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Live Oak Round Up, Ojai Look Back

Two of the Best Fests in the Area


BACKYARD FESTIVALING: Once again, we’re in that between zone on Santa Barbara’s musical calendar, sensing both afterglow and anticipation in the gap separating the two major “Santa Barbara” music festivals … taking place beyond city limits. Of course, we’re talking about last weekend’s Ojai Music Festival, a rousing and roundly enjoyable slate of music for its 65th annual, and this weekend’s Live Oak Music Festival. Different though they are in style and forces, both festivals are nestled in comforting and beautiful non-urban settings to the north and south of Santa Barbara, proper, in Ojai’s Libbey Bowl and in the river-hugging Live Oak Camp compound close to Lake Cachuma, respectively, and both have become pillars on the annual musical calendar in the area.

If the Ojai festival gives us a concentrated dose of seriously fine serious music over a June weekend, what we’ve come to count on up at Live Oak is a generous smorgasbord of music more from the folk/ethnic/jazz/blues/roots/world realm. The diversity isn’t as scattershot as it might seem, and in fact, relates back to the very seeds of this wonderful festival’s origins, as a fundraising event for the Central Coast thinking person’s beacon, KCBX (89.5 FM). In a given week, the proudly community-supported public radio station is prone to play all the musics we catch over a given Live Oak weekend.

In some serendipitous circuitry this year, the festival opens on Friday afternoon with the hybrid-happy “Gypsyfolktangojazzgrass” band Café Musique, whose Duane Inglish was the Live Oak Festival director for many years. From that point to the ceremonial closing tones of bagpipers late on Sunday night, the musical programming moves blissfully from place to place, but generally sticks to a friendly, party vibe. In the headlining slots this year are artists well deserving of our ears and hearts: soul royalty Mavis Staple takes the coveted closing slot on Sunday night, while the revitalized Tex-Mex sensation the Texas Tornados do it up on the main Saturday night slot. On Friday, the pulse goes splinkety rasta, with veteran reggae stars Toots and the Maytals.

Also on the musical docket this year are the buzzed-about Canadian group The Wailin’ Jennys, jam-jazz groover Will Bernard and Afro-Cuban fare from Pellejo Seco. Musicians hailing from these parts also make their way to the encampment, this year including Kate Wallace, SambaDa, the Cache Valley Drifters, and boogie-woogie piano champion Carl Sonny Leyland. Set up camp for the weekend, or head up for a day. As usual each year, it’s a big weekend around the town, including Saturday night’s “Sings Like Hell” hoedown (Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis, married in life and sometimes music), and a jolly good way to bring on summer.

Oddly enough, while the Ojai fest has an agenda that strikes deep in the heart of classical culture—and especially classical music of the past century, bless its brains—the 2011 model was unusually broader in idiomatic outlook. And it worked wonders. The program swung to the realm of jazz on Sunday morning, with the classically tinged palette of the Maria Schneider Orchestra, and out into “the world” with the inclusion of legendary Afghan singer Ustad Farida Mahwash (and the Sakhi Ensemble) to complement the war-themed fabric of George Crumb’s The Winds of Destiny, done up in a Peter Sellars-directed package, featuring Dawn Upshaw as vocalist/actor, in and out of bed.

In last week’s Fringe Beat, the subject of jazz’s minor role in the Ojai Music Festival was raised, and while the Marc-Anthony Turnage masterful Blood on the Floor serio-jazz performance is boldly remembered, a perusal of the festival’s star-studded history also reveals that none other than Eric Dolphy performed here back in 1962, performing Edgard Varèse’s Density 21.5 for solo flute. Also in town that year were Luciano Berio, Milton Babbitt, Gunther Schuller and Lukas Foss. Add to that list the usual suspects mentioned when talking of the Ojai festival’s global imprint—Stravinsky, Copland, Boulez, John Adams, and more—and we’re re-reminded that this incredible festival has brought a legacy to our backyard.

FRINGE PRODUCT: Neil Young and the International Harvesters, A Treasure (Reprise). It’s dangerous to make assumptions about a crowd. But it seemed like many of the oldsters packing the Bowl for the recent Buffalo Springfield shows were, like me, realizing that this amazing, virtually hitless wonder of a band—heard live in the first time in 43 years—was partly responsible for luring us into lifelong music obsession.

“The past — that’s where we’re from,” Young joked at the Bowl during Wednesday’s gig. That’s not exactly true, at least in the case of Young, whose forward-leaning creative momentum has never ceased. But he does take time for nostalgic stock-taking, as witness his current Buffalo Springfield redux, and also a fascinating new “old” album, A Treasure. Recorded live in the ‘80s, during a period when he was fighting with his record company over his evermore country-loving direction at the time, the album is a twangy-rocky-folky treat. Five unreleased tracks, including “Amber Jean,” “Let Your Fingers do the Walking,” and “Grey Riders” add spice to a 12-track beauty of an archival beauty, which is in some oblique way a tribute to the late, great Ben Keith, who helped enable — and ennoble — Young’s C&W fixation in the first place.

(Incidental note: Speaking of celebrated artists playing in our midst in days of old, Buffalo Springfield played at the Earl Warren Showgrounds in 1968, with Santa Barbara’s own Charles Lloyd—and his dervish virtuoso pianist, the young Keith Jarrett.)

P.S. DEPT.: Fringe Beat hasn’t seen the light/print of day in recent weeks, but continues on its weekly path online. In the ongoing effort to Internetwork this column and join the 21st century, we’ve gone Facebooked and Twittered (@FringeBeat), with Myspace and other nooks and cybercrannies to come. Please join, if inclined. (Got e? fringebeat@independent.com.)

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