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Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Counting down, looking back, looking forward. Dec 29 2020 quick edition.


It’s almost January. We should be planning to attend the world’s biggest music trade show,  the annual NAMM show that overflows from the cavernous Anaheim Convention Center into all the surrounding huge hotels. But, of course, not this year. NAMM 2020 was the last   piece of normalcy before Pandemania.

After that?

Wander through the cyber swinging doors of any site in the world and you’re certain to encounter a statement — ranging from two or three words to a chapter-and-verse, date-annotated dissertation, on just how much 2020 sucked. 

Oh, sure, there are a few exceptions. 

American astronauts finally rode into space in an American-made spacecraft atop a reusable American-made rocket, for the first time since the Space Shuttle fleet was prematurely retired.

Science continued to triumph with:

   (a) more unequivocal proof that climate change is man-made, and responsible for droughts, wildfires, record numbers of hurricanes and severe weather events; 

   (b) years of research into RNA enabled record-fast development of COVID-19 vaccines (partly funded with Dolly Parton’s donated money); 

   (c) key new discoveries were made about comets, asteroids, and the formation of the Solar System; and

   (d) clear warnings about habitat destruction from economic exploitation came as the cause of interspecies transfer of diseases that can reach human populations.

There IS more. 

Many are still celebrating — or are at least relieved by — the fact that American voters gave the Orange Abomination and his grifters their walking papers. He will be gone January 20th, even if he continues to disgrace himself with wildly unstable allegations of how he was robbed. (Hey, if anybody knows about stealing, it IS him.)

But, dammit:

•  with one out of every 1,000 Americans who were alive in February now dead of COVID, and the possibility the numbers could still double;

•  with all the live music venues still necessarily closed as a matter of life and death, and some of them economically beyond the means to ever reopen; 

•  with many worthy causes and charities unable to do their important work that sustains the most needy and culturally enriches all of us; 

•  with America leading the world in the last things where you would want to be on top, infections and deaths from the virus — approximately 20% of both categories, globally, are Americans, even though we comprise only 4 to 5 percent of the world’s population. 

So, yeah, there is damn little to celebrate.

In addition:

•  millions more of our fellow Americans still face evictions; 

•  hundreds of thousands have lost their health care (only in America — everywhere else, everyone else still has their health care, even if their job was lost to COVID);

•  and already, both the U.S. homeless population and those in need of food assistance exceed the numbers from the depths of the Great Depression.

Reading all that isn’t exactly a way for us to say “Happy New Year,” or to carry on with the presentation of happy news from the last edition. But take a moment to think of those who are caught in the worst part of all this, living in their cars, or worse, or planning a funeral for a loved one that no one can be allowed to attend.

We could continue to depress you — of course with the intent to get you fired-up to add your voice to demand of our new administration, “DO SOMETHING!”

Or we could remember that we are an arts publication.

Which tells us we need to bring in a relief pitcher.


Julia Wick edits the L.A. Times “Essential California” e-newsletter, and early this morning, she devoted it “The moments that defined 2020.”

It isn’t inclusive of all the places we would have gone. It does not lament, or even mention, those in music and the arts whose lives we celebrated in the Guide when we learned of their passing this year.

But if we wrote our own version of the history of 2020, we would risk losing the larger perspective, because we’d likely spend the entire edition saluting the accomplishments of John Prine, and Kenny Rogers, and Charlie Pride, and a dozen others we eulogized during the course of a singularly awful year.

And we would likely stray-off into how the corporate establishment Democratic Party manipulated the process to give the nomination to conservative corporatist Joe Biden — only to have him branded as a flaming socialist by the MAGAmedia and gaggle of Goppers who willingly surrendered their integrity to the most dysfunctional person to ever hold high office in America.

So you can tell already that it’s a good thing we decided not to write our own wrap-up of 2020. 

Instead, we turn to Julia Wick, whose perspective includes many of the momentous moments that history will spotlight from 2020. 

Is there more to why we picked Julia’s perspective, when so many are available? Well, yeah. It’s her writing process for the piece. It’s clear from her first line. Take it away, Julia...


By Julia Wick, “Essential California”  L.A. Times e-newsletter, Dec. 29: “The moments that defined 2020.”

A few weeks ago, we asked you to tell us about your most indelible memory of 2020.

So many of you shared so much with us, digging through your days to define the image, interaction or moment that remained singular to you through the most surreal of years. Thank you.

Taken together, the responses formed a kind of kaleidoscopic year in review. All of the era-defining moments were there but refracted through individual lives.


In the first month of the year, a young mother in Los Angeles made dinner in her apartment kitchen. NPR played as she cooked, just background noise, really. Until it cut through.

The story was about a city whose name few of us had known a few weeks prior, under siege from a novel virus. The woman distinctly remembers feeling — right then, in the moment — like it was foreshadowing. Like this was the scene that would play just before the movie got scary.

In the beginning of the year, history blared toward us in push alerts and the text scrolling across the bottom of our TV screens. But it was far away. It couldn’t touch us. Our lives were still so full, and there were plenty of other things to cheer and grieve.

Still January: Norma Montenegro was on her way to the gym when a friend called to ask if she’d heard the rumor. Montenegro, an HR professional in Los Angeles, pulled her car over right there on Brand Boulevard. When she opened her phone and saw the TMZ tweet — “BREAKING: Kobe Bryant Has Died In A Helicopter Crash” — she let out the loudest scream of her life. She sobbed in her parked car for an hour before she could drive home.

We continued with our business in February, as the headlines worsened in other places. There was more of that foreshadowing, more terrible scenes from afar.

In March, it all came home to roost.

Somewhere in Sacramento in the second week of March, Juan Altamirano was watching a dumb, mindless movie on TV. And then he looked at his phone and saw that Tom Hanks had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Today is the day, the environmental lobbyist immediately thought to himself. Today is the day that my life changes.

The memories readers shared from that strange sliver of time all sounded like variations on Altamirano’s — personal turning points, where the crisis at hand suddenly became real to them.

Retired journalist Becci Rogers was sitting in Sacramento’s Golden 1 Arena, waiting for tipoff at a Kings game. Then the announcement came over the loudspeaker. The game had been postponed and the thousands of fans were being asked to leave. The NBA wouldn’t play again for months.

Like a half-dozen other respondents, Yifang Nie’s moment of indelibility came in a barren grocery store midway through the month of March.

R.E.M’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)” blared over the speakers in a San Francisco Trader Joe’s, as she searched the vacant shelves. There was nothing left to buy.

Mayors and governors entered our living rooms in daily briefings. We came to know our local public health officials by name.

World events unraveled our daily lives and rearranged them in new and cloistered shapes.

I cried my way through Zoom weddings and bar mitzvahs and brises, remaining on the same couch in the same city while small clusters of people I loved assembled themselves into the frame in various parts of the country.

A mother in Santa Clarita described viewing her daughter’s graduation ceremony on YouTube. After, the family drove to a local park. Sitting in their gray minivan, they watched as their oldest daughter walked across a stage to collect her high school diploma.

Even a once-in-a-century pandemic couldn’t stop the milestones of life. Nor could it prevent the ordinary tragedies.

More than a few people described their indelible memory as a last moment with a loved one, before a death that had nothing to do with COVID-19. They were, in a strange way, among the lucky ones — at least they could be there in person.

A lawyer in Los Angeles described not being able to say goodbye to a friend dying of cancer. COVID-19 visiting restrictions at the hospital prohibited it.

She watched the funeral on Facebook Live with a few of her closest friends, spaced six feet apart in front of a big-screen TV.

It was all so surreal. They made a point of going into another room to blow their noses when their weeping required it, because doing so would mean lowering their masks.

Everything happened on screens.

In the last days of May, a video documenting George Floyd’s death under the knee of a Minneapolis cop ricocheted around the globe.

For some of the country, the video was gutting but unsurprising, reflecting a reality they were already all too familiar with. But it woke many others out of a kind of stupor, forcing them to grapple with how racism shapes nearly every facet of American life. Millions took to the streets.

A summer of fear and fires followed. Filmmaker Sarah Gertrude Shapiro remembers a particularly apocalyptic moment when a record-setting heat wave broiled Los Angeles, as blazes burned in all directions. Ash rained down from the sky as she frantically hosed down her pandemic-acquired pet chickens, trying to keep them alive in the 119-degree heat.

Several Bay Area readers described the morning they awoke to orange, Martian skies.

Two people in front of a red sky with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.
Amy Scott of San Francisco takes in the view from the Embarcadero as smoke from various wildfires burning across Northern California mixes with the marine layer, blanketing San Francisco in darkness and an orange glow on Sept. 9. (Getty Images)

In the Sierra Nevada mountains, Fresno Bee reporter Carmen George remembers watching an 85-year-old woman walk through the ruins of her former life for the first time after the Creek fire.

Amid the ashes was a ceramic jar that the woman’s son had given her as a gift before he died, unscathed by the fire. George asked the woman if it was special, seeing that this meaningful object had somehow survived.

No, the woman told her. “Nothing is special anymore.”

It was a year that often felt merciless.

Camilo Loza, a line cook in Los Angeles, was serving food on skid row this fall when a man quietly asked if he could have a little extra. The man said he hadn’t eaten in five days.

The moment seared itself into Loza’s brain because there were so many things he wanted to do and say. But the line behind the man was too long to do anything more than wish him well, heap a little extra onto his plate, and turn to the next person waiting to be served.

Mahasin Ahmad, a certified nurse assistant and single mother in San Bernardino, described the feeling of constantly being at a breaking point. Juggling two jobs to make ends meet, there was never enough time to give her little ones the help they needed with school. And the bills just continued to pile up.

But there were also flashes of radiance.

Sue Kamm, a retired librarian in Silver Lake, recalled ringing a large school bell after finishing her last chemotherapy treatment for ovarian cancer. She has remained cancer-free through two follow-up CT scans.

Several people described their jubilation at the results of the presidential election, and the subsequent dancing in the streets. The Dodgers and the Lakers both won championships.

Pam Haas’ moment of indelibility came in a San Pedro church, looking into the brown-green eyes of the man she loves. She and Ken Haas had first met and briefly dated in the 1960s, before life tugged them in different directions. He found her again more than five decades later on LinkedIn, and flew across the country to visit her a few weeks later.

On Valentine’s Day of this year, they exchanged wedding vows. The first-time bride said her brothers were happy she finally decided to settle down at 76.

Up in Sonoma County, Penny Paden’s telephone rang as she was emptying the dishwasher one day this fall.

In March, the Padens’ beloved cat Roxanne had disappeared. They had papered the neighborhood with flyers, searching and searching. Then COVID-19 came, and the sorrows of the world drowned out whatever faith was left in finding Roxanne.

But a year and a half later, there was a veterinarian on the phone, saying someone had dropped off a scraggly, stray cat with a microchip identifying her as theirs.

Some losses are permanent. And sometimes joy resurfaces long after we’ve given up hope.

We are now 363 days into leap year 2020. A million impossible things have already happened, and who knows what the next three days could bring. May your final hours be bright and blessedly unmemorable.


Stay healthy, stay safe. 

Honor the health care people who are, in the words of one COVID unit ER doctor, "Not the front line first responders, but the last line of defense, if it comes to keeping you alive."

How to honor them?

Don't be a maskhole who joins the Branch Covidians. 

This will all be over and we can brag about how well we came through -- if we don't get reckless in these final days of great risk.

___ ^ ___ ^ ___ ^ ___ ^ ___ ^ ___ ^ ___

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♪ The ACOUSTIC AMERICANA MUSIC GUIDE endeavors to bring you NEWS – and views of interest to artists everywhere – more specifically to musicians and the creative community and music makers -- and fans of acoustic and Folk-Americana music. That includes both traditional and innovative forms. From the deepest roots to today’s acoustic renaissance, that’s our beat. We provide a wealth of resources, including a HUGE catalog of acoustic-friendly venues (now undergoing a major update), and inside info on FESTIVALS and select performances in Southern California in venues from the monumentally large to the intimately small and cozy. We cover workshops, conferences, and other events for artists and folks in the music industry, and all kinds o’ things in the world of acoustic and Americana and accessible classical music. From washtub bass to musical spoons to oboe to viola to banjo to squeezebox, from Djangostyle to new-fangled-old-time string band music, from sweet Cajun fiddle to bluegrass and pre-bluegrass Appalachian mountain music to all the swamp water roots of the blues and the bright lights of where the music is headed now.
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Til we catch ya again on the flip side 
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