This concert was onstage at the Clark Center January 21, 2023.

So a funny thing happened (actually two) at the 617-seat Clark Center’s sold out Live from Laurel Canyon show on January 21 that has never happened in my 21 years attending concerts on the Central Coast: I was the youngest person attending, and I didn’t run into anyone I knew. But there I was, flying solo, happily tucked away in a corner seat, relaxed and ready to enjoy some great, unforgettable music.

Billed as “Songs and Stories of American Folk Rock,” the presentation lived up to its billing with a healthy dose of both. After a somewhat lengthy history lesson about the nascent rise of rock ‘n’ roll, the tight seven-piece band from Arizona jumped into “California Dreaming” by the Mamas and the Papas, released in late 1965. Then a few more tales about folk king Bob Dylan led to the ultimate cover hit: 1965’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” by the Byrds, with an obvious shout out to the recently deceased David Crosby.

Local concertgoers expecting by-the-book renditions of their favorite songs were in for a pleasant surprise.”

But local concertgoers expecting by-the-book renditions of their favorite songs were in for a pleasant surprise: unique arrangements that made them almost sound like originals. You couldn’t tell what song they chose from the intro, which was kind of cool since these classics have been played and heard millions of times. Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” begins with that recognizable dinging sound but the band’s talented guitarist Adam Armijo disguised it so you weren’t sure until the famous “there’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear” line was sung.

This was even more apparent with the Doors’ “Light My Fire” from 1967. Armijo tricked us again with a flamenco style guitar riff, and with lead singer/chief storyteller Brian Chartrand’s accented lyrics, I closed my eyes and imagined it was Jose Feliciano up on stage.

They continued with versions of an obscure song by supergroup CSN and Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” which didn’t really transfer well live but got chuckles during their story about her choosing to appear on Dick Cavett’s TV talk show instead of the legendary music festival. Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl” from 1970 then closed out the first set before intermission.

The audience was appreciative and polite throughout the show, clapping enthusiastically after each number—comfortable in the warm Clark Center atmosphere but eagerly waiting for the night’s magic moment.

Not surprising, since it’s Neil Friggin Young, that moment finally came two songs into the second set with a rousing version of “Old Man,” highlighted by the soaring vocals of David Freeman, who added harmonies on other songs but spent most of the evening as a side note sitting on his wooden barstool. He got half the crowd on its feet with his spirited, soulful interpretation of Young’s classic Harvest-album ballad about trying to bridge the 1960s generation gap.

Next, I’m not a big James Taylor fan (sorry), but “Fire and Rain” is one of his better efforts and the band flawlessly played it truer than its other covers.

Then came “Sister Golden Hair” by America, aided by an old pic of famed Beatles producer George Martin with the pop-hit trio on the back screen. The entire performance included slides of historic photos and notes, enhancing the many stories that were told. Follow that up with some Jackson Browne and our history lesson was nearly complete.

However, at this point I realized a major error in the show’s title. It’s not “American” but “California” folk rock; after all, Laurel Canyon is perfectly situated in between Hollywood and the Valley in our once Golden State. But who’s quibbling when the music is this good.

Third vocalist Holly Pyle handled lead duties for Linda Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good” before the iconic finale. Take a guess: California is in the name and this band went on to achieve massive fame and fortune, rivaling the most successful rock acts ever. On a dark desert highway . . . Okay, no more hints. Anyway, lead guitarist Armijo once again showed his versatile chops by perfectly handling its wistful intro and melody.

The wonderful Clark Center in Arroyo Grande has got things down: friendly staff, excellent sound, and their firm policy of no photos or video.”

Band members were clearly grateful for their warm Central Coast reception and rewarded us with an energetic encore of another Eagles tune, “Take it Easy,” concluding their 17-song performance. I would have preferred a Fleetwood Mac track like “Say You Love Me” (they became Laurel Canyon residents in 1974) but again, no fussing allowed.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable night of music nostalgia, which always seems to be in fashion. And the wonderful Clark Center in Arroyo Grande has got things down: friendly staff, excellent sound, and their firm policy of no photos or video. It was a big relief to be distraction-free by putting my smartphone addiction on hold for two-plus hours and watching everyone else do the same.

My girlfriend was shocked but proud.

:: Colin Jones