It’s the golden hour, and the warmly lit Windrose Farm in Paso Robles is filled with anticipation for the eccentric Ditty Bops to perform.
Guests sit on lawn chairs or sprawl out on blankets with wine glasses in hand. The sun has begun to set against the picturesque red farmhouse, silhouetting black cats roaming the rooftop. Sheep can be heard from the surrounding pastures and dragonflies buzz lazily in the grass. It smells like horses and plants, but in a good way.
Nicole Robertson, 24, sits cross-legged on the grass. “I saw them open for Tegan and Sara in San Francisco and guess what? I liked them better than Tegan and Sara!” Robertson exclaimed.
Hosts Bill and Barbara Spencer mingle with their guests, chatting amiably and making sure everyone has gotten food. “Farmer Bill” is easy to spot in his cowboy hat, which looks quite appropriate on him. The couple has lived at Windrose since 1990, and Bill has been on an agricultural property in the North County since 1962.
“The purpose is to inform our friends of the whole issue of sustainable local agriculture. The Ditty Bops are a venue that allows us to reach out to a good number of people and speak to that fundamental issue,” Bill said.
As Bill takes the stage (a wrap-around porch strung with lights and wind charms), everyone but the sheep quiets down. “I’d like to thank you all for being here to support sustainable agriculture, which you are in fact eating right now,” he said to the applause of his guests.
The Spencers held the event to promote organic, sustainable eating and served only locally grown food from their farm. “Well, the olive oil isn’t ours, and we used some salt and pepper, but the rest is completely local,” Bill said.
After his introduction, and to the delight of the audience, the Ditty Bops started their set. Spunky from the start, Abby DeWald (on guitar) and Amanda Barrett (on mandolin) take the stage backed by a small folk band. “I’m still tuning my guitar, and I have chili in my teeth,” Barrett said as she smiled at her captivated audience.
The girls set the tone for their show when, during the first song, Barrett stepped into the audience and asked if anyone would be willing to dance backup. When one man nervously obliged, she deemed him “Eduardo the Brave Dancer,” and the man surprised even the band by showing off his solo moves throughout the entire song.
As twilight fell on the farm, the folksy songs intertwined with the girls’ melodic voices and their audience seemed in a trance. “I so enjoy hearing the sheep,” Barrett said as they launched into a sweet tune called, “Counting Sheep Until the Cows Come Home.”
DeWald and Barrett, who are currently on a summer farm tour from Los Angeles to New York City, are very environmentally conscious. They’ve started a nonprofit organization called “You and I Save the World” and are currently trying to encourage using re-usable bags at grocery stores.
“I don’t know about you guys, but I’m really looking forward to global warming. You too? This is a song for you,” DeWald said casually as they began their song “Waking Up in the City.”
There was never a dull moment during the show. The Ditty Bops brought out a puppet made of cups to dance amongst the audience during “Your Head’s Too Big” and pulled audience members up to participate in songs, while Barrett kept introducing new instruments, including a washboard and several toy noisemakers.
“It’s fun to play with the audience. It gets their attention, because they could be next,” Barrett said. The playful duo seemed to put the crowd into a strange mood, introspective yet lighthearted.
Nutrition senior Hannah Espedal had heard of the band and their cause before the event. “I just thought this whole event was really cool,” Espedal said. “Not only do I love the Ditty Bops, but the fact that they’re doing this sustainable farming tour is amazing because that is something that is also close to my heart.”
After the event, the Ditty Bops signed autographs, chatted with guests and sold merchandise, including their brand new 2008 “Bikini Calendar,” which would contradict their old-fashioned vibe if it were a typical bikini calendar. The calendar features images of the duo in retro bikinis and cleverly parodies the standard idea of such a calendar. After seeing their show, it is perfectly suitable.
“We’re just staying out in the field tonight,” Barrett said once the crowd subsided. “We have sleeping bags.”
The band, who met the Spencers at a farmers’ market in Santa Monica, planted lettuce and herbs they bought from the couple in a portable garden in their van. “It’s great to come and see where it’s all growing,” Barrett said. “We’ve wanted to come here for a long time.”
The Ditty Bops were off to Concord the next morning to continue their tour and aim to end with a performance at New York City’s Farm Aid on Sept. 9.