Ed Pearl’s speech upon receiving the Best of the West Award for his life work

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Ed Pearl, the founder and manager of The Ash Grove nightclub, was honored by the Folk Alliance, on October 12, 2013 during their annual conference, as a Best of the West awardee.

Below is his speech on that momentous day.

My Awards Speech at the October 12th Folk Alliance Conference -Ed Pearl

Hi. I made this speech on October 12th, at the 10th annual convention of Folk Alliance Region West (FAR-West) of Folk Alliance International, where the club and I were honored with the “Best of the West” award. I’m sending it for a couple of reasons. Most on this list have been to an Ash Grove event, some went to the Ash Grove itself and others have heard about it. I want to be clear that the Ash Grove was always a product of many people of immense talent and dedication, who deserve recognition. Secondly, the Ash Grove has a future. Check it out, and then check out the list of performers on our website, at ashgrovemusic.com. Enjoy,

Thank you Joel Tepp, Arlene Kohl, the FAR-West Board and the many folks here for, this award.

Charles Mingus, the great jazz improviser once said, “Music is a continuum, a bottomless source of renewal; you couldn’t move into the future without a thorough knowledge of the past.”

That statement gets close to the spirit of the Ash Grove. The age old music of common people from the Highlands of Scotland and the Ghettos of London was brought by indentured servants and found a home in the Appalachian mountains. The music of Africa was brought in slave ships to the cotton belt; and that which survives is the best. The Ash Grove sought and welcomed the best; and helped it change the shape of popular music.

The roots music at the Ash Grove came from cultures of people struggling to survive under tremendous pressures; in Appalachia, miners fought to form unions, survive strikes and unemployment, and still live with the ravages of black lung disease and mountain tops removal. In the Mississippi delta, music was created to help people survive the poverty of slavery, segregation, and share cropping that was enforced by disenfranchisement and the terror of lynching.

We’d display photos, articles and posters of their lives; of children, romance, home life, church and social life, but also of struggles. Before audiences arrived, I’d show the displays to the artists, and asked if there was anything wrong or to be added. Every one really liked them, except Carter Stanley of the Stanley brothers, who objected to an article about the miners’ strike going on. I expected a tirade. Carter said, “Ed, our daddy was a miner and when miners go on strike, the only place they can meet is our farm. The sheriffs and gun thugs wouldn’t dare come in. That’s missing here.” I welcomed the correction. Many of the artists told me this was the only place that showed their culture, and nobody would dare do it in the south, black or white.

After the first arson fire 1969, another side of the club showed up. At the packed media conference to announce a rebuilding concert to be held at what is now the Ford Amphitheatre; the first artist to speak was Roger McGwynn of the Byrds. He said he’d met, courted and married Delores Deleone, a waitress at the Ash Grove. He obviously set a tone because Taj Mahal gets up and says he married Anna de Leon, our cashier. That commenced every performer telling a very personal story. The L.A.Times should have sent Dear Abby instead of Robert Hilburn. Clearly, we got the music, the fire and the concert covered, but it shows the spirit of the place; the atmosphere of a wonderful, diverse community.

I’d like to introduce my family. My daughter, Jolie Pearl, is an RN with a Masters in Public Health Education. She used to work for the California STD/HIV Prevention Training Center as the Clinical Training Coordinator, organizing trainings for clinicians on STDs and HIV. She now is a Leadership Development Coordinator with Local 9119 of the Communication Workers of America, organizing white collar employees throughout the UC system. Son-in-law, Steve Butler, is a special education teacher in Oakland, teaching the hardest cases; the most disturbed and violent, the most disabled. Quite a guy, and great father and husband. The light of the family’s eyes is Ariel Sara Pearl Butler, my granddaughter. She’ll soon be 16 and goes to Berkeley High. When she was 10 she called me into her room to solve a computer game problem. I took one look at it and gave up. She said, “Hey Grandpa, you’re not any smarter than I am.” I’ve been persuaded of that ever since. I truly hope that when her 17th birthday rolls around, she’ll still be talking to her parents.

Now, the folks most instrumental in developing the Ash Grove, from the beginning to today. Phil Melnick sat with Kate and me, planning the club. He built the sound and light systems, then became office manager. He took many of the photos you’ll see of the club’s early days; all of them now available on Wolfgang’s Vault, along with our extensive, taped music. Carroll Perry showed up right after we opened and became a warm host to performers, staff and audience. A great cook, he made the food and knew the cafe’s southern folks liked. When Doc Watson or Lightnin’ Hopkins arrived, we’d talk some, and they’d then ask for Carroll. They were hungry.

Bess Lomax Hawes was my guitar teacher, and friend. She’d tagged along as a kid with her famous brother, Alan Lomax, in the 1930’s collecting traditional music in the south. She knew many artists personally, brought them to the club, and spread the word.

Mike Seeger, John Cohen and Tom Paley formed the New Lost City Ramblers and spread traditional music throughout the country. They were also very funny and effective in preparing city folks for the Ash Grove appearances of the great players they learned from.

Brother Bernie Pearl and David Cohen founded and ran the Ash Grove School of Traditional Music, in 1962. They’d become great musicians through years of learning from the artists we’d brought in. It was a time when everyone wanted to play the guitar and banjo. Bernie and Dave not only taught, but got Doc Watson, Brownie McGhee and other greats to guest teach classes.

The teen-age Chambers Brothers and The Kentucky Colonels had arrived, from South LA, and Burbank, but born in Mississippi and Main, with gospel, blues and bluegrass in their souls. It’s one thing to have great older musicians on stage, but when Clarence White played the greatest bluegrass guitar ever, it’s something else. Ry Cooder, an Ash Grove kid, a year younger than Clarence, came of age. All this created the audience that solidified the new Ash Grove. Thank you, Bernie, and David. Bernie will be doing a workshop at 3 p.m.. Check it out. Don’t miss it.

I want to acknowledge Sandy Getz. She began as a waitress in 1961, soon became head waitress, then office manager, sometimes working the floor. She had skills, guts and incredible loyalty to the club and to me. If I had to be away for a week or more, she’d take over, even after she was no longer working at the club. That happened when she was managing Emmy Lou Harris. She combined Emmy Lou and Ash Grove business from our office. The guts part came into play when Bob Dylan brought an entourage to see a show and expected a free pass. She told him to dig up the $2, just like everyone else. Bobbie obliged.

Jerry Kaye and Gordon Alexandre showed up in 1968. Jerry just spoke his piece. Gordie stayed on, with interruptions, until we closed, and has been a close friend and helper ever since. He was not only the best night club manager ever, but his warmth and his skills are amazing. At the Ash Grove, he introduced performers with words about their culture, extending what was on the board in the front room. Now just retiring as professor of History at Glendale College, I’ve seen the love his students showed matched by teachers, custodians and other staff. I’m proud of and forever grateful for this life-long friendship of Gordy and Jerry.

Eric Ahlberg and Jeff Landau have been my technical saviors since the late 1970’s. Jeff actually was in the Ash Grove children’s folk chorus, in the early 1960’s. Once they opened for Odetta. For real. It shows my craziness and Odetta’s love of kids. And they were great. Jeff started and runs the Ash Grove website. Eric managed the operations of the extensive and complicated Ash Grove 50th birthday in 2008 at UCLA. With friends like these, you can do a lot.
Many now famous musicians learned at the Ash Grove. Dave Alvin starting at age 13, sat as close as he could get to the artists he describes in his song, Ash Grove, the theme music of the trailer, Ash Grove Burning. Bonnie Raitt nagged her dad, relentlessly, to bring her, and Jackson Browne did the same with his dad, and je then played the club. Dave and Bonnie were too young.

While the Ash Grove is best known for traditional music, such as bluegrass and blues, the club also featured jazz and artists, such as Oscar Brown, Jr., Chuck Berry, Lonny Mack and The Limelighters . And, long before there was a recognized “world” genre in the music industry, we provided a venue in L.A. for such diverse performers as Ravi Shankar, Mike Janusz, Mongo Santamaría, Miriam Makeba and the Virgin Islands Steel Band.

The Ash Grove was also part of the cultural and political ferment of the 1960s with Phil Ochs, Dylan, and many others. We also brought in an occasional mix of music with poetry, lecture, film or comedy. Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl, Rowan & Martin and Steve Allen brought their comedy and commentary to the Ash Grove. Luis Valdez’s El Teatro Campesino performed, as did Dr. Demento, poet Charles Bukowski and artists campaigning against the Vietnam War, such as Jane Fonda. Many club patrons were active in the multitude of causes which arose in the era, and we provided meeting space when our schedule allowed.

Some folks didn’t appreciate this part of the club; and you could say, they got burned-up, actually, vice-versa.

The Ash Grove continues today as the Ash Grove Music Foundation.

The three-day 50th UCLA festival spawned the current board of Ash Grove Music. Secretary, Harriet Aronow, should be the Board Chair, though I bear the title. She has a PhD in applied social research. Her career has been focused on improving the health care system (and outcomes) for older adults and adults with disabilities, and she is a fine traditional banjo player. Adele Wallace, a professional librarian and Harriet have launched a successful library series of discussions and music. Bob Zaugh is our treasurer, ran the Peace Press and heads the comic division of, yes, the Simpsons. Victor Cohen is a professional grant writer and a teacher. David Fertig is a lawyer, and the head of the Los Angeles Blues Society. And Josh Brown is an amazing Flamenco and folk guitarist, now closing in on his PhD in Ethno-Musicology at UC Riverside. You can talk with them, maybe me, at our table in the networking space. They provide the future of Ash Grove Music. Good Start though, huh?

The future is already here with two projects that match what the Ash Grove did in music, in the areas of art, poetry and literacy.

Carol Wells and Ted Hajjar founded The Center for the Study of Political Graphics

Carol and Ted are my real life friends and neighbors. I babysat their daughter Dara. When she was 4, she asked me, “Uncle Ed, are you my real uncle?” She’d noticed I didn’t come to their extended family functions. I said, “No, sweetie, but I love you like a real uncle.” She said, “Ok, can we go outside and play ball?” She’s just entered Hunter College, and to this day, she introduces me to her friends as ‘my pretend uncle’. Carol and Ted have made of poster art a Peoples History of the world, literally. Begun in 1989, the nonprofit Center for the Study of Political Graphics has grown to over 80,000 posters covering numerous worldwide struggles for social justice. Their exhibitions in public spaces and online, make peoples’ histories available, about struggles against wars, for economic justice, for LGBQT rights, for sane environmental policies, for the empowerment of ethnic and racial minorities. The work of CSPG has inspired growing numbers of young artists to use their talents in the service of humanity, not only for profit. As new struggles for justice emerge, political posters are playing an increasing role in inspiring and motivating actions.

Diane Lane and Get Lit.

Diane Luby Lane is an actress, model, teacher and the developer of a system of teaching literacy to middle and high-schoolers. It’s now taught in more than 40 Southern California Schools. She intends to have it go national, and that will be done. She’s the only person I’ve ever met who works harder than I ever did, at my best. In 2006, she founded the Get Lit players out of the finest poets in many schools, played them in school assemblies, took them to poetry contests, and increasingly to the general public. Five years ago I read a front-page LA Times Calendar article on this great group. I was fascinated, got the phone number, called her and invited the Get Lits to perform in one of our local outdoor shows. They were incredible and the other artists were stunned. Carol Wells and Ted Hajjar were in the audience and felt the same. They have followed the group since, and next Sunday will be honoring Diane and the Get Lits at CSPG’s annual fundraising event.

Diane is my muse, the ancient Greek Goddess of Poetry and Inspiration, a partner in events and a dear friend. However, she once told me the difference between us was that she was a capitalist and I was a socialist. I replied that she spent almost all of her money on her wonderful, mostly free projects. She said ‘so what?’ I like nice clothes and hope to have a house with a garden to have gatherings. I said everyone should have such aspirations. We’ve since discussed the issue and realize we share wanting a world that makes things better for all human beings, and the place for our arts in that struggle and then in that better world. I include the CSPG in that determination. However, nice clothes and house stuck in my mind and I’ve decided to make money. I’m going to become a beautiful model …(Hands saying ‘NU?) … in the rocking chair industry, for God’s sakes.

November 11th marks the 40th anniversary of the arson fire which closed the Ash Grove. That it survives today is testimony to its impact on the hearts and minds of many people, throughout the country, the good work of every person I’ve named, and many others, including your amazing organization. Visit us at the Ash Grove table in the networking center, get on our mailing list for our and our partners’ latest events in great culture. I thank you all.

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