By Jake Tully
This past Sunday saw the Second Annual Agastock Festival as part of the Grand Ole Echo Series take over The Echo on Sunset. Agastock saw its second year as a benefit event for The Southern California Counseling Center (SCCC) Trauma Training Program in memory of Alice Ferguson. An Americana and Country music culture celebration, Agastock proved to be one of the friendliest and most uplifting events hosted in the Greater Los Angeles area.
Melissa Monroe, mother of Alice, came up with the idea for a music benefit for the SCCC last summer as a means to help fund the mental health facility. With the help of music publicist dynamo Kim Grant and the folks at The Echo, Bedrock-LA and The Grand Ole Echo, Agastock was off and running. A celebration of Alice’s life as well as a gathering of the Americana community in Tinseltown, The Grand Ole Echo’s special event was indefinitely the most fun one could have while contributing to a great cause.
For a Grand Ole Echo first-timer, the sense of camaraderie and friendship was striking. Within but a few moments of entering the venue and introducing myself to some of the regulars, it’s clear that everyone’s endgame is the same – to have a genuinely nice time. How freeing it is to dispense with the artifice of pretentiousness and the hazards of apathy. The motto at the GOE (not that it need often be employed) is “kill them with kindness.”
The back patio at the GOE first hosted The Groovy Rednecks, whose barrel-chested barnburners set the mood for the afternoon. The Rednecks certainly had the outside crowd twitterpated at the get-go, a usual Sunday congregation of Stetson-wearers and flannel-clad locals.
The main stage hosted Dwight Yoakam frontman Brian Whelan (along with fellow Dwight cohorts) for some of the finest country guitarwork out there. Whelan slays on the guitar proving without a doubt one of the most charismatic and affable frontmen around. It’s clear why Dwight himself had Whelan as his right-hand man, yet even more clear why Whelan has gone on to pursue his own musical career.
The acts at Agastock were continuous, creating a vortex of music that had you looking at your watch and wondering where the afternoon had snuck off to. There was no proliferation of smartphones out, screens glowing in anticipation of FOMO. Rather, everyone seemed entirely satisfied with live music, good company and cold beer.
The satisfaction continued outside with two sets from Americana rock phenoms Nocona. Never a stale set, Nocona seamlessly blends a contemporary desert sound with roots in punk, country and rock. Beholding the band live is always a new experience in that the band seemingly creates a new format for their performance with each show. There’s nothing calculated about the band other than a promise of raising some Hell every time. Though only two albums into their career, Nocona has the air about them as though they’ve been playing since Big Pink was put on the map.
Among the attendees of Agastock was none other than one Dave Alvin, hobnobbing with us regular folks and watching the shows. Alvin couldn’t have been a more friendly individual, taking pictures with anyone who asked and talking at great length to curb reporters who had a hard time restraining their enthusiasm.
Along with Alvin is perhaps one of the finest punk-cum-country jongleurs Los Angeles has to offer, with an immense catalogue and range of performance. Slinging tunes and taking names, Agastock members considered themselves lucky to see the man who replaced the nearly irreplaceable Billy Zoom after his departure from X.
For the finale of the night the crowd turned to Waynesboro, a collective comprised of Ramsay Midwood, Randy Weeks and Mike Stinson. Aided with a killer backing band consisting of the day’s musicians –Kip Boardman on keys absolutely slayed – Waynesboro brought down the house. Performing songs from across decades in each musician’s career, it was the musical equivalent to viewing a retrospective of the Americana scene in Los Angeles. Indeed, if Waynesboro proved anything it’s not only that the scene has a rich and vibrant history but that there is an immense amount of room to grow within the reverence around it. Closing out the night with a rousing number of Hank’s classic “I Saw The Light” was the most fitting choice for a day of coming together for a great cause and enjoying the splendor of great company and music.