Herb Benham: Folk music in Tehachapi cool way to spend hot day
By HERB BENHAM, Californian columnist firstname.lastname@example.org
Recently I drove to Tehachapi for a concert at Fiddlers Crossing featuring Eric Andersen, a folk singer I’d first heard 40 years ago with his song “Violets of the Dawn.”
Forty years can be hard on anybody, but 40 years in the music business is not like sitting on comfortable patio furniture watching the sun set. Who knew whether Andersen would be upright, drug-ravaged or float in on a magic carpet ride. He was one of the early Greenwich Village singers, along with Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs and Pete Seeger, and that was the last I’d heard of him.
A trip to Tehachapi was part of my summer strategy anyway. When you live in a hot place, it makes sense to have one; otherwise, you’re like a school of fish in a shrinking mud puddle.
The less experienced summerer thinks in large chunks, vacations so expansive they can block the sun.
That works if summer were two weeks rather than five months. A week in the mountains, 10 days at the beach, these are noble efforts. But you can’t run from a valley summer. Better to work with the heat, give it its due, respect its tenacity, bow to its ferocity and when it has let down its guard, sneak away for a few hours.
I left Bakersfield at 5 p.m., the temperature hovering around 100, my back sweaty, throat dry and prospects dimming.
When I reached Tehachapi 40 minutes later, it was in the low 80s, breezy and I felt like I had arrived at the gates of heaven with my best footwear.
I met friends at Kasagiri Restaurant, across the street from Fiddlers Crossing, described by owners Peter Cutler and Deborah Hand-Cutler as a “listening room.”
The Japanese food was good. I ordered tempura. I love tempura because you can disguise a piece of broccoli, shrimp or sweet potato in the light tempura batter and every bite is a surprise. It’s like opening a parade of presents Christmas morning.
After dinner, we walked across the street to the listening room. Scale is important, and to be able to walk from dinner to a concert is a pleasure.
Tehachapi is cute. At least downtown. The police station was close by and in case the old hippies began skirmishing, officers could stroll slowly across the street and gently separate the clashing tie-dyes.
The room at Fiddlers Crossing was cozy — 49 seats. It was like your living room with better stage lights and a sound board in the back operated by Peter that would make a grown audiophile drool. The kitchen, to the left, had tables and counters filled with cookies, cakes and freshly brewed coffee. It felt like Vermont, circa 1968.
A man stood in the back of the room wearing a black fedora. He wore the fedora in such a way that permanently eliminated it as future headwear for any man present.
No way that was Eric Andersen. That guy was supposed to be 71; this guy had an unlined face, looked 50 and as if he could bump Hugh Jackman from the cover of Men’s Health.
He adjusted the mike, strapped on his harmonica and started to play. After the first song, I wanted to call everybody I knew and tell them to drive to Tehachapi, drink in some fresh, mountain-washed, 80-degree air and listen to Eric Anderson play.
Garrison Keillor is a national treasure. So is Eric Andersen. I wanted to quit my job and follow him on the road, the next night at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica.
Great songs included “Foghorn,” “Thirsty Boots,” “Come to My Bedside My Darlin'” Blue Heart,” and “Sex with You.”
If you have iTunes, buy those songs now.
I shook his hand after the concert and told him he didn’t settle for cliches in his songwriting. He was polite but did not seem overly moved by my credentials. I rolled down the mountain in less than 40 minutes. Summer strategy, Tehachapi style.