Walking around the 2017 Long Beach Folk Revival Festival was a blissful, if slightly surreal, experience. The craft boutiques that had long since been corporatized at other festivals felt once again local, the stages had an openness to them, and the blankets and folding chairs that dominated Rainbow Lagoon Park indicated a small festival where music and family mattered first. It could be described as quaint, and that was perhaps its most beautiful strength.
While much of the festival’s appeal seemed to come from how much it felt like Southern California’s best kept musical secret, in the end it really was a secret, so much so that in January of this year the festival announced on Facebook that it was canceling its 2018 iteration.
“We saw a significant decrease in attendance in 2017 and while a major backed music festival might be able to handle this temporary lull, our resources are very limited and it affected us greatly,” the social media post read. “While this may be the end of the Long Beach Folk Revival Festival, the folk, bluegrass, and roots music scene is still very much alive in Long Beach and we will continue to support our community of musicians however we can, including keeping the monthly folk jam going.”
The comments that poured in below were a mix of enthusiastic and heartbroken, thankful for the memories they’d created while hurting at the void left behind. The festival had become a staple in the Long Beach community, and a refreshingly local product compared to Southern California’s other summer festivals. “A lot of competition moved both into Long Beach and around that weekend,” says Shea Newkirk, who founded the fest in 2013. “We’re a small, community driven organization and its hard to compete with major players.”
Over the four years of the festival, a community of Southern California bluegrass and folk musicians emerged. Christina Wilson, whose Los Angeles based band Honey Whiskey Trio have been veterans of Long Beach’s scene since they became a band in 2012, doesn’t see that going away.
“The real joy is seeing all of the young artists emerge and grow over the years. Shea and team have put in countless hours of efforts to bring quality live music to the residents of Long Beach. We feel that a large number of local bands came out of the woodwork after seeing the support Southern Californians are willing to give to live folk and bluegrass music.”
While the festival has officially ended, the organization’s dedication to live folk and bluegrass is still alive and well in the form of jam sessions held on the second Thursday of every month at the Red Leprechaun in downtown Long Beach. What first started as a fun way to pass time at one of the festival’s stages quickly transitioned from the festival grounds to the tavern, where people can come to not only play (traditional jam circle style, of course) with fellow music enthusiasts, but also see some of the most exciting bands coming out of the local scene.
“I think it represents the monthly spirit of what the festival was all about in the first place, and we’ve taken that to the monthly level,” says Newkirk. “There’s been a pretty steady crowd that comes every month. There are our regulars that have been coming for years and there are people who come in every once in a while. Some people just want to listen, too.”
Honey Whiskey Trio, regular participants of the jam, see the jam’s value in the local community and for the folk scene. “Our favorite thing is how welcoming the jam sessions would be,” puts Wilson. “There are few things more terrifying than learning an instrument in front of people. Shea and [Sawtooth’s] Sean [Blake] run an incredible, warm, great flowing session that welcomed all instruments — seriously, everything.”
While the folk and bluegrass scene learns to evolve beyond the Long Beach Folk Revival Festival, the jam sessions still offer the sense of community that the festival so beautifully captured over its run. “We’ve been able to connect a lot of people and musicians,” says Newkirk. Those connections still run deep.
Folk Revival Jam featuring BearCoon at the Red Leprechaun, 4000 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, (562) 343-5560; www.redleprechaun.com. Second Thursday of every month, including April 12, 7 p.m. 21+.