The Film

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“I can’t think of a better lens through which to view such an important part of our cultural history than a documentary on this wonderful club.” —Bonnie Raitt

The Ash Grove Legend

Bob Dylan dreamed of playing there. Bonnie Raitt called it crucial and legendary for its many musical, social and political connections. Mick Jagger thanked the owner for the musical education he received there.

From 1958 until its closing in 1973 the Ash Grove was Los Angeles’s preeminent roots music venue. In a time of increasingly successful commercial pop and folk music, the visionary owner, Ed Pearl championed the most obscure, raw and talented performers from across the United States.

These unrecognized artists went on to become the legendary icons of blues, bluegrass, and folk, many making their first trip west to play the Ash Grove. Among the thousands of artists to perform on its stage were Lightnin’ Hopkins, Son House, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Big Mama Thornton, Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley and Doc Watson. If they were authentic and had something to say, Ed booked them.

At the same time, Pearl cultivated a devoted group of young, aspiring musicians who came night after night to listen and learn at the feet of these musical masters. Watching every note played, hearing every story told, these Ash Grove alumni went on to become legends in their own right. Musicians like Taj Majal, Ry Cooder, Linda Ronstadt, Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, and Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead incorporated the traditional instruments and licks they absorbed at the Ash Grove into their own bands and changed the sound of contemporary music.

Never a businessman, always operating on a shoestring and breaking all the rules, Pearl made the Ash Grove his platform to change the world. He fused the Ash Grove’s traditional music with the radical politics of that turbulent era that altered the world. It became an experimental classroom and cultural center where people exchanged ideas and musical riffs on and offstage and where patrons and artists could really interact. It was a mixing place for people from widely different backgrounds, where the rich rubbed elbows with the working class, where celebrities, students, hippies, Black Panthers and truck drivers all came together.

Those who came to the Ash Grove say it was more of a home than a club, and that there never was a place like it, before or since. Time and again, eminent musicians, artists, filmmakers, educators, community activists and public servants tell how the Ash Grove changed their lives.

And then, the club was burned down… not once, but three times.

The Ash Grove Lives

Since the club was last destroyed in 1973, Ed Pearl has carried on, doggedly toiling to promote the kind of music and culture in Los Angeles he believes can change the world for the better. Through the years with some successes and some major failures, he believes that no club has been able to match the vision and purpose of the Ash Grove. In 2008, on the 50th anniversary of the Ash Grove’s founding, with no money and only a dream, Pearl undertook a massive project to resurrect the spirit of the club.

Film Production