WHAT WAS, ONCE MORE: As the year turns, the mind reels back, especially for those of us synched to the clock and calendar as cultural obsessives trying to make sense of a given year gone by. We make lists, check them once or twice, and brace for starting a new list come January. Economic specters loom, and the arts teeter, but the cultural gale, thankfully, continues, even in this God-kissed tourist town.
In Santa Barbara’s music year, another one chockablock with good excuses to get out of the house, the prominent good news/bad news report card ranged from a potent and generally stellar 75th-anniversary season at the Santa Barbara Bowl to the sobering news this fall that UCSB’s Arts & Lectures opted to leave jazz out of its concert programming for the first time in who knows how many years, especially after its jazz programming coup with Esperanza Spalding the previous season. But goodness certainly gleamed at the juncture of Anapamu and Milpas, where the amazing Bowl season included globe-owning, Goleta-bred superstar Katy Perry in a thrilling, over-the-top and up-close-and-personal shindig of a show, the blissful reunion of Buffalo Springfield, Don Henley, Fleet Foxes, Bright Eyes, Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel, Janet Jackson … the shimmery list goes on.
Jazz, the Great American Music that remains a discerning listener’s realm apparently, is still the underrepresented musical life force in this town’s otherwise surprisingly strong showings in pop and classical music. That said, the packed Spalding show at Campbell Hall last spring, on the heels of her deserved Best New Artist Grammy, was a night to savor and remember. This multi-talented, semi-visionary woman has gone/is going places.
And there were powerful displays of world-class jazz heard elsewhere in town, like at the wonderfully complementary venue of the Lobero, between the great two-act night when guitarists John Scofield and Bill Frisell brought their trios to the stage, when premiere male jazz vocalist Kurt Elling alighted the stage, in the wake of his impressive album The Gate, and sturdy showings from McCoy Tyner and Gary Burton.
Tireless music promoter Jeffrey Shuman’s Club Mercy continued to be a force for curatorial good where the elusive-yet-powerful and self-empowered “indie” scene is concerned, steering many bands worth hearing through our fair town and continuing to cement Santa Barbara as a fruitful pin in the indie touring map. Among the Mercy-ful shows of note this past year were Civil Wars at the Lobero, the brain-cleansingly loud art-metal band Liturgy at Muddy Waters, and the Joy Formidable at SOhO (a late-night set on an evening when many a music fan raced over from catching Fleet Foxes at the Bowl). Later this year, Club Mercy got retro-soulfully inclined with the Daptone Records bookings of Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones at SOhO.
Sings Like Hell sang beautifully in its healthy middle age, still monthly at the Lobero after all these years, with notable shows by S.B.’s own Jeff Bridges, the Chuck Prophet Band, Calexico, The Gourds (whose masterful Old Mad Joy is one of the year’s great rock albums), and Teddy Thompson/Elizabeth Cook.
Classical music highs, many courtesy of CAMA, included Peter Serkin, the Tetzlaff Quartet, Paul Galbraith, two gigs from the Dudamel-driven Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, whose wowing performance of Bartók’s Miraculous Mandarin Suite was shudderingly good, the orchestral pinnacle of the year here. The Music Academy of the West made summer substantial, as usual, including a great piano twofer with Jerome Lowenthal and Ursula Oppens, and a super pleasant, clean and down-the-middle production of The Barber of Seville. Speaking of opera, Opera Santa Barbara fared boldly on the theme of its sassy Pergolesi/Leonard Bernstein twofer and the gutsy La traviata.
My vote for the year’s most poignant show: the great Glen Campbell, stopping at the Lobero on his “farewell tour,” impressing not only with his strong treatments of his Jimmy Webb-writ classics and songs from a fine new (and reportedly “final”) album, but also dazzling with his wicked guitar playing, his original ticket to show-biz fame. It was an honor, and a sometimes tearful one, to catch him at the Lobero.