Many are the winners, others just have that funky festival sound unique to Topanga: a tribute to Mel Durham, a jaw harp solo and of course, some killer fiddling and picking.
The CD commemorates four decades of music in the southern California mountains and includes a 16 page booklet with the history of the event and original festival artwork by Mary Ellen Clark.
This historic compilation is our gift to the old time music community and to the many musicians who got their start at Topanga.
"In a very real way, Topanga changed my whole life."
- Tom Sauber Just Pickin', Strummin' and Fiddlin'
Music Review By Michele Johnson
Spend an hour with the 40th Topanga Banjo Fiddle Contest CD.
Lean back, close your eyes and even if you've never been south of the Mason-Dixon Line, it seems like you've spent an hour sittin' by the fishin' hole or cloggin' at a barn dance. (Sorry. Hearin' this music makes you want to drop your "g"s, but I'll fight it.)
For those who've never had the pleasure of attending the annual contest, born in Topanga and still called Topanga for short, listening to the CD is the next best thing to being staked out on the grass on a perfect Spring day at Paramount Ranch with your cooler of refreshments at hand (legal and not), a floppy straw hat on your head and a smile on your face, listening to the best (and sometimes the worst) of bluegrass.
Of course, the worst can be the most fun-a 4-year-old kid playing a fiddle bigger than she is; off-key extended families, who could be jamming on the back porch of their ranch or mountain homes.
This CD, on the other hand, contains of course the best of the best, gleaned from 10 hours of continuous music at last May's contest-the 40th annual hoe-down.
It includes many of the winners and others who have "that funky festival sound unique to Topanga...." First up are The Mullets playing a tribute to Mel Durham, one of the senior fiddlers in Southern California, called "King's Lament/Rabbit, Where's Your Mammy?" It's a great opener-lively, toe-tappin' (sorry 'bout that) authentic bluegrass.
"Rock the Cradle Joe," follows, featuring Mel Duram himself on bass with classic dust bowl vocals.
The CD's instrumentals range from Christie Burns' deftly fingered dulcimer to a David Grisman-esque mandolin solo by Brad Hill of the Mountain River City Bluegrass Band.
The versatility and variety on display is awesome.
The producers, Dave Lynch and Gary Floyd, are careful to mix and match a patchwork quilt of the best of bluegrass.
"Wheel of Fortune" is a lovely a capella number sung plaintively by Susan and Nicky Baltrushes, perfect in their timeless harmonies.
Brantley Kearns serves up a particularly lively fiddle with the band Trail Mix, playing "Back Up and Push." And Steve Lewis makes his banjo sound like a band in the lively "Molly Put the Kettle On." The tongue-in-cheek jaw's harp solo (that must be politically correct now) by Daniel McFeeley rounds out the album.
"I know what you're thinkin'.
Just hasn't been enough jaw harp playing," he says before plunging in to a spirited rendition of "Diggokadoo." It's fun, it's satisfying, it's downright nostalgic.
Some old-timers here in Topanga may remember the time in 1961 when Margot Slocum and Peg Benepe decided to hold a "Banjo Pickers and Open Fiddling Contest" as a fund-raiser of Ian Thiermann's "Friendly Acres" home in Topanga.
An amazing 500 attended the first event, so the following year it was moved to the Stewarts' Camp Wildwood, where it remained for eight more years.
In 1969, the spoil-sport County demanded there be more off-street parking and bathrooms, so in 1970 the Topanga Banjo and Fiddle Contest left Topanga forever.
It moved then from Santa Barbara, to UCLA, to Santa Monica College and El Camino College, before finding what seems like a permanent home in 1990 back in the Santa Monica Mountains at Paramount Ranch.
It's a fitting choice, close to its spiritual home, Topanga.
The old wooden Western town built in the park has been home to fantasy pioneers and cowpokes from Mr. Dillon and Miss Kitty to Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.
During Topanga, you can jam with musicians playing on every front porch and sample a variety of down-home arts and crafts for sale.
That is, when you're not on the lawn, sampling music and snacks.
But it's a long time between Sundays in the park.
Buy the CD and you can enjoy the flavor of the day hunkered down in your easy chair.
Check out the artist's website:
2. King's Lament & Rabbit
3. Rock The Cradle Joe
4. Cuckoo's Nest & Red Haired Boy
5. Cold Frosty Morn & Elzic's Farewell
6. Big Mon
7. Kansas City Kittie
8. Tom Rock Twist
9. Big Hoe Down
10. Down Yonder
11. Swing and Turn Jubilee
12. Remington Ride
13. Polly Grand
15. Wheel of Fortune
16. Orange Blossom Special
17. Arkansas Traveller
18. Saint Ann's Reel
20. Over in the Glory Land
21. Huckleberry Hornpipe
22. Bill Cheatam
23. Whiskey Before Breakfast
24. Back up and Push
25. Boston Boy
26. Sandy Boys
27. Little Laura Lee
28. Molly Put the Kettle On
30. Alabana Jubilee
31. Pretty Polly