Summertime is a great time to get out of the box and attend
some of the many outdoor festivals happening in the Northwest.
No matter where you live, there are festivals within a few hours
drive. I just returned from the 23rd Annual Yakima Folklife Festival,
which has an open mic stage nestled under a big tree with food
and crafts booths all around it. Even though I had my own time
slot on the main stage the night before, I decided to play the
open mic stage the next day, thinking I would connect with a few
more people who had never heard of me before. Other performers
at the festival also played the open mic stage, including the
group Waterbound who played a nice set of traditional music with
autoharp, vocals and mandolins. This festival is one of many in
the Northwest where you can meet new musicians and run into musicians
you already know.
On Saturday night I ran into Victory Music member Joel Tepp at
one of the club venues that the festival sponsors. Joel had come
to the festival to accompany Amy Martin, a wonderful songwriter
from Montana. Joel met Amy at the Kerrville Festival in Texas
when he went there to accompany Caroline Aiken. For Joel, this
is what it's all aboutgoing to festivals, connecting with
new talent and being inspired by new ideas from the bounty of
musicians he hears there. As a result of that meeting I went to
hear Amy Martin with Joel sitting in, and I was inspired by her
warm personality on stage and her fine songwriting and vocals.
Even though Joel and I have seen each other at the Victory Music
open mic a number of times, we never had talked. "We had
to go to Yakima to finally have a conversation" was the way
Joel put it.
For those of you who attend the Ravenna Third Place Books open
mic, you probably have seen Joel play there. Maybe you were around
when he played rhythm guitar in the Spencer Davis Group, or you
may have seen him playing with his long time friends Little Feat.
There isn't enough room in the Victory Review to list all of Joel's
credits but I can give you a little background on this man who
loves to play music and is always willing to help others succeed
at their music. I think it's great that a musician of Joel's caliber
comes out to play open mics and sit in with everyone from beginners
Joel Tepp was born in Hollywood, California, where he grew up
and started playing music at The Ash Grove, a stellar folk club
of the day. He moved to Berkeley in 1966 to go to college. He
played there at The Freight and Salvage, a folk club that is still
in operation today. Fate had it that he would rent an apartment
across the street from the legendary Charlie Musselwhite. They
became friends, and Joel learned a great deal about playing harmonica
from this extraordinary musician. He developed the foundation
of his playing style as well as some killer harmonica chops, and
even played some gigs with Musselwhite!
While in Berkley, Joel made trips up and down the West Coast buying
instruments and bringing them back to the city to sell and pay
for his college education. He also traveled around playing gigs.
His first paid gig was in 1967 at the Ice House (a famous 1960s
folk club in Pasadena, California), which was run by Bob Stane.
The group Joel played his first paid gig with was a jug band called
The Lydia E. Pinkham Superior Orchestra. Megan Berleson played
in that band with Joel, and she now lives in the Northwest. Joel
promises to bring her to the Victory Open Mic sometime to share
her wonderful voice with us. On his travels up and down the coast
he met songwriter Danny O'Keefe and formed a long-lasting music
relationship that still goes on today. Danny introduced Joel to
Seattle, where he has lived for the past 20 years while raising
his two children.
Before moving to Seattle, Joel worked as a studio musician in
Los Angeles. You can find his name in the credits of many studio
recordings that were made there by artists such as Iain Matthews,
Kate & Anna McGarrigle and Cris Williamson.
Now that his kids are grown Joel is getting back into playing
more and is also starting to write his own songs. He still loves
playing as a sideman and helping others sound good, but he feels
it's time to make his own contribution to songwriting.
Joel finds great value in the Victory open mic, because it helps
build community and is "a place where someone can come and
get encouragement to get their guitar out again and get back into
playing." He likes to just go and listen to what others are
doing even though he can't get there in time to sign up. He really
likes to see young players show up and is inspired by their ideas
and how they use chords in ways he wouldn't think of. He also
connects with the jug band music of Stanislove, which takes him
back to his own jug band days. For Joel, playing this open mic
is a chance to try out new songs with a live audience.
He also likes to support Third Place Books by buying books there,
even though he could get a discount at other stores. He is thankful
to them for hosting the Victory open mic.
Although most small festivals can't afford to pay musicians, the
value of networking with other musicians is great. I was inspired
by some fine performers and became more acquainted with musicians
like Joel Tepp, Amy Martin and Camille Bloom. Support your local
festival and it will support you.
Michael Guthrie is a singer/songwriter who regularly plays venues
in the Northwest and is a Victory Music sound volunteer. He has
produced his own CD and run his own coffee house/cafe, The Village
Green Cafe, in Kaslo, BC from 1973-79. He studied sound engineering
and recording at Sound Master Recording Studios in North Hollywood,
CA in 1987.