By Laura Meyer, www.LauraMeyer.net
Musical Notes is a regular column by Laura Meyer, a touring songwriter and guitarist. Each month, Laura clues us in on musical venues in towns and cities around the world.
There are many reasons to visit Ojai, a small town just 75 miles north of Los Angeles and home to many actors, artists, and musicians. Whether it’s the culture--the Ojai Film Festival, Ojai Music Festival, and Ojai Playwrights Conference--or the refuge found at the Matilija hot springs and Los Padres National Forest, travelers are bound to discover something special about the quiet valley originally named for the moon by the Chumash Indians.
Two years ago, when I first visited Ojai to perform, I was immediately convinced I’d found paradise. The neat rows of orange groves leading to Upper Ojai starkly contrasted the dark, snowy northwest from which I’d come. As I rolled down the windows and took in the idyllic scene, I felt another world away from the clamoring cities I’d left behind.
For me, Ojai’s greatest draw, aside from its tranquil beauty, is the Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts, which is situated on a serene area of land overlooking the pink rocks of Topatopa appropriately called Happy Valley.
The Beatrice Wood Center consists of two neighboring houses, once home to the extraordinary contemporary artist Beatrice Wood and her friend, Rosalind Rajagopal. That first evening I arrived, there was a performance held in a living room now being used as a gallery and performance space.
The director, Kevin Wallace, and his wife, Sheryl, served wine and refreshments for attendees while Gwyneth & Monko, a folk duo from Northern California, unpacked their guitars, mandolin, and violin. It was more than just their lilting music that made the evening so memorable. It was the whole scene. Swallows swarmed above the glass doors lining the side of the house and the sunset illuminated the facing mountains for the enchanting “pink moment” unique to valleys situated east-west. The songs were punctuated by the sound of coyotes howling in the distance. This was Ojai at its finest.
Last winter I was thrilled to return to Ojai for a month to live as the artist-in-residence (in this case, songwriter-in-residence). I was thrilled to see how on weekends the center comes to life with visiting artists, ceramic and basketry workshops, children’s programs and varied musical offerings, including a workshop with a Grammy-winning singer. With such a wide variety of artistic events, all set in this truly inspired setting, Ojai never fails to work its magic on me. I predict it always will.
Sunset photo by Laura Meyer