While State Street has seen a steady stream of venues come and go over the years, there’s always been one constant in the S.B. music scene. Since 1971, La Casa de la Raza has not only opened its doors to those in search of social services, but also welcomed those seeking cultural fulfillment. And a big part of that has been music. Over the years, its rustic hall has hosted everything from blues legends to pachuco punk bands. So when talks of a fundraising benefit for the center began, it seemed only natural that live music should play a part.
On Friday, April 3, an offering of Santa Barbara’s brightest contemporary musicians will gather for an evening of tunes to benefit La Casa de la Raza. It’s a night designed to revive the center’s glory days, featuring a lineup that includes The Coral Sea, The Spires, Franklin for Short, and Tom Brosseau. The lineup was put together by none other than Santa Barbara music champion and former proprietor of Buffalo Records John Healy, in an effort to ensure the future of the center’s cultural programming for the year.
“La Casa de la Raza has always had a rich diversity to what is offered,” explained Raquel Lopez, executive director. “What we have been trying to do for the last couple of years is to build on that long tradition and history. People have said how great it is that we are doing things all over again, but we’re not really. The music hasn’t ever stopped here at La Casa - we have just been diversifying and reaching out to different sectors of the community.”
While the recent focus has seen a stream of Latino acts take command of La Casa’s stage, the center’s cultural heritage truly runs the musical gamut. The early ‘80s brought a succession of post-punk ensembles, including The Replacements, H¼sker D¼, and The Blasters, as well as culture-straddling acts like Los Lobos and Los Illegals. The center also figured prominently in the early years of the Santa Barbara Blues Society, which hosted the likes of Albert Collins, Etta James, and John Lee Hooker within La Casa’s walls.
“It has been an important place for music in Santa Barbara,” offered longtime local music critic D.J. Palladino. “The thing about it was that it was a very important gathering place for people as well. It had a real authenticity to it. You could go to shows downtown and that was fine, but it really felt like you were at the cutting edge when you went to shows that were at La Casa. And they were always great shows.”
The importance of La Casa de la Raza as a gathering place is not just confined to music. It is one of the few community centers in the country that houses both cultural and social services. And while the current economic situation might give cause for similar nonprofits to look to the community for monetary help, Friday’s concert is designed to benefit the audience much more than the host.
“The current economic situation is affecting everybody,” offered Lopez. “I haven’t met anybody who hasn’t been affected. We see it every day with the families that walk through the door and the people that we serve and the families we work with in the youth center. People are really struggling. The concert isn’t because we are necessarily in dire need - it’s because, during these hard times, people need events like these to release the stress and frustration and despair that is building in their lives.”
The community aspect of the concert is also reflected in its musical genesis. For many years, Healy’s Buffalo Records was a staple in the Santa Barbara music scene. Its in-store program introduced shoppers to a host of musical figures, including Tom Brosseau. When the store relocated to Ventura, it quickly established itself in the community there too, even helping to launch the careers of The Spires and Franklin for Short. For Brosseau, meeting Healy helped open the door to the Central Coast.
“For me it was really important, coming from San Diego,” recalled Brosseau. “There’s a similar scene in every city I’ve been to, but coming up to Santa Barbara was great. With Brooks [Institute] there and UCSB and the radio station [KCSB]; everyone was just interested in what I was doing. I feel like it pulls in all of these different demographics of people, it all revolved around John Healy’s reputation and Buffalo Records, which seemed to have its own little hub there.”
Since releasing his second album, Late Night at Largo in 2004, Brosseau has released five records, including two with Gregory Page - a 2006 self-titled release and its 2007 follow-up, Grand Forks. Brosseau’s collaborative nature has always come across in his performances, which have found him onstage with luminaries like Page, Angela Correa, John Doe, Glen Phillips, and Jill Sobule.
“I never thought I’d be able to get to work with Gregory Page, John Doe, or John Parish,” Brosseau admitted. “I suppose after you meet one obstacle the next obstacle becomes easier to meet, to overcome, or attain. I think you start to lose your sense of being timid and you gain a little bit of confidence. So meeting all these people and getting to work with them is one thing - they’re all so damn talented - but it’s another thing to be seen as on the same level [as them]. You just want your peers to acknowledge you sometimes, you know?”
Which is exactly what La Casa de la Raza is all about.
Tom Brosseau, Franklin for Short, The Coral Sea, and The Spires will play a benefit concert this Friday, April 3 at La Casa de la Raza starting at 6 p.m. Call 965-8581 x105 or visit lacasadelaraza.org for details.