Happy-ness is a Well-Worn Song

By Steven Libowitz   |   February 15, 2018
Happy Traum comes to the Lobero with strings attached Saturday, February 17

Happy Traum is merely the opening act for the next Sings Like Hell show starring Jack Sh*t, the super group comprising sidemen for singer-songwriter legends making at least its third visit to the Lobero. But before guitarist Val McCallum (Jackson Browne), drummer Pete Thomas, and bassist Davey Faragher (both Elvis Costello) hit the stage with special guests, the more veteran Traum can draw on his associations with even more venerable names when he makes his long-awaited Santa Barbara debut Saturday, February 17, at 8 pm.

The easy-going Traum isn’t much of a name-dropper, but he did hang out with Bob Dylan back in 1961, honed his acoustic guitar chops studying with blues legend Brownie McGhee, spent a lifetime picking and singing with John Sebastian (Lovin’ Spoonful), and even palled around for a little while with Janis Joplin and members of The Band. Born and raised in The Bronx, the now 79-year-old Traum first fell in love with the folksingers of his day – Pete Seeger, the Weavers, Burl Ives, et el – as a young teen, then ventured to even more old-time music of the Southern Appalachians. 

In his early 20s, he was a part of the folk revival in Greenwich Village before making his way to Woodstock, a few years prior to the famous music festival, back when Dylan and The Band and many others fostered the folk scene in the town near the Catskill Mountains. He was part of the famed Woodstock Mountain Revue that toured and recorded – but mostly jammed at home – and played and recorded there in a duo with his brother, Artie, for several decades.

The thing is, he never left. Neither the town nor the music.

“Yeah, half a century and I’m still there,” Traum mused over the phone the other day. “It’s still a great community, and there’s still a lot of good musicians there.”

Happy was content to settle in the hamlet, raise a family, and create a music instruction business that’s grown very popular with acoustic guitarists over the years. “That was my mainstay,” he said. “I never wanted that life of a musician, always on the road. My brother and I did some big shows, including opening for The Band in Central Park, touring with Gordon Lightfoot. We got around. But we never had the hit record. And that’s okay.”

Indeed, if he had, he might not have stayed as true to the traditional folk sound that’s so hard to find lots of other places nowadays. Fifty years later, the songs and the styles have barely changed, if at all.

“I play my own take on traditional music, but to me that’s the wellspring. I’ve always wanted to convey that love for old music that doesn’t actually sound old because it’s universal. There is so much depth in these songs – a mountain ballad, or a blues by Brownie McGee, or a folk song by Pete Seeger – they’re a big part of American popular culture history.”

Traum put out his first solo album in more than a decade in 2014, recorded, like all of the others, at home in Woodstock. The song selection on the aptly titled Just For The Love Of It carries themes of loss and death, but that’s as much a question of tradition as it is a nod to his advancing years.

Still, he said, “(The album) was building up in me for a long time. Artie produced the last one and it took me a while to get back in the saddle after he passed.”

The Woodstock brigade supported him in force, including Sebastian, one of Traum’s closest friends, who adds harmonica to Woody Guthrie’s “I Ain’t Got No Home,” which also features pedal-steel guitar from co-producer Larry Campbell. Other guests include David Amram, who he’s known since ’71, on “Deep Blue Sea”.

“I know a few heavy hitters,” Traum said breezily. “Mostly good friends, and some who just happened to be in town when I was making it.”

But perhaps his favorite guest was his son, Adam, who takes one of the guitar solos on “Crash On The Levee (Down In The Flood)”, which reprises a duet that Happy cut with Dylan back in 1971 for the latter’s Greatest Hits Vol II. Turns out, Adam lives in California, so he’ll also be on hand to accompany dad Saturday at the Lobero.

Father and son, sharing folk songs. Can’t get more traditional than that.

Friends in Folk Fundraiser

Also on Saturday, February 17, you can opt to hang with the locals who are pickin’ and strummin’ to drum up cash for recovery from the fire and mudslide, as old colleagues Tom Corbett, Mike Mullins, Bill Knopf, and Tom Lee join forces in a special Song Tree concert. Mandolin, guitars, banjo, string bass, and more will intertwine in traditional and progressive formats as a benefit for Direct Relief. Show time is 7:30 pm at Live Oak UU Congregation, 820 North Fairview Avenue. Suggested donation is $15. Call 403-2639 or visit http://liveoakgoleta.org/our-community/activities-and-events/.

Boot-Strapped up from Buffalo to Broadway

An actress since age 8, Hayley Lampart shuffled off from Buffalo to study acting in New York City right after high school and hasn’t looked back. Now she’s on the road with a big Broadway touring show, Kinky Boots, which makes its Santa Barbara debut this week. Lampart doesn’t have one of the two main roles, instead playing the part of the protagonist’s fiancé. But even when she’s not on stage, she has a terrific view from the wings of one of the most exciting musicals to emerge from the recent trend of film adaptations.

Boots, which bursts with songs by pop sensation Cyndi Lauper and a book by theatrical royalty Harvey Fierstein, won all the important Tony Awards in 2014. The action takes place Northampton, England, and revolves around Charlie, the son of an owner of a shoe factory who doesn’t want to work in the struggling business. But after Charlie inherits the factory, he ponders closing it or trying to save it. Enter Lola, a drag performer, who complains that the boots she wears on stage are made for a woman and cause a great deal of pain. The light bulb goes off, the factory shifts focus to the drag niche market, and “kinky” boots start rolling off the conveyor belts.

”I saw it with the original Broadway cast when I was in school, and I fell in love immediately,” Lampart said over the phone while waiting for a connecting flight between stops for the touring company that arrives Tuesday, February 20, for a two-night run at the Granada. “It’s so fun and uplifting, and the music is just great.”

The actress said that despite Kinky’s outside-the-box nature, the themes of acceptance and being okay with who you are seems to resonate wherever they play, even in the Deep South. “You can sense in some place that are more conservative that they’re a little uncomfortable with the transexuality. They respond with a little less enthusiasm. But the point of the show is that you can change people’s minds, and even if they’re a bit shocked, it’s emotional for us to be delivering such an important message of inclusiveness in these times.”

Portraying the source of conflict, the woman who tries to hold Charlie back for the life they had planned together in London, Lampart also has to deal with audience resistance for that reason.

“It’s hard to be the part of the show where you cause the trouble. I’m always a little bit worried there will be boos when I bow at the end. But she’s a powerful woman, and it’s not her fault the plan changes. From her point of view, she’s not bad, so people can relate.”

Anyway, she’s back on stage for the finale, which is everyone’s favorite scene – and not just because they get to wear red thigh-highs of their own.

“The Angels, the drag queens (who serve as the chorus), are such a blast. But the finale is amazing, because it’s the only time we break the fourth wall and celebrate love and acceptance with the audience. They’re always on the feet, singing along or clapping with us while we dance. The show aspect falls away and it’s almost like a rock concert.”

Weighty Week for Theater

No fewer than five other staged productions take place in the area this week, including Ensemble’s current production of The City of Conversation (previewed in last week’s column) which ends Sunday, February 25. This Thursday, February 15, a number of well-known Santa Barbara-based women writers participate in “Unmasked Live: Women Read About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty” at Center Stage Theater. The “blush-worthy” performance of essays and poems drawn from the new anthology of the same name (minus the “Live”) is directed by Speaking of Stories’s Maggie Mixsell and features Cheri Steinkellner, Perie Longo, Nancy Shobe, Andrea Estrada, Deborah Donohue, Maya Shaw Gale, Linda Stewart-Oaten, Tanya Ko Hong, and the anthology’s editors, Marcia Meier and Kathleen A. Barry. According to the organizers, the evening serves as an opportunity to hear talk about healthy sex in these days of heightened awareness of sexual harassment, the #MeToo revelations and more, offering a look at the inner world of women, sexuality, and intimacy. Show time is 7:30 pm, tickets cost $23.

Center Stage is also the site for the third installment of Lisa Citore‘s “Anima, Theater of the Feminine Underground”, next Thursday, February 22, when the women’s ritual theater project welcomes performances from 10 local powerhouse female artists baring their soul-sharing dreams, fantasies, secrets, rants, revelations, and vulnerable reveals through dance, song, spoken word, and performance art. Tickets cost $23 in advance, $28 at the door. For more information on either show, call 963-0408 or visit www.CenterStageTheater.org.

Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig‘s black comedy The World of Extreme Happiness, takes a look at the complexities of human nature in a story set in present-day China. As a young woman’s attempts to pull herself out of poverty lead to dire consequences, her bright outlook unravels in a series of harrowing and darkly comic events. She begins to question a system enriching itself by destroying its own people and decides to stand up against the power.Cowhig is an internationally produced playwright whose work has been staged at the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre of Great Britain, Manhattan Theater Club, and Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, among others. The February 16-26 production at UCSB’s Performing Arts Theater marks the Santa Barbara debut of the now-UCSB theater faculty member’s work. Tickets cost $12 to $20. Call 893-2064 or visit www.theaterdance.ucsb.edu.

Meanwhile, Rubicon Theatre in Ventura has extended its run of Buyer & Cellar, theone-man play by Jonathan Tolins featuring the company’s resident star Brian McDonald as a struggling actor who gets a job working in Barbra Streisand’s basement mall in Malibu and develops an unlikely friendship with the mega-star. The final opportunities to catch McDonald’s performance that has been drawing raves take place Friday-Sunday, February 16-18. Tickets and info at 667-2900 or www.rubicontheatre.org.


Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) 33 is now in the rear-view mirror, a fully produced festival despite the twin natural disasters that preceded opening night by just a few weeks. Attendance was just a bit shy, I’m told, probably the result of a community still in recovery. There also weren’t as many huge box-office names among the tribute recipients, which is no slight on the actors, who thankfully are just not the movie-star types, nor SBIFF’s cachet. Indeed, the fest drew perhaps the largest number of nominees in its history, counting all of the above and below line talent. That includes, most notably, all five of the Oscar decorated directors, who put on quite an entertaining and informative evening at the Arlington. Plus, as always, scores of Academy Award-nominated actors, writers, producers, animation artists, and other artisans who were in town on and off for the 11 days. Not to mention the ever-increasing quality of the movies, particularly this year in the American indie category, which got a great head start with the Opening Night screening of the public.

What has been cut back, however, are the 3rd Weekend screenings, SBIFF’s beloved re-showing of the fest’s award winners and other popular films at the Riviera. Instead of 12-hour marathons Friday-Sunday, there’s only three screenings this year, including Best International Feature Secret Ingredient (Friday), Audience Choice Award claimer Skid Row Marathon (Saturday), and The Last Suit, which topped the Spain/Latin America Cinema entries (Sunday). On the other hand, SBIFF has already launched into Riviera screenings of all of the short films vying for Academy Awards next month. Each of the entries covering the Animated, Live-Action, and Documentary Shorts categories will continue to run in rotation at the Riviera through Thursday, February 22, save for this weekend’s 7:30 pm slots taken by the festival winners above. So, you have no reason not to be well-prepared for the awards show on Sunday, March 4.

Focus on Film

Elsewhere, UCSB’s Pollock Theater, which snuck in a couple of script-to-screen style events with The Big Sick’s Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V Gordon and Get Out’s Jordan Peele while the filmmakers were in town for SBIFF, resumes its Shakespeare on Film presentations this Thursday, February 15, with the classic Hamlet, the 1948 version adapted and directed by its star, Laurence Olivier. Next up: She’s the Man, which stars Amanda Bynes and Channing Tatum and sets the cross-dressing comedy Twelfth Night in a contemporary boarding school. Screenwriters Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith will be on hand to talk about the 2006 film after the free 7 pm screening next Thursday, February 22. Reservations online at www.carseywolf.ucsb.edu/pollock-theater-home/events.


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