Lou Curtiss with Tom Waits in 1973
The man who started the Adams Avenue Roots Festival was excused from the event’s organization from 2008 to 2011. Two years ago, Lou Curtiss told the Reader, “In 2008, the Adams Avenue Business Association relieved me of that privilege.”
There’s quiet stoicism as he reports, now, “The three years I was away from the festival, grinding my teeth, the event lost quite a bit of money, mostly due to having people who knew little or nothing about music and formatting a music event. Scott Kessler asked me to get reinvolved. So we’re picking up the pieces.
“It’s great being back. This is festival number 56 for me. I did the San Diego State Folk Festival from 1967 to 1987. The Library of Congress hailed it as ‘The best traditional music event in the Western United States.’ I also did three blues festivals and a sea chantey festival. The first Roots Festival was in 1994, after Scott asked me to book the Adams Avenue Street Fair. I pitched him about doing a springtime folk festival. The roots concept gave room to bring in music that wouldn’t have worked at the folk festivals.”
The Adams Avenue Business Association changed the name of the Roots Festival to Adams Avenue Unplugged. Along with Curtiss, Steve Kader, Kent Johnson, and Louis Brazier are also booking performers. The mostly outdoor event will now take place in restaurants, bars, and a few outdoor locations stretching through Normal Heights and Kensington. Will businesses ask attendees to purchase products?
“The change to bars and restaurants was made before I came back aboard. I don’t think audiences will be asked to buy things any more than a business might. I understand the reasons: clubs and coffeehouses were not making money during the weekend of the festival — especially the ones outside the main grounds. The business association represents them. There will be three free outdoor stages, and music at the Methodist church sanctuary.”
What sets Adams Avenue Unplugged apart from a lot of performances happening during a short time period, or from the Adams Avenue Street Fair in September?
“A lot of the venues don’t normally have music. There’ll be stages at the Kensington Library and Adams Avenue parks and outside Café 21. There will be a beer garden and an ongoing jam session at the Normal Heights Community Center. And music in the clubs, that’s quite different from the usual bill of fare.
“Things change, and so do visions. Over a third of the musicians I’ve brought to the Roots Festival are no longer with us. Each year, folks I would have brought pass away before we can make it happen. So, I don’t have the great expectations I had in the mid ’70s, when I could bring a lineup of legends. Now I’m lucky to get one or two...and some exciting new discoveries. This festival will have a personality of its own. I hope it’s as exciting as any of the Folk or Roots festivals.”
Adams Avenue Unplugged takes place April 21 and 22. Per the Adams Avenue Business Association, “170+” performers will include “folk, traditional roots music, Appalachian folk, bluegrass, Americana, cowboy, Cajun, and rockabilly.”