Topanga Earth Day Fest | 04.18-19 | CA

Words by: Joy Bashew Rosenberg | Images by: Keith Berson

Topanga Earth Day Festival :: 04.18.09 – 04.19.09 :: Topanga Community House Fair Grounds :: Topanga, California

Steve Molitz - Counter Clarkwise :: Topanga Fest 2009
Topanga, California, is one of the last hippie bastions in California. One of the original communal living sites, this rustic creative haven has been home to artists, musicians and peace lovers over the years because of its seclusion and respite from the hectic pace of Los Angeles. The quiet, desert mountain town lies between "The Valley" and the Pacific Ocean. There is one two-lane road that winds through the canyon, and locals' bumper stickers proclaim: "Slow Down Through Town!" Crystal stores, natural food restaurants and a Shakespeare theatre in the woods - if there's a place to have an Earth Day festival, Topanga is it.

The tenth annual Topanga Earth Day Festival featured local, national and international recording artists, as well as craft vendors, a healing village and a kids' playground. Inside the main Community House was an ecological fine art installation made from recycled materials. A Yoko Ono "Wish Tree" stood in the middle of the room: a potted orange tree with instructions to write a wish on a tag, hang it on a branch, and when all the branches are full, plant the tree!

The festival provided two days of stellar entertainment with the message that Earth should be celebrated and protected. Last year's festival had a 92-percent diversion rate of the garbage, meaning 92-percent of trash that would've gone to landfill was recycled or composted on-site. Again this year, food vendors were required to provide compostable utensils, napkins and plates, and attendees were shuttled onto site by Biodiesel buses or electric taxis from stops along Topanga Canyon Boulevard.

On both days, festivities were kicked off with a yoga session and prayer ceremony; Saturday's prayer was led by local teacher and yoga community ambassador Seane Corn, and Sunday's by husband and wife team Govindas and Radha, who accompanied the class with Sanskrit chanting and harmonium. Over the next ten hours on both days, the stage never stopped rockin' with folk, new age, reggae, blues and jazz-fusion bands. Between music sets, guest speakers educated the audience on hemp, alternative energy and other topics.

Saturday | 04.18.09

Marc Ford with - Big Organ Trio
Preeta and the PeaceMakers kicked off the music on Saturday, followed by Jon T. Howard and Barry Smolin, host of the jam-friendly KPFK radio show The Music Never Stops. The woodwind magic of Suzanne Teng and Mystic Journey flowed through the audience by the hot sun of midday, and they closed their set with belly dancers who slithered into the crowd to perform a seductive scarf dance. Leon Mobley and Da Lion then brought their drums, positive lyrics, and some lovely female voices, and local guitar player Robin Moxey brought in the blues and funk.

Up the hill from the main stage was a second stage, sponsored by WeEarth, an environmentally conscious social networking site. The all-female band Yeh Dede ("to make noise" in Twi, a language from Ghana) lent sweet harmonies to folk songs from around the world, accompanying themselves on congas, djembes, guitar, bass and woodwinds. Their happiness and joy at playing was infectious. Toward sunset, local band "Making Love to Life" worked the crowd into a funky dancing frenzy, singing, "Shake your head, shake your mind, shake your body, shake your soul!"

An early sunset behind the mountains set the evening mood as the day's final acts took the main stage. Violin virtuoso Lili Haydn graced the stage on the heels of the band Maetar. Haydn's melodies are haunting and her earnest, humanitarian lyrics sobering. She sings and plays violin at the same time, often switching between melody and harmony with the instrument, alternating between caressing the strings with the bow and wailing on them like Hendrix. She played songs from her latest album, Place Between Places, with lyrics that called for social justice, civil rights and "love, love, love." Her operatic climax on "Powers of Five" echoed through the darkened canyon.

The stars were out and the party mode was on by the time Big Organ Trio took the stage, opening with a cover of Phish's "Cars Trucks Buses." The bass, organ and drum trio rocked a few more tunes before guest guitarist Marc Ford (ex-Black Crowes, Ben Harper) casually sauntered on and then proceeded to shred an unapologetic "Steady Rollin' Man." Ford looks like '70s Clapton and plays like Jimmy Page, with an unmistakable Crowes Southern blues influence. He and the band, who had never played together before, covered tunes like "Corrina" and "Are You Experienced," with Ford and BOT organist Mike Mangan periodically trading riffs. The crowd, who'd jumped on the platform in front of the stage, spurred the band to a four-song encore that included Ford's original "Smilin' At You."

By the end of Day One, it was clear that the festival was already meeting its objectives. By the time Big Organ Trio closed the stage for the night, the green lawn beneath the dancers' feet was as pristine as it had been earlier that day! The spirit of conserving and recycling - and, of course, partying - was alive and well with the festivalgoers.

Sunday | 04.19.09

Editor's Note: Due to unforeseen circumstances, writer Joy Bashew Rosenberg had to leave the festival early, please excuse the thin coverage of Sunday.

Tea Leaf Green :: Topanga Fest 2009
Sunday's musical highlights included Madonna backup singer Donna Delory, Luis Conté & Afro Cuban Latin Jazz, the Nate LaPointe Band, Tea Leaf Green and Counter Clarkwise with Steve Molitz (Particle, Phil and Friends) and Josh Clark of TLG. Molitz also sat in with local Topanga band The Honey Bunch during their set for a cover of "Cumberland Blues." For Day Two festival coverage, see photos from Keith Berson (next page).

Stephanie Lallouz, one of the festival's producers and also lead singer and guitarist for The Honey Bunch, said that despite a 2000-person-per-day increase in attendance, the trash collected was less than in 2008.

"Last year we had fourteen 55-gallon bags of garbage, and this year we had ten," Lallouz said of the landfill diversion effort. "We're growing a little bit each year. We just have to do it gently, so that we maintain the integrity of the recycling and the composting."

Continue reading for more pics of the Topanga Earth Day Festival...

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