Feelin’ groovy: Ben Lomond Indian Summer Music Festival report

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Circles sweethearts in Ben Lomond. All photos by Hannah Barr-DiChiara.

By Max Goldberg

With the Bay Bridge closed and Golden Gate Park rolling in 40-year-old patchouli, some local pleasure seekers headed south for the Santa Cruz Mountains where SF impresario Arvel Hernandez threw the first annual Ben Lomond Indian Summer Music Festival from Aug. 31 to Sept. 2 at Henfling’s Firehouse Tavern. This summer of love was a hot one indeed, with highland temps cresting 100. Collective skin stickiness and caravans for creekdipping sessions were the order of the day. Evenings were for replenishment, singer-songwriters, sandwiches, a slice of lemon, and, eventually, a peaceful bedding down in the cricket-charmed night.

Hernandez did a wonderful job overseeing schedules and camping, making this festival of friends seem extra…friendly. The mixing of the beaded and bejeweled with some seriously leathered biker dudes and wooly barflies was sometimes weird but totally peaceable, my knee-jerk visions of Altamont redux proving unfounded. If anything, the locals just wanted to dance, something I could relate to after a pretty steady run of whispers and drones: just because you fly the freak flag doesn’t mean you’re excused from party anthems, soul stirrings, and a beat, ya heard?

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Ship bros.

But enough of that, let my praise spill over. Martin Salata (formerly of the White White Quilt) began Saturday, stretching out some diamond blues with Circles, a new project with recordings and shows forthcoming. A botched sound job left some holes in the arrangements, but the centrifugal groove-design was apparent and had me thinking vintage Dr. John and Hawkwind. Humbled by the heat, Guardian “Class of 2007” playboys Ship played their song-quilts more plaintively than usual; the heady light of the afternoon sun crowned these angels.

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Joseph Childress gets political.

Barn Owl’s skyscraping drone was the perfect match for the sudden cool of Saturday evening. Spirits awoken, we dug in for the nighttime jamboree. Wymond and His Spirit Children’s nice spin of hippie-glam gave way to a pin-drop performance by SF-by-way-of-Colorado troubadour Joseph Childress. I’ve seen Childress several times, but never this commanding and assured: keeping a tight leash on the vocal tics and guitar thrashings, allowing room for the natural ebullience of his verses and melodies to send Henfling’s soaring.

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Sean Smith & co.

Sean Smith played a low-key set of his mellow Fahey-tinged guitar explorations, while Bay Area favorite Paula Frazer serenaded sweetly with a solo set of her country heartbreakers. Headliner Entrance was the real deal as far as psychedelic-blues; if anything, his mild cold made his fierce vocals all the more entrancing for the raggedness. Hendrix revival, anyone?

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The lovely Paula Frazer.

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Entrance’s 115th dream.

After a Sunday morning for surfing, raspberry picking, or cannonballs at the pool, the music opened with a promising first-time set from the Sarees, an all-girl trio with an interesting electric-sitar bent. Bird by Snow, Adam Snider, and Chinatown Bakeries all gave the rest of Sunday afternoon a pleasant lilt, and Hélène Renaut charmed us with her accent and confessional lyrics. I came down from the mountain after singing with Snowblink, sorry to have missed “Windy” songwriter Ruthann Friedman but all too content to slump over in the backseat of a friend’s car. What are you doing next Labor Day weekend?

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Snowblink salute!