Taj Mahal: Topanga Contest Winner
History of The Topanga Banjo•Fiddle Contest
The Topanga Banjo Fiddle Contest and Folk Festival (www.topangabanjofiddle.org) started in 1961, making it one of the oldest continuously held traditional music events in the US. It was first held in the Topanga Canyon, which is the reason for its name. The 1961 event, organized by Margot Slocum and Peg Benepe, attracted 30 contestants, 4 Judges, and 500 fans. Half a century later, it is 10 times bigger.
The following year, the event moved to Topanga Canyon's Camp Wildwood and expanded to include folk singing, old time and Bluegrass. Mary Ellen Clark and Dorian Kayser joined the team and eventually steered the festival through the next 20 years.
The festival experienced its first crisis in 1970, caused by a rock festival near Oakland, California at Altamont in December 1969. Hoping to imitate the success of Woodstock, the Altamont organizers beefed up security with members of the Hell's Angeles motorcycle club. During the performance of the Rolling Stones, somebody from the audience jumped on stage and was fatally stabbed by a Hell's Angel. As a consequence, the Los Angeles County supervisors prohibited all dangerous outdoor activities in Los Angeles county, including the Topanga Banjo Fiddle Contest and a Mozart Festival. Outdoor music was still legal in Santa Barbara county and Peter Feldmann achieved the feat of convincing the UC Santa Barbara bureaucracy to move the festival on campus. Not only did the festival take place without riots, drug arrest, or motorcycle gangs, it created demand for a similar festival in Santa Barbara after the Topanga Banjo Fiddle Contest moved back to LA County. Peter created the Santa Barbara Old Time Fiddlers' Convention in 1972, which continues to this day.
The relocation in 1970 was disruptive and the Topanga Banjo Fiddle Contest bounced around different locations for 15 years without finding an ideal home. It had grown too much to fit into any available location in Topanga Canyon, but somehow the new venues didn't feel right either: 1971/72 UCLA, 1973-77 Santa Monica Community College, 1977-85 UCLA, 1986-89 El Camino Community College.
In 1990 the Topanga Banjo Fiddle Contest moved to its present home at the Paramount Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains, not far from its Topanga Canyon roots.