The Grand Sparrow plays concert at the Gallery at Twin Lakes
Summer hit its stride on Saturday, June 22, when there was suddenly so much to do and so little time, even on the second longest day of the year—motocross, wine walk, a reading about water in the Eastern Sierra, a solo cello concert and a folk concert in the pine woods behind the Art Gallery at Twin Lakes.
I chose the art gallery concert. For one, it was in the Lakes Basin, a very special place recreationally and historically. For another, it was folk music in the woods, which took me on a trip back to my roots.
It’s been longer than a coon’s age since I’ve been treated to such good folk music. The three musicians who make up The Grand Sparrow are from a variety of musical eras, but they met on the common ground of simple melodies woven through with harmonies and exquisite instrumentalism. The trio has been together since March and, according to leader Frank McMorrow, they are a good fit and enjoy playing each other’s music.
In her clear voice, Swedish-born lead singer Josefine Wing channeled Bob Dylan with song and harmonica. Her “Diamonds and Rust” by Joan Baez, written after Baez and Dylan broke up, was powerful and evocative.
The full, rich sound of Irishman McMorrow’s 12-string guitar resonated through the songs and the pines, which rustled appreciatively.
The small, appreciative audience was treated to the duet of Wing and McMorrow until the third member of their trio, flute/saxophonist David Ben-Ami rushed onstage after finishing a gig at the wine walk downtown. The songs took on a richness and fullness with Ben-Ami’s instruments and his fine Neil Young-sounding voice.
It could not have been easy to pick and strum as the air cooled but the musicians persevered, to our delight.
We had arrived early to set up our camp chairs and to go into the gallery for a look at the 19th-20th century paintings, photographs, furniture and historical mining accoutrements. The whole atmosphere of this property with its two vintage buildings set in the midst of old growth Lodgepole pines was intoxicating.
Maybe that comes from the sense of history, when anyone who ventured into the Lakes Basin was a kind of pioneer. At the turn of the 19th century, numbers of people escaping the heat from farther down the highway constructed cabins and lodges where they spent the summers. Their descendants continue to do the same. To walk into this gallery allows one to feel a part of that nascent time in Mammoth’s history.
Back outside, owner/host Robert Joki was wandering around as if he’d just arrived by mule train from the 19th century, wearing suspenders and striped trousers from the 1890s. He greeted people, barbecued pork and made himself at home in the current century, while weaving stories of mining-era Mammoth.
By now, the band was ready. We set out our picnic, opened a delicious bottle of Rosé and watched deer pass by on the adjacent ridge.
What a venue—among tall, straight Lodgepoles that stood 10 times higher than the musicians, they played and sang for at least two hours without a break. With its casual and relaxed atmosphere the concert was a throwback to a bygone time, and the music, history and the scent of pine made for an intimate community gathering. It was made even better because I knew the words to every song The Grand Sparrow warbled—including Jimmy Buffett, Simon and Garfunkel, John Denver, Fairport Convention, Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young.
I leaned back, listened to the harmonies and watched the music lift up into the trees.
The concert was the first of many free events Robert and Susan Joki have planned for the summer—including an upcoming talk by screenwriter Dan Bronson. All events will be wrapped around the arts.
“Like” The Gallery at Twin Lakes’ Facebook page for upcoming events.
(Photo: Robert Joki)