genre contest being presented by The Holodigm Foundation.
The arts are the last line of defense in any democracy. Music stopped the Viet Nam War and it let loose the spirits of civil justice, women’s rights, gender freedom and world peace. These ideals received crushing blows in the late ‘60s, but, the genie is out of the bottle and there’s a new brand of rebel in town.
The next generation, inspired by old Hippie truisms and reintroduced by Bernie Sanders, is stepping in to take up the battle flag and move the social revolution forward. When this young army is led by musicians who sing truth to power and stand for the highest ideals, the tribes will gather and the forces of people-power will seek and find a new balance. If music abdicates its obligation to serve humanity, it will stay where it is today: nowhere.
The music of Topanga was never about the rewards of fame and fortune; it has always been presented by the troubadours of truth. The verses they sing and the stories they tell, come from their heart-souls, from the America they see and the one we seek. The secrets discovered in their search for melody, meter and message, are only detected by you, the listener. The lessons they teach are their gifts to help guide us and light the way.