Topanga Canyon is a little spot of wilderness in the vast urban and suburban sprawl that is the Greater Los Angeles Area. It’s a massive state park that stretches from Woodland Hills and the top of Reseda Boulevard at its Southern end all the way up over the Santa Monica Mountains, down to Topanga Beach and behind the mansions of Pacific Palisades.
However not all this land is State Property. A significant portion has been privately owned and inhabited for right around a century at this point. Right around the late 1960s all the flower children, notably Neil Young and Charles Manson, started moving into and hanging around in Topanga Canyon in an effort to find ways of expanding their consciousness and getting back in touch with nature as an entire generation became obsessed with becoming Henry David Thoreau and Hunter S. Thompson combined.
The first Topanga Days Country Fair (as close to its current form) was thrown over the 1973 Memorial Day weekend as a fundraiser for the Topanga Community Club. A yearly tradition that grew larger each passing, with pie eating contests plus plenty of food, drinks, and carnival games for young children to play, and expanding to host live bands of many genres. They even close down the busy Topanga Canyon Road for a few miles on Memorial Day morning for a parade.
Over the years, many famous artists have played there live in what was initially just a venue for local hippies and their friends jamming. Now thousands of attendees of varying social backgrounds gather for the Saturday, Sunday, and Monday of Memorial Day Weekend – from Topanga and the surrounding areas – to take part in the festivities.
Monday typically is the most crowded day and has the most popular acts as well. I made it there just in time to catch In The Led, a Led Zeppelin Tribute band that went over extremely well with the crowd. However, I had just missed the opening act on the Main Stage who were called L.A.C.E.S. Almost every year a band called Venice that plays picks from their catalog of originals as well as medleys of classic rock covers from the 60s and 70s. They essentially play anything that Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers, and their children can all dance too. The four Lennon Brothers; Kipp, Mark, Michael and Pat; together flawlessly pull off the many melodies and harmonies that are required for their diverse set list.
After Venice left the stage, their roadies and the Community House Music Volunteers helped set up for the opening act as more and more people filed into the fair. The smell of patchouli and the occasional cloud of marijuana smoke wafted throughout the grounds near the Main Stage. People milled about and bought clothes and jewelry before wandering to the bar to quench their thirst for more beer.
Up on the upper parts of the property, passing the bounce houses, and carnival games located in and around the playground area more people peddle artisan soaps, incense, and handmade jewelry alongside booths where one can get a henna tattoo or their face painted before wandering off towards the community house itself to find the many food venders serving tacos, BBQ and assorted vegan entrees to the fair-goers.
Then around 4 o’clock, Ska legends, the English Beat, took the stage. The crowd got thicker as people rushed to the bar near the stage to grab another Stella Artois, Shock Top, or Bud Light before rushing back out to the dirt, grass and up onto the cement landings in front of the Stage to dance to their rendition of “Tears of a Clown.”
The crowd bounced and danced to the music as the day heated up. Briefly mentioning that the song was used in both Bill Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, they played “I’ll Take You There” roughly halfway through the set. Towards the end of their set, a few mid-song announcements concerning some guests parents being taken to the ER tent on the grounds were made as they closed out with “Mirror in the Bathroom” and “Save it For Later.”
By this time, the energy at the fair began to wind down. The English Beat were followed by a jam band called Soluzion made up of locals of Topanga Canyon. Unfortunately I was unable to stay long enough to get a very good listen to them but they had a decent crowd and from what I had heard, it appears fans of the Grateful Dead or Phish would enjoy them.
For all interested in a Bohemian-style Memorial Day fair, Topanga Days is worth adding to your bucket list of experiences to try.
Anthony Augello is a writer, musician, actor and Post-Modern man from Los Angeles. You can follow him on Twitter.