Arlington Theater, interior view, with stars in the sky! Wayne McCall photo.
Beginning in the early 1920’s the burgeoning film / entertainment industry began building very elaborate “Movie Palaces” to entice audiences inside to view the latest Hollywood efforts. One of the most beautiful I have ever seen was the Fox Arlington, located on State Street in downtown Santa Barbara California. It’s a classic building in the colonial Spanish style found in our city, and it must have been especially beautiful in the early 1930s, when it occupied and entire city block, almost exclusively. The Arlington is also a venue for music events, though the acoustics are pretty dreadful in a theater meant for film.
In 1971, historian Walker A Tompkins wrote a two long articles on the theater’s history, which I found so intriguing that I saved the clippings. I recently rediscovered them and thought I would share them with everyone. I also claim a tenuous connection with one the the architects involved, William Edwards, whose son Peter Edwards was a long-time next-door neighbor. I hope you enjoy this story and get a chance to pay a visit to the theater, which still survives. Many thanks to Wayne McCall for making his fine photo available.
NOTE: There are eight thumbnails here – in order from left to right and top to bottom – , each linked to a larger image of the clipping. Click on a thumbnail in order to see to see larger versions. We hope you enjoy them. Please drop us a line with comments, etc.
-Peter Feldmann [ firstname.lastname@example.org ]
Click on the thumbnails for larger views of the text.
Alan Lomax, America’s most prolific folk song collector ever, shared the results of a weeks-long collecting trip into the Deep South taken in 1959 on a fine set of Lps on the Atlantic label. Here’s a bunch of ’em . . . hope you enjoy this Potcast. Thanks again to Oliver Hardy for his cameo appearance.
The café, looking towards State St. at 33 W. Anapamu.
The Bluebird Café, founded by Peter Feldmann in late 1971 , was a major venue for the musical and theatrical arts in southern California in the 1970s. Located on West Anapamu street in Santa Barbara’s downtown area, it became a place for local musicians to display and develop their talent, and gave touring groups a popular venue to perform while traveling between Los Angeles and the Bay Area.
Conceived as a café, it served a fine, American / Swiss menu, originally designed by Peter, with home-style cooking and a variety of beverages, drawing on California wines as well as domestic and imported beers. “Music and food go together”, as Peter often declared. But that, in a way, was its cover story, for the Bluebird’s real mission was to form a center and school for acoustic music of all types on the central coast. Folk, Cajun, blues and bluegrass all found a home there, along with early country and a smattering of classical, jazz, eastern, and experimental musics.
Peter built the café around — and catering to the requirements of — musicians, with a practical custom-designed sound system, comfortable stage with lighting, and a ready welcome for the wandering minstrel. Peter’s thought was “..Make the musicians happy; they’ll play great music, and the audience will come…” There was music of some sort almost every night, from open mics to singer-songwriters, jazz, blues, and bluegrass bands, old time music, Indian classical music, and even a little light opera, drama, and experimental sounds. Musicians not only performed there, they comprised a large part of the staff. It was a place to exchange musical ideas and try out new acts. performers included Hazel Dickens, The Scragg Family, Lamar Grier, Mance Lipscomb, John DuBois, Aunt Dinah’s Quilting Party, Any Old Time String Band, The Cache Valley Drifters, Pat Cloud, Amya Das Gupta, Big Jim Griffith, John Hartford, Flash In The Pan, Alice Gerrard, Jon Lazell, Jess and Leonard Sutton, Jerry Higby, Furry Lewis, Johnny Shines, Earl Collins, L.C. “Good Rockin'” Robinson, Byron Berline & The LA Fiddle Band, Mike Seeger, and many, many others.
In order to reach out to the local music community, the Bluebird featured a regular “Open Microphone” night once each week, giving everyone with a song a chance to sign in and share an opportunity to try it out on our stage. Soon, performers were arriving from near and far to strut their stuff. Of course, their friends came along to watch and join in the festivities. The place was packed! Musical visitors from San Francisco to San Diego arrived regularly as the word spread. Our bartender and “sort of” maître ‘d Don Robertson often acted as Master of Ceremonies, announcing performers and filling numerous pitchers of beer meanwhile. Of course, some of these musicians became regulars at the ‘Bird.
In June, a reporter from the then-weekly Santa Barbara News and Review stopped by to sample the music and food and to interview Peter and his partner Joslyn Wellman. Click on the thumbnail to read the entire article and check out the photos.
Bluebird article June 1972
To give you a glimpse of what it was like watching a show at the Bluebird, here’s a nine minute segment from a performance by The Floating House Band, Bobby Kimmel (of The Stone Ponies, Shep Cooke, and Kit Alderson – all regulars at McCabe’s Guitars in Santa Monica. Remembering Rock And Roll . . . The Floating House Band
The Bluebird also had movie nights, Mondays or Wednesdays, where fans could drop by to watch classic films while having a burger and a beer, Movies at the ‘Bird; 50¢
Movies at the 'Bird, for 50 cents!
Here is the Bluebird, shortly after opening . . . welcome!
Bluebird Café, staff and customer. Click on photo.
Other Bluebird performances . . .
Peter Feldmann & Kajsa Ohman
Johnny played four days at my club, staying with me and my family
and attempting to teach me the ways of slide guitar playing, I admired
his patience. He insisted on watch his favorite show, Hollywood Squares, before packing up and heading for the club with me.
The original Bluebird was sold in mid – 1974 to “Robby and Lyle”, who kept the place going about 3-4 years longer. Nineteen years later, I opened a second iteration of the club, but it lasted only a year due to various complications, eventually becoming the current Soho music club. We did have a fine group of performers there, including Marley’s Ghost, who presented the following song one Sunday afternoon.
Fiddlers’ Green – Marley’s Ghost
Running the café involved endless work. I recall staying an hour after our closing time of 2:00 AM, only to have to return at 6:00 AM to get ready for the breakfast crowd. I couldn’t have done it without a lot of help from family and friends, including my wife Marianna, Tommy Chung, owner of Jimmie’s Oriental Gardens, who taught me a lot about running a restaurant, My first partner, Jocelyn Wellman, Jon Lazell, who built our amazing cylindrical speaker system with sixteen Bose speakers per column, driven by old Dynakit tube amps. Chris Strachwitz, DK Wilgus and Ed Pearl for connecting me up with wonderful musicians, craftsmen friends who designed, built, and installed fine redwood benches for our audiences, John McGibbon, who helped with electrical work, Gene McGeorge, who – besides fiddling with the Scragg Family, built our outdoor sign, and an anonymous porn film maker from LA who contributed to our stage lighting in exchange for a pitcher of beer.
I forgot the jukeboxes! We had three in operation simultaneously, which led to some confusing moments: A Rockola wall-mounted machine for 45s, A Seeburg 100-M, the first to play both sides of the 100 78’s it contained, and a Wurlitzer 700 machine from 1940,
Peter with Wurlitzer jukebox
which now graces the studios of BlueGrass West!. I remember the Ravi Shankar 45 singles I wore out from playing while moping the floors & bathrooms and washing glassware at 2:30 in the AM.
One thing I found strange: of course, many people mention the Bluebird to me after re-connecting after all these years, but puzzling that so many proudly recall crawling into my club on all fours, simply to avoid paying the cover charge – which was usually 50 cents! So, they loved my club, but went to considerable effort to cheat the musicians they were coming to see. A real study in the human psyche.
Thanks for reading this exploration of memory. If I think of anything more worthwhile to say, I’ll add a page for you. Comments welcome.
Del Baker and Dean Trammel, twin fiddles; Art Chambers, banjo Peter Feldmann photo
I drove up to Kernville (Lake Isabella CA) in February, 1965 to record a fiddle contest promoted by the local Chamber of Commerce. The event, held as part of Whiskey Flat Days, was held in a large circus tent seating about 300. Following the “official” contest proceedings, I spoke to several contestants and asked them to stick around if they could, and play more tunes for our recorders. Several of them agreed, and were joined by a couple of spectators that had brought instruments. I’d read some books on collecting techniques, but I had folklorist DK Wilgus with me (originally from the University of Westyern KY, now of UCLA, one of the best!), and he demonstrated to me how to remind our “informants” (what people as music sources are called) of songs and tunes they might know with minimal mental nudges. A small crowd had gathered as we began our journey of discovery . . .
We both agreed that Art Chambers, a two-finger stylist on the five string banjo was a special gem among the people there. Art had accompanied Fiddlin’ Van Cunningham in the contest, and he was rarin’ to go to demonstrate some of his banjo showpieces.
BUCK CREEL GALS / 8TH OF JANUARY
Art, originally from Tennessee, had joined the navy as a lad, and wound up stationed in Pearl Harbor in Hawaii for many years. A very musical guy, he’d listened closely to several fine Hawaiian musicians, and had worked up this next tune in their honor.
Art had a pleasant singing voice and put it to good use in this classic, then quickly added the notorious Cacklin’ Hen. Anyone spending any time around chickens will recognize them in this solo banjo showpiece.
BULLY OF THE TOWN / CACKLIN’ HEN
Del Baker, of Bakersfield added his verions of the tune Jack Of Diamonds, AKA Rye Whiskey, a waltz in open A tuning (AEAC#). Dean Trammel accompanied him on guitar.
JACK OF DIAMONDS
Dean Trammel, fiddle Peter Feldmann photo
Maiden’s Prayer, a fiddle showpiece popularized by Western Swing star Bob Wills, here performed by Dean Trammel, fiddle.
Art Chambers sings and plays Greenback Dollar (part of the East Virginina / Silver Dagger song family). He’s accompanied by Del Baker and Dean Trammel on fiddle and guitar. Someone, unfortunately, is stomping his foot here in a time signature known only to himself.
I believe Art called this number Cripple Creek, but it has an unusual front end to it.
CRIPPLE CREEK ?
By this time, it was getting near midnight in the circus tent. The man in charge of the oil heating device had turned it off, and temperatures were dropping rapidly (we were up in the mountains, and it was near the end of February.) The generator operator had graciously provided power for us, but it seemed time to go. DK and I thanked everyone for sticking around. We got phone numbers, and packed up our recorders. I was invited back by both Art Chambers and Van Cunningham for further visiting and recording sessions. As I find them, I’ll try to post highlights.
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