by Josef Woodard
FIESTACULAR: Mention Fiesta to five different Santa Barbarans and you might get five different responses, from grins to grimaces. Some make a point of fleeing town in fear of what Old Spanish Days brings, namely partly teetering hordes and streets flecked with confetti and horse dung. Some eagerly soak it in, and for different reasons — i.e. the excuse to bathe in wanton revelry and eat Mexican for a few days, or to embrace the cultural pageantry of our Spanish heritage. Of course, others find the whole Spanish angle a bit queasy and politically incorrect, given that this was Chumash territory until quite recently, when the Mission system brought its program of slavery and disease northward from Mexico to the indigenous population.
Never mind all that complicated — and inevitable — chatter for a moment and consider this assertion: The least controversial and most exciting cultural event during Fiesta (sez me) is not in the mercados, but up at the Santa Barbara Bowl, where Fiesta Saturday night means the annual Mariachi Festival. On the purest level, the festival is politically correct in that it tips its hat to the Mexican heritage that is so strong in this town, rather than to the imperial Spanish part of the equation. This joyous and quite sophisticated musical style, born in Jalisco in the mid 19th century, can be heard around town come Fiesta time, in varying degrees of polish. But the festival brings some of the top groups anywhere, and this year includes dazzling regulars Mariachi Vargas, Mariachi Internacional, Las Adelitas, and Mariachi Juvenil, with special guest Beatriz Adriana. A benefit for the Santa Barbara Foundation’s scholarship program, the Mariachi Festival is a win-win-dance situation and a hot ticket come the lazy daze of Fiesta time. Act now: It sells out. There is some justice in the world.
BOWLFUL OF DREAMS: Recently, two different pop singers with jazz aspirations hit the Santa Barbara Bowl, in as many weeks. First came Linda Ronstadt, whose 1985 “What’s New” project preceded the current standards craze by about a decade-and-a-half. A week later, popular Canadian crooner Michael Bublé showed his polished, antique musical wares and bon vivant manners. What both shows offered us was a fleeting encounter with jazz content, which ironically served as a cruel teaser for those of us who, while plenty appreciative for what the Bowl season has to offer, feel that the program is far too weighted to the fluffy stuff of pop music.
The Bowl, a public resource, is Santa Barbara’s finest large venue, and one of the greatest of its type/size in the nation. With such a serious status, shouldn’t there be a way to include some “serious” music in the mix? Why not enjoy the more sophisticated wares of classical, opera, world music, jazz, and other music running deeper than the four- to six-chord pop variety? Of course, there are thorny economic logistics in the way, but one would think, given the high cultural pride and moneyed nature of Santa Barbara could enable resourceful ways, i.e. underwriting, around such obstacles. One can dream, at least, especially in the middle of the jazz-parched summertime.
STAGESPEAK OF THE WEEK: It’s no longer safe to assume that the demographic you share a concert venue with shares your views on extra-musical matters. Walkout Dan Quayle was recently unimpressed by John Mellencamp, as he cast aspersions on the current administration. At the Bowl, we recently got two variations on the theme of stage-side social commentary: Lefty Linda Ronstadt trashed Enron and little Bush while introducing a song, and got mostly “yays” from the crowd, but also enough “nays” to serve as a wake-up call to the diversity of dissenting voices in the house. Middling Michael Bublé opined that he refuses to opine: “Artists and celebrities should shut the hell up about their opinions,” he said, to a general roar of applause. He’s from the shut-up-and-sing school. (Got e? firstname.lastname@example.org.)