Recordially, Lou Curtiss

Lou and the Music on Adams Avenue

I moved Folk Arts Rare Records from Hillcrest over to Adams Avenue in 1977. At that time the San Diego State Folk Festivals still had 10 years to go and the weekly concert series I was doing at Orango’s in Mission Hills was sort of winding down and came to an end with a really wet winter we had that year. I wasn’t on Adams Avenue long when the minister at the United Methodist Church in Normal Heights approached me about doing a concert series (like the Orango’s series) in the Church Social Hall. I took him up on that and for the next three years we ran a series there that included some local artists and many others on the road like Frankie Armstrong, Guy and Candie Carawan, Kyle Creed, Red River Dave McEnery, and others. We built up a nice little troop that worked on those concerts. The church let us use their kitchen and we had a crew that baked fresh cookies every week for the crowd. We did a couple of music festivals in the church – the first was a Sea Chanty Festival, and, as far as I know, the first one in San Diego – and the second was a Blues Festival, which was our undoing. It was late 1979 when I brought in Steve LaVere who had worked on the River City Blues Festival in Memphis. The two of us decided to hold a three-day Blues Festival at the church in Normal Heights and it went forth. We used all local talent with two days devoted to blues and Sunday to traditional gospel music. We had artists like Tom “Tomcat” Courtney, Bonnie Jefferson, Thomas Shaw, Sister Helen Sanders and her Family, Henry Ford Thompson, Brother Jerone Lee and his Sanctified Sax, Louis Major, the Cokers, James Earl Wilkins, Winifred Stewart, Sister Charlie Mae Ralph and Family, Ervin “Big Daddy” Rucker, Nat Dove, Fro Brigham’s Preservation Band, Jesse Lee Wilkins, and a whole lot more. We brought in Rufus and Martha to do barbeque and it was a fine little family festival done at a white church with a mixed audience that enjoyed a hell of a lot of good music. At that time, however, there were some people in the leadership of that church who didn’t want that kind of music (or folks) in their church and the result was that the minister got fired and we were asked to go away and not do music in that church anymore. It was too bad and the folks who made problems eventually went away. We did a second Blues Festival at San Diego State’s Backdoor that featured, along with the locals, Lowell Fulson, Clarence Gatemouth Brown, and Roy Brown, but it didn’t have the life of that first little festival in Normal Heights. It didn’t draw as well either, especially not the mixed audience that the first one had. That one was something.

After doing that for awhile I did the San Diego Folk Festivals until they played out in 1987 and various concerts at another Methodist Church in North Park, at the Copley YMCA, and at a house over on Robinson Street.

In 1994 Scott Kessler from the Adams Avenue Business Association asked me if I’d like to help with the booking for the Adams Avenue Street Fair and I told him, “What I want to do is another traditional music festival, but I could do both,” and the Adams Avenue Avenue Roots Festival was born. For the next 14 years we brought artists like John Jackson, U Utah Phillips, Rose Maddox, Hank Thompson, Santiago Jiminez Jr., Charlie Bailey (of the Bailey Brothers), Odetta, Bashful Brother Oswald, Peggy Seeger, D.L. Menard, Howard Armstrong, Janet McBride, Mike Seeger, Tracy Schwarz and Ginny Hawker, Lalo Guererro, and a whole lot more. We brought Louisiana Cajun Music, traditional Irish music, all kinds of old-time country and blues, Appalachian folk songs, French Canadian music, Norteña from San Antonio, and revivalists by the score. When we started doing these Roots Festivals we continued the numbering system from the old San Diego State Folk Festivals so the first Roots Festival was listed as the 21st. It was a pleasure to put together the next 14 and part of the 15th Roots Festivals.

I also served on the board of the Adams Ave. Business Association from 1994 to 2007. After I left the board I was told I was no longer welcome at Business Association meetings or events with no reason given. More recently I’ve been hearing rumors that I am going to be asked back but nothing has been forthcoming from the Adams Ave. Business Association.

Folk Arts Rare Records has been a business on the Avenue here since 1977 and I think I’ve contributed to the overall ambiance of the Avenue. Every year I pay my BID fees and, frankly, since Mr. Schneider told me to get the hell down the road, I’ve been contemplating doing just that. So in the next little while I am going to close Folk Arts Rare Records and take my own personal collection out to my home in El Cajon, continue to do my radio show (Sundays KSDS 88.3FM at 8pm), listen to my records, fool with my Facebook virtual Folk Festival, and pick a little. Maybe someone in El Cajon will ask me to help with a music festival. I might do that.

Recordially,
Lou Curtiss

  • November 2011

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