West Coast Sound first stumbled across the information that respected British songwriter Billy Bragg would be covering
Woody Guthr — Ludwig van Beethoven when we were picking up an order of lentils at the Curious Palate restaurant and grocery in Mar Vista. A pile of fliers sat on a table next to a basket of tomatoes. It was a head-scratcher, some weird non sequitur on a couple levels. On the flier, there's a photo of him wearing a flannel shirt and playing a Fender guitar.
The flier read, in part:
Bragg MEETS Beethoven
A New Interpretation of Beethoven's 9th for a new era
Featuring BILLY BRAGG, Live Orchestra & Chorus
Plus Performances Inspired by the 9th,
from Jazz to Blues to Indian Raga and More.
Weird. Billy Bragg first gained attention in the 1980s by walking around London with an electric guitar, an amplifier strapped to his back like a a backpack, and playing treble-heavy post-punkish protest songs. He's best known Stateside for his work with Wilco; in 1998 they released two volumes of the fantastic, totally epic Mermaid Avenue, which featured unpublished Woody Guthrie lyrics set to the musicians' new music. He's always been a blue collar kinda guy is what we're saying, no more likely to cross the Great Divide between rock & roll and classical music than the Ramones.
But then, a lot of musicians have crossed the Great Divide and lived to tell. The secret is to no be too precious about it, to do what you're going to do to the music without posing, co-opting or taking yourself too seriously.
You've heard “Ode to Joy,” from Beethoven's 9th symphony, if not on some cartoon or commercial, then on your grandparents home stereo or in your music class. But Billy Bragg and company's take is apparently going to be a little different.
In addition to Bragg, a number of area musicians will be working with the music, stretching it, remaking it, cooking it, including LA-based avant-jazz singer Dwight Trible (best known for his work with the Pharoah Sanders Quartet); Dafra Drum Ensemble, a group that does dance and drumming from the Djeli/Griot tradition of West Africa; Banda Philharmonica – a 30 piece Oaxacan Brass Ensemble; California country and bluegrass vocalist Susie Glaze; singer-songwriter Ernest Troost; The Baker & Tarpaga Dance Project; and pianist Justin Bischof.
The performance will take place on August 29 at the Santa Monica College Performing Art Center, with proceeds to benefit Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice Los Angeles.