Sadly, last November, when the California Wildfires broke out, the Paramount Ranch was almost directly in the center of the Woolsey Fire, and the area was wiped out. I wrote about that here. But the show (or in this case, festival) must go on, and event organizers worked with the Park Service (which emphatically wanted them back), and the 2019 Topanga Banjo & Fiddle Contest -- the 59th annual -- took place this past Sunday. And I made sure to go, not only to offer my support, but see how the place handled the changes forced upon them.
I took a bunch of photos as I explored the area. Below on the left, you can see the Western town last year with the buildings in the background and vendor booths lining the streets. To the right, that's the scene today, with much of the area fenced off, the tree denuded, and rubble surrounding it.
This is a closer look at the damage, along with the remains of those burned-down structures which haven't yet been cleared away.
By the way, though a lot of people brought pets to the festival, that's not a dog in the center-right (aligned in front of the door). That's the animal which belonged to fellow seated -- his pet goat. It was well-behaved and seemed to be enjoying the music and having a fine old time.
As I wandered through the grounds, I made a few observations. The first was obvious, how burned out so much of the area was, like this eucalyptus tree -- though as you can see, it not only wasn't killed of, but the leaves have started to come back.
The other observation was that if you hadn't been to the Paramount Ranch before (and didn't notice the blocked-off remnants of the destroyed buildings), you might not know how badly it had been destroyed. While you can of course see in the picture below the burned-out shrubbery in the foreground and off to the left, the surrounding area in only four months has already started to come in green and almost lush.
And though longtime visitors could see and feel what was missing, a lot of crafts booths returned (though not as many yet as before), and the main park itself is surrounded again by forest land -- some of the lower vegetation has grown back, and a good part of the surrounding forest was spared. So, for all that was no longer there, there was still the sensibility of being in a festive bowl of beautiful nature.
The festival wasn't as crowded as in the past, and while a bit of that may have been because some people weren't sure if it would be going on this year, I suspect most was because it was raining in Los Angeles that morning and drizzling and chilly out on the Paramount Ranch grounds -- though by about 11:30 in the morning it turned into a pretty nice day.
And the show did indeed go on. Which was a joy to see. The crafts booths, food trucks, and main stage, but also -- even though they had makeshift stages and not the buildings as in the past -- areas for the side competitions, performances, and jamming. Here are a few, brief videos of all that, about 30-seconds each, starting with the Main stage.
(Fun note: near the end, you'll see two young girls walk in front of the camera. They had just performed in competition right before this current musician, so I thought it was very thoughtful of the one girl to clap for the fiddler during his performance.)
Though it may have been more than a bit barren compared to the past ("a bit more" being the polite term), this side stage was set up for bands to put on secondary performances, and in some ways the makeshift, vagabond quality of the tent added a great deal of charm.
They even still had their Dance Stage back. It's not anything as part of the competition but more for entertainment and demonstration. You should be able to make out the woman clog dancing off to the left onstage.
It was wonderful to see the Topanga Banjo & Fiddle Contest back -- and for all that's missing, the circle went on.