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03.05.08

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Quite contrary: Amanda Barrett (left) and Abby DeWald of the Ditty Bops enjoy gardening, subverting paradigms and participating in cartoonish tableaux

Loony Tunes

The Ditty Bops bring another whimsical musical performance to Santa Cruz.

By Paul Davis


It's de rigueur to pay lip service to green principles these days, but few remain willing to make major lifestyle changes. It's not easy to live a green life in the midst of rampant urban development, after all. Amid plenty of debate about living the locavore lifestyle or finding renewable sources of fuel, few have made the sort of hard-core environmental commitments that old-timey folk duo the Ditty Bops have.

The two made a splash during their 2006 CD release tour by touring the country using the ultimate renewable resource--their legs. The Ditty Bops' national bicycle tour did green touring advocates like Dave Matthews and Willie Nelson one better and inspired the Bops to make an even deeper change: Upon returning to their native Los Angeles to work on their third album--the forthcoming self-released Summer Rains--Abby DeWald and Amanda Barrett embarked on a project of urban renewal in the midst of L.A.'s smog-choked confines. DeWald and Barrett ditched their cars and converted their driveway into a sustainable garden.

Why the radical lifestyle change in the middle of the most car-centric city in the world? Barrett explains that after that incessant touring, the Ditty Bops had caught the bicycling bug. "Coming back home to L.A. from the bicycle tour," she says, "we wanted to keep up the bike-riding lifestyle we'd become accustomed to. To ensure that we kept riding, I gave up my car and we got an XtraCycle to help haul our groceries and things around town. I can carry so much stuff on there, or give Abby a ride on the back."

But the benefits for Barrett and DeWald weren't strictly environmental. It also helped them refine an old-time, pastoral sound that evokes the endless fields and skies of rural America far more than the concrete jungle. "I think being in our little garden that we created, where our car used to be, influenced our songwriting because it gave us a little green haven in the city," Barrett notes.

Summer Rains finds the Ditty Bops further exploring the antiquated sounds that made the band such a compelling oddity in Los Angeles. Drawing upon cabaret, vaudeville, Western swing, folk and ragtime, the duo's affable songs stand in stark contrast to the pop-punk and electro littering the Southern California musical landscape. But Barrett and DeWald aren't merely a throwback. Though they draw upon older musical forms, their sly sensibilities and the occasional bit of electronic trickery emphasize that this is music very much of its time.

"We are influenced by music of all genres and books and our environment and what's up in our lives," Barrett says. "We pull from anything and everything--we like all sorts of music. There are so many rad old songs that haven't been heard very much, and it can be fun to cover those. We have a friend, Michael Kieffer, who is a record collector, and he plays us lots of obscure recordings from yesteryear."

With a slew of new originals and a number of those obscure covers in tow, the Ditty Bops are hitting the road again. And though they aren't repeating the Herculean task of touring the country by bike--they'll be traveling by vehicle this time--they learned much from the experience. "I'm so glad we did that tour. It was the adventure of a lifetime," Barrett says. "I think if I were to do it again, I would do regional bike touring. It's hard to route a tour through the entire giant United States and account for weather being agreeable every step of the way."

Inclement weather isn't the only risk in traveling across the country on bike, Barrett adds. "In the Midwest we were chased by dogs almost every day," she says. In fact, Barrett has devised a foolproof plan in case the Ditty Bops decide to tour via bike once again: "I think I would mount a super soaker water gun on my bike to discourage farm dogs from biting me!"


THE DITTY BOPS play Wednesday, March 5, at 8pm at Kuumbwa Jazz Center, 320-2 Cedar St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $18 adv/$20 door. For more information, call 831.427.2227.


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