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By Anthony Small 

This month, I want to share yet another example of how music is a vital element of Dana Point’s identity and tradition. For 18 years, founder Tim Johnson’s Lord of the Strings concert series has hosted world-class guitarists such as Peppino de Agostino, Laurence Juber (Paul McCartney’s Wings), Supertramp’s Carl Verheyen, and many others. These artists play everything from jazz, blues and rock to country and Hawaiian, all right here in Dana Point (as well as Mission Viejo).

The next Lord of the Strings concert is Friday, June 21 at Dana Point Community House and features Australia’s Got Talent winner Joe Robinson, an incredible talent who also won the Australian National Songwriting Competition at the age of 13. Born in remote Temagog, New South Wales, Robinson essentially taught himself to play guitar using DVDs and the internet, after outgrowing his teachers’ skills. Robinson toured Australia with his mentor, Tommy Emmanuel, and at 18 years old was invited to Nashville by Emmanuel. Robinson has played in Guitar Army with Robben Ford and Lee Roy Parnell and is also a part of Rodney Crowell’s acoustic trio. Robinson’s new album, Undertones, was written and produced by Robinson and recorded at Nashville’s Castle Recording Studios, purportedly built by Al Capone. All of the songs come from a deep place and really resonate when he performs them. I spoke to Robinson by phone from his home in Nashville.

“My musical heroes were so encouraging and so generous to me. Now, I get to do a lot of master classes and workshops everywhere from middle schools in the Bronx to Berklee College of Music. It’s all enriched my life and music so much,” said Robinson, who also has a new online course that features him and his mentors. (For more information, visit

Regarding Lord of the Strings, Robinson said, “Tim has curated a wonderful concert series and has built an audience that really loves and appreciates the intricacies of what a musician like myself does. It’s such a pleasure to play for an audience that’s so honed in and, therefore, hears an intimate and heartfelt performance. It feels like music is built into the culture in Dana Point, and it also reminds me of home, as I grew up on the coast.”

Tim Johnson shared the story of how Lord of the Strings came to be: “Tina and I moved back to Orange County after a few years living in the small town of Benicia, which had a vibrant live music scene. It turned out that Peppino D’Agostino was our neighbor, just a block away.  We became good friends, and I was fortunate enough to become a student of his, and he introduced us to many of his favorite international musicians. When we moved back to OC in 2002, we noticed a void.  I decided to do a show for just my friends and business associates with Peppino as the headliner. That first show was a sellout, and people were raving about what they had just seen and heard.  We had so much fun that I decided to do another.  I recruited some of my favorite internationally famous guitarists to come to Dana Point and perform.  I had to be persistent, but we were successful.  Now, in our 18th year, we’ve done over 500 shows and are as excited as ever about continuing to present some of the best acoustic guitar players touring today, with no end in sight!”

With regard to the musical tradition here in Dana Point and South OC, Johnson said, “I grew up playing surf music in the area with a garage band. I’ve been hanging out in Dana Point since the early ’60s.  My neighbors growing up were the legendary surf band, The Sandals, who created the soundtrack to Bruce Brown’s classic surf movie Endless Summer. Dana Point continues to evolve in many ways, and my favorite way to contribute is with music.”

Band of Souls, a local band, released its debut album, Satellite Soul. Vocalist and songwriter Tamar Gugasian and guitarist/producer Evy Levy’s eclectic songs are being played worldwide on stations that feature the band’s various styles, including rock, jazz and rap. For more information, visit

Anthony Small is the Executive Director of Music Preserves Foundation, Chairman of the City of Dana Point Arts and Culture Commission and a singer-songwriter. Small and his family have lived in Dana Point for 22 years.

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