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Spring blooms with music and more, on and off campus

by John Pixley

It’s that time of year again. I knew it was April and that it was spring. I knew that winter was over and that the school year would soon be coming to a close. 

After all, we had switched to daylight savings time, and Easter had come and gone early this year, putting everything into high gear. Or even higher gear.

It was pretty obvious when I was passing through the college campuses two Saturdays ago. That afternoon, it looked like there was a series of parties going on at Claremont McKenna College, with groups of students enjoying the sun and music and games spread across the center of campus. 

At Pomona College, students were painting or re-painting murals on the long wall at Walker Beach, off Columbia Avenue. It was a pretty typical scene of kids enjoying a spring afternoon, blowing off some steam before hitting the books and the laptops for the end of the school year.  

But before that morning, it hadn’t really hit me. As I was having breakfast with a friend, he mentioned that there was a rockabilly festival going on at Pitzer College. My friend had not known about it in previous years.

That Saturday afternoon was great for outdoor music—sunny and bright, warm but certainly not hot. I had other plans that afternoon, not having known that the festival was going on, but was able to spend an hour or so at the festival, enough to catch the last few songs by one band (the Honeydrops) and some songs by another band (the 44s?). I was sorry that I couldn’t stay to see Johnny Come Lately, a local band, but I told my friend to watch for them, and I was glad for the hour there.

It felt something like a discovery, like the first time I went to the free festival and found out it’s an annual event put on by the Latino students at Pitzer. The festival also features vendors and a car show and attracts a good crowd, mostly from, interestingly enough, the outside community, it seemed, but it’s not listed on the official Colleges calendar.

I asked my friend later how he found out about the festival, and he told me that he saw a flyer in the Village (and that he liked Johnny Come Lately “better than the bands before”).

I don’t remember seeing a flyer when I first went to the rockabilly festival a couple years ago. Perhaps I was nearby and heard something going on and went over to check it out. It was a surprise—quite impressive, with a smooth, professional-quality set-up and a welcoming, easy-going environment.

Yes, it’s that time. The school year at the Colleges is coming to a close—graduation is just four weeks away—and there are lots of surprises put on by the students on the campuses.

Maybe there’ll be another Nochella, for those who can’t get out to the primo desert music festival. I first saw this mini-festival, staged on the lawn in front of the Smith Campus Center at Pomona Center, a couple years ago. As I was going up College Avenue on a pleasant April Saturday afternoon, I noticed flyers listing bands playing hourly from 3 to 11. There was an arrow pointing the way.

A year before, it was some chalk writing on the sidewalk on College Avenue that I noticed. It said “Human Symphony” and also had an arrow pointing to the lawn in front of the Smith Campus Center. I went over and found myself treated to a full, professional-quality concert by several student a capella groups from the Claremont Colleges and from UCLA and USC. It ended up being a most pleasant afternoon out on the lawn.

There have also been the plays put on at Bottom Line Theater—likewise a pleasant surprise. These productions, often free, are put on by a student theater group centered at Pomona Center that call themselves the Druids and are often stunningly well done, at least as good as the theater department productions.

These productions may be listed in the programs at the department productions, but one should keep an eye out online or for flyers on campus.  Like with the music festivals around the campuses, they are in addition to all the officially listed concerts and performances going on now at the school year’s close and are some wonderfully creative, well-done blowing-off-of-steam by the students.

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The Colleges aren’t the only places where I feel lucky in Claremont.

On a recent Friday, I read in the COURIER that Marley’s Ghost was playing the next night at the Folk Music Center. I was delighted, feeling that I was in luck. Marley’s Ghost is one of my favorite bands, and I happened to not have plans for Saturday night. Plus, it would be a nice way to celebrate getting over a horrible cold that I had endured for two and a half weeks. I went by the store the next afternoon and snagged a ticket. Sweet!

The group put on a great show, as always. I have seen this folk band—there are six guys—four or five times, and they are wonderful. I like folk music, old-time music, and these guys play and sing with lots of soul. The trick, for me, is that they infuse a lot of their stuff with reggae and also borrow a lot from the Grateful Dead. So they are right up my alley. Also, as with many folk bands, they feature much humorous, corny banter, and it’s a kick to see these guys my age—in their 50s—jamming and singing so sweetly in harmony and doing it so superbly.

Also, seeing them at the Folk Music Center was a real treat. The store in the Village is also more or less a museum, with all kinds of acoustic guitars, violins, drums, xylophones and other folk instruments from all over the world lining the walls, literally from floor to ceiling, and visitors encouraged to try out some of them. It was founded by Charles and Dorothy Chase, the grandparents of Ben Harper, and is sort of legendary around here and probably at least in the wider folk world.

The store puts on in-store concerts usually about once or twice a month, in addition to its annual folk music festival (coming up next month at the Greek Theater at Pomona College).

Over the years, I’ve seen a number of groups there, from the pretty traditional Wicher Brothers to the punk-folk I See Hawks in LA, and this wasn’t the first time I saw Marley’s Ghost there. The back half of the store, which is relatively small, is cleared, with folding chairs set up in front of a corner stage area. It is like going to a concert in someone’s living room, an intimate jam session with top-notch musicians surrounded by beloved instruments. What’s more, tickets go for $10 or $15.

Like I said, a real treat—and all the more so with Marley’s Ghost.

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