by Josef Woodard
FAIR ENOUGH: Last year at the S.B. Fair & Expo, with a well-placed lob of a Ping-Pong ball, I won a goldfish (official species: “Carny Fish”). This sturdy, scrappy-looking specimen is named Sharky (gender as-yet undetermined) and has outlived several other temporary visitors to its fishbowl over the year. Some of its bowl-mates were fancier, more expensive, high fallutin’, and plainly more sadistic, but they have all found their just rewards in the mulch pie in the sky. Sharky, though, is alive and well. So, it happens, is the Santa Barbara Fair & Expo, one of the few long-standing perennial events in this town. It offers a kind of precious continuity in this city, extending back before the siege of the über-wealthy and obscene real estate values changed the texture of life here. An off-season, humbler kinfolk to the official county fairs in Ventura and Santa Maria, our fair is nonetheless ours, smelly and chaotic, kitschy and recurrently lovable, year after year.
Old fairway rides and some new ones keep things kinetic and nauseous. The once-cutting-edge Zipper was demoted to the back corner, but there are the Himalaya, Tilt-a-Whirl, the Spin-Out, Fire Ball, and the Wave-Swinger (most would make fine band names). A new attraction is Mardi Gras, a funhouse with blissfully loud Cajun music pumping onto the Earl Warren Showgrounds asphalt, reminding us of Katrina’s wake and also that the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is also going on as we speak/read.
Meanwhile, in the rodeo area, an only-at-the-fairgrounds event was underway, in the Spanish-language extravaganza on Sunday afternoon. Live music and live, muscle-bound bulls made for a wild, cool marriage of entertainment values. The hot, dozen-musician-strong Banda Rosa Blanca, all brass and percussion beautifully blaring, played onstage while young bull-riders braved bucking bovines. Their rides last only seconds, but then bulls milled about in the ring, coaxed out by bull handlers as the band played on. Now that’s entertainment, fair-style!
TAKING IT TO CITY HALL: Ventura’s intrepid Jeff Kaiser is resolutely a hyphenate character, a trumpeter-electronician-label CEO-promoter-provocateur, who brings many of those traits to Ventura City Hall this Saturday for his annual Ventura New Music festival. Kaiser’s “new music” sphere is largely based on the cadre of free-improvisation-minded “out cats” from Los Angeles and points north. Kaiser’s label, pfMENTUM, has been going great guns, and many of the artists playing in this nearly 12-hour marathon (starts at noon) are now labelmates. Among the acts are The Unmentionables, Mike Vlatkovich/Bill Roper, Emily Hay, Kaiser’s own The Choirboys, The Mentones, and—closing the day/night—the Wayne Peet Trio, featuring guitarist Nels Cline, recently inducted into proxy rock stardom through his gig in Wilco (check out pfmentum.com).
GOT JOY? This weekend brings our beloved S.B. Symphony maestra Gisèle Ben-Dor to lead the charges for the last time, ending her luminous decade-plus connection with the orchestra with the stirring strains of “Ode to Joy,” capping Beethoven’s Ninth. But joy is not what many of us are feeling at the moment. Official word has it that she resigned, but it appears, given her lawsuit’s raft of nasty allegations against slippery S.B. Symphony board maneuvers, that she was pushed rather than willfully jumping. Rich folks and/or sneaky board members will have their way, even if it requires immoral and possibly illegal finagling.
Suffice to say, Ben-Dor was the finest conductor this orchestra ever had, and she ingeniously ennobled the symphony through her advocacy of great Latin American music (judiciously interspersed with the meat-and-potatoes diet cultural conservatives demand) and recording the orchestra, to good notices out in the world. Are we now poised for an era of symphonic mediocrity and a warhorse parade, leaving cultural dung on our streets and earlobes? Time will tell. Note to Ben-Dor: Thanks for the symphonic memories. (Got e? firstname.lastname@example.org.)