Kulak’s Woodshed: A Lone Music Wolf in the Valley

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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.

Paul Kulak

Paul Kulak in front of his Woodshed. Photo: Courtesy Kulak's

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.

Flutterbies perform at Kulaks Woodshed

The Flutterbies trio(Adam Daniel, Maureen Davis, Bart Ryan) perform at Kulaks Woodshed Photo: James Hames

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.

The evening’s three sets were a Flutterbies tag team musical chairs kind of exposure to the band, opening with an Adam Daniel solo set — player and co-writer with Maureen Davis, who fronts the band and sings. They were joined by a third member, guitarist Bart Ryan, for the middle session. Ryan was joined by Brant Biles, who mastered The Flutterbies recent six-song CD and produced Ryan’s new record, for the final set.

Daniel’s set was a melange of sweet-voiced folk embellishing captivating melodies and tasty hooks, delightfully played on acoustic guitar and piano. His wry lyrics served as an able presage to his version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” — only slightly retouched; a brave choice for the comparisons it begs to Rufus Wainwright’s and Jeff Buckley’s famous covers. Daniel’s treatment stands well among them.

The showpiece of the night was Davis under the umbrella of The Flutterbies (pronounced like a Spoonerism of butterflies). The solid songs include the engaging “Hummingbird Heart”— a song being lent to efforts to overturn Prop. 8 — and “Damn Glad,” a song that navigates the paradox of  “Will I regret saying ‘good riddance’?” She travels that big-voiced Alannah Myles road with a more nuanced country feeling in the sound.

The interior of Kulak's

The interior of Kulak's

Ryan’s set displayed his guitar chops that shifted seamlessly from chainsaw wicked to surgeon’s suture sweet. He and Biles threw together the acoustic duet and vocal harmony arrangements earlier in the day, resulting in a casual but never sloppy presentation.

It’s good to be reminded that there’s something’s happening at Kulak’s Woodshed and — this week and every week — it includes a songwriter workshop, an open mic night, and a few evenings of singer/songwriters giving as good as what you’d experience anywhere over the hill.

www.kulakswoodshed.com There is no cover charge. Fill out a membership form and pay a nominal fee ($5) and then donate to help support the Shed.   No alcohol or food (soft drinks, coffee, and water only). Monday open mic starts at 7:30 pm and the headline shows (Thurs., Fri., Sat.) from 8:00 – 10:00pm-ish PST. Performances are Webcasted Live from 8-10PM Pacific Standard Time. Archived Songs are played 24/7 when Webcast is not live. To view the webcast please go to: http://www.kulakswoodshed.com/webcast.shtml.

James Hames is a second generation Valley native, working as a writer and editor, photographer and artist, school bus driver and Neighborhood Council boardmember — but what he really wants to do is help you replace your lawn like he’s been doing for friends, family, neighbors and strangers for decades.

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About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.

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