BY JAMES HAMES
It’s good to be reminded about Kulak’s Woodshed, about what it is and why it’s worth going there. There’s certainly nothing like it in the Valley.
Kulak’s is the product of the labor of love for Paul Kulak and a handful of volunteers who stage music shows for live audiences and online viewers. If Kulak’s, which is in North Hollywood, was on the other side of the hill, we may be talking about it as if it were McCabe’s, that homey guitar store where A-list folksters and unplugged rockers take the floor next to Ovations and Gibsons and Martins.
But it’s good to be reminded, as proved in a recent show of L.A. local band, The Flutterbies, that live music of the highest professional quality is available on this side of the hill, and reminded that how little it can take to produce broadcast-worthy video streaming online.
If one is inclined to search for metaphors for Kulak’s Woodshed, there’s no need to look further than the decor. There’s an Oriental-style rug on the floor and an Americana-kind of quilt on the ceiling and decorative stars hanging in between. Furthermore, it’s on Laurel Canyon — just north of the most famous canyon in music history — where all that history couldn’t spill south anymore into a zip code now-filled with leathered and flanneled trendsters and starlets with record deals.
Maybe it’s a Valley inferiority complex that makes it seem vital to scratch out validity based upon who’s taken stage at the the singer/songwriter showcase that hits its10th birthday in December. In comparison, the legitimacy of Club Largo or The Roxy doesn’t have to be justified by who’s played there — but this is the Valley, and it does need to be verified that there is authentically high-quality music being played here.
It’s good to be reminded that Kulak’s has hosted Jackson Browne, Paula Cole, Chris Hillman of The Byrds, Fee Waybill of The Tubes, Gilby Clark of Guns ‘N Roses, songwriter Ian Whitcomb (once a KROQ DJ and author), John McEuen of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, John Waite of The Babys, Doug Feiger of The Knack, Dwight Yoakum’s and Michelle Shocked’s producer/guitarist Pete Anderson, pop/country duo Eastmountainsouth, roots rockers The Blazers, extraordinary guitar legend Albert Lee, and people who’ve found attention like Juliana Raye and the Ditty Bops and established attention-getters like Delaney Bramlett, Stephen Bishop and Walter Egan…and about 650 other acts.
In all that time Paul Kulak has tried to avoid much of a spotlight, tried to appease discontented neighbors, wrangled donations, wheedled political waters, and strung together an “Austin City Limits” —quality online site — or as much as is possible considering he’s using volunteers in his mid-block storefront and an upside down skateboard on rails as a track for the video camera along the southside ceiling.
He’s not in it for the money, saying “I’m just grateful that people find this place useful. Everyday people thank me.”
Even though a couple dozen people came to see The Flutterbies and about an equal number watched the live streaming online, one has to be reminded that it’s not some Westside hotspot — and Kulak could use the money. The mismatched wooden dining room chairs and the couch that folds out into a bed help reinforce that reminder. But then, the place only holds about 50 people.
It was an evening of songcraft and musicianship of a sort not heard on the radio, because mostly it was better that what you’d hear on the radio.