Ben Harper, Jackson Browne

Claremont Folk Festival, Sycamore School

May 3, 2008

Photos and Text by Ryan Colditz

Nestled neatly inside the Inland Empire is Claremont, an unassuming, quaint city with a “small town” feel. But there's much more to Claremont than clean streets and a great record store (The remaining Rhino store). The Claremont Folk Festival, now in its 28th year, is an annual celebration of folk music and community spirit at its finest.

Held at Sycamore Elementary School, which prides itself on liberal education, encouraging students to think for themselves, and to be curious about the world around them. After a full day of folk and eco-friendly events, everyone joined on the grassy playground to watch Jackson Browne, Ben Harper and Taj Mahal perform under the stars.

(Jackson Browne. No really! It's Jackson Browne!)

The perfect fusion of folk rock, funk, jazz and soul filled the air throughout the 3-hour show. Jackson Browne opened the evening with a beautifully easy-going and eclectic set, which included several stories about himself and Ben Harper, as well as other tales he picked up along the way including one about a friend buying a guitar from Ben. Everyone on stage was friends with each other and as Ben said, “I have known each of these guys for all my life – most of my life – or for over 15 years.” This show was not just about music, but encouraging a different philosophy on life, a genuine love for all that is good and envisioning a future that is peaceful and safe for everyone.

(The Ben Harper Family: His mother, Ellen, center on banjo.)

The man of the hour, Ben Harper, was greeted by a community of friends, some of which he played with on the same playground years ago. Being a former student of Sycamore Elementary, class of '81, this was a homecoming for Ben and he brought a performance powerful enough to move mountains, but calm enough to sit and enjoy. “I brought a sit down show to a stand up crowd,” said Harper, referring to the energy offstage he was not anticipating. Onstage, however, Ben took his time and brought on stage family friends to play with him. These were not big names, but locals who were instrumental in shaping the man Ben is today, playing exotic instruments and all having a great time which fed to the audiences enthusiasm. Ben's mother, Ellen, joined him for a number of songs as well, adding to the close-kit feel of the event. There were few people in the audience who did not have a personal relationship with one of the Harper's, including Joel Harper who is a community staple at the Claremont Folk Center and organizer of the annual folk music festival.

It isn't often you are able to see a concert like this, but for the town of Claremont, this show represented so much more. This was one night out of the year for Claremont to show the world they are doing their best to change the world, with their own two hands. After talking to so many people who have been touched by this school, the Claremont Folk Center and everything else that makes this town special, it is no wonder that Ben Harper calls Claremont home.

-Ryan Colditz

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