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Steve Free headlines Fall Festival in Los Angeles
By Derrick C. Parker, Scioto Voice Writer | November 21, 2019


Scioto County natives Sean Gowdy and Jacob Tolliver are living the dream.  They are both working in the entertainment business in beautiful Los Angeles, California.  But, for all its charms (and sunshine), LA is missing one key component according to the Southern Ohio duo:  Fall.

“In LA, I don’t exactly get to experience the Fall season like I did growing up in Portsmouth, Ohio,” said Gowdy.  “My roommates and I often found ourselves talking about how we missed the changing colors of the leaves, the brisk air, bonfires, apple cider, hayrides, etc.”

So, two years ago Gowdy, Tolliver, and their roommates decided to host and annual fall festival they called Ruffner Harvest.
“We wanted to bring as much ‘Fall’ to LA as we could by hosting a giant party with a bonfire, hay bales, s’mores, cornhole, and pumpkin pie.  We even built a barn that doubles as a photo booth.”image

This year, the team of roommates were set on again hosting the Ruffner Harvest Festival.  But, they wanted to grow the event and make it bigger and better.  So, they built a stage for live music, rented a flatbed trailer for hayrides, and planned other cool events for their friends and neighbors to attend for free.

And they also invited some very special friends out to the West Coast in an effort to bring the Midwest to Hollywood.
“Those two guys love my music,” said Steve Free.  Free is an internationally renowned Grammy nominated folk singer/songwriter.  “But I’m not sure why,” he laughed.  “But if you all their house, it’s my music on their answering machine.  I guess it just remind them of home.”

“Well, the first year they had this festival they called up and said they wanted me to come out and play.  They wanted ‘real Midwest music’. But, I was booked that year.   So, they called me again the next year.  But I’m no Rock Star.  I had never been to LA.  So, I told them I would the next year on two conditions:  that they pick me up and drop me off at the airport, and that I could have a millennial with me at all times as a guide.”

Luckily for Los Angeles, Free found his millennial guide this year.

“My son just got out of the Air Force.  And he plays guitar.  So, I checked with him and he loved the idea.  So, we book the trip out to LA.”

Free and his son Dakota made the trip to Van Nuys, California, an artist community in the LA metropolitan area.
“All the people living in the area are younger kids in the entertainment business:  musicians, actors, writers, publicists, etc.  Very few people living in that neighborhood are from LA.  Most of them are from the Midwest or back East . . . So they really love putting on this fall festival.  It’s really like bringing a piece of Appalachia to them.”

WNXT radio personality Steve Hayes also attended and was the honorary MC for the event.

“It was a big festival,” said Free.  “It was basically a giant block party with hundreds of people.  The coolest pare of it all were the hay rides.  They took a big wagon and decorated it and pulled it with a big SUV.  They were doing these hay riedes through the streets of LA!”

Free played the event along with Tolliver and other musicians from the area.  But his favorite pare of the whole event was playing his guitar on the back of the wagon leading participants in sing-a-longs.

“We were riding through LA singing together in the back of a wagon in LA at 9 PM at night.  It was a great time.”
Free has another story from his trip – one that happened the morning of the festival.  In fact, it even inspired a song he wrote specifically for the Ruffner Harvest Stage.

“They all talked me into going to Hollywood Boulevard and taking a picture at the Roy Rogers star,” said Free.   Rogers and Free both hail from the same road in Scioto County:  Duck Run.

“Well, they had friends come in from all over.  Some Jake had group and I was in Sean’s group.  Jake parked on one end of the strip and we parked on the other and hoofed it.  Well, we got lost.   So, we all met each other at the famous Chinese Theater.  Sean go his car and decided to pick us all up – all eight of us – and take the other group back to their car.”

“So, all eight of us including Steve Hayes piled into this hatchback like a group of college kids,” laughed Free. “Two guys were sitting in the back and Jake’s girlfriend was laying across our laps.  We were pretty crammed in there.  Well, Sean (wo is the biggest Steve Free fan in the world) rolls down the windows and decides he is going to lead Carpool Karaoke.  He plays on of my songs, “Down in Ohio”, runs the stereo all the way up and starts singing.  So, everyone in the car starts singing as loud as they can and flailing  their arms out the window.”

“It was a great time,” laughed Free.

That is until the group was pulled over by the LAPD.  The police officers were none too thrilled that a group of eight people were crammed in the back of a small vehicle, jamming to folk music on Hollywood Boulevard.
“In the end, we got cited,” laughed Free.  “But we did write a little song later that day called ‘Busted in LA’.  We even played it at the festival that night.”

In the end, Free got to help Gowdy and Tolliver bring a bit of Southern Ohio to Southern California.  And it had all the makings of a true Appalachian fall festival: food, bonfires, cornhole, games, good drinks, hayrides, and a sense of fellowship that you can only find back in the foothills of Ohio.

“It was so coo,” said Free.  “All these people from the Midwest got together and made this happen.  It was really neat to be a part of it.”

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