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Too Short at the Fair


FAIR MUSINGS AND AMUSINGS: Of course, we all have the late, great “outsider art” hero Henry Darger on the brain this week, given that the prized indie-punkstress band Vivian Girls – named after Darger’s imaginary subspecies (superspecies?) - landed at Muddy Waters on Monday. But Darger-consciousness made a surprise visit at “Munchkinland,” as well. That is, the so-renamed main Earl Warren exhibition hall, where the Santa Barbara Fair & Expo splayed its kitschy goodness all over the blessed showground property, under this year’s thematic umbrella of “The Land of Ahhhhs.”

There, standing sentinel, were life-sized and larger-than-life-sized figures of Dorothy, the Tin Man, and three Munchkins, strangely taller than the other non-munchkins, and painted in a enchantingly crude, clearly Darger-inspired style. Well, “clearly” to some of us anyway.

A visit to the fair means many things to many different folks, and it can be a real “$ Hoover” experience, especially when children are lured into money-spending temptation (and that’s all for the good: we were once there). For us, it meant a stop at the hypnotist show, then racing over to the All-Alaskan Pig Races, a look-see and smell at the actual livestock animals, and back to Warren Hall, where the photos, art, crafts and cooked goods were on view, and lollygagging around “Muchkinland.”

One can’t help but ponder the continuity and the wonder of the Fair & Expo (not the official Santa Barbara Country Fair, for the record: that’s in Santa Maria in summer) and this invaluable showground property. Warren Hall is also the site where the Santa Barbara Blues Society has hosted many a world-class blues artist. Munchkinland, the vernacularly architectural fried-egg style hall, where a large, Dorothy and Toto-toting balloon sat as an anchoring force in the center, is also where the wild colors of the recent “Good Vibes” rave (by any other name) transformed the room in a totally different way.

To anyone who would dare to suggest Earl Warren Showgrounds is a funky relic worthy of demolishing and/or developing into a soulless mini-mall or other modern abomination… a pox on them. It’s a local treasure, year after year, season after season, purpose after purpose.

PHILHARMONIC CONVERGENCE: It’s always a happy day (evening, rather) when the LA Phil circus comes to town. Although it’s just a doable two-hour drive down to this great orchestra’s acoustically-blessed home turf of Disney Hall in downtown LA, the orchestra’s annual trips up the coast to visit us have become a ritual of Southern Californian solidarity, a provincial link to a global phenom. In a tradition going back to the early 20th century, the LA Phil – playing the Granada on Saturday - is the most regular, recurring entity in the roster of CAMA, itself a piece of west coast cultural history and our much-valued window on the outside world, classically speaking.

This is the band which the great conductor (and, not to forget, composer) Esa-Pekka Salonen honed into a world class ensemble, sharper in performance and broader and more current-oriented, during his nearly twenty years at that helm. Now, young and undeniably charismatic firebrand Gustavo Dudamel, paying his first local visit as the LA Phil maestro on Saturday, has turned the orchestra into a sensation at the box office, as well. They often fill houses at home, and the Granada visit is sold-out affair. On tap: double dose of Brahms, and Dutilleux.

A KINDER KINDA SHREDDING: Carl Verheyen has put in epic portions of time and musical energy into becoming one of those instrumental voices in the public ear, as a longtime session guy lending guitaristic wisdom and craft into film, TV, record dates, and wherever first-call studio guitar is called for. He has also been the guitar chair-man for Supertramp for 25 years, but meanwhile also pursuing his own solo work on the side. It’s that mode which finds hi, and the blues-rock-country-fusoid Carl Verheyen Band, appearing at the Lobero on Friday. He is a shredder, to be sure, but one with kinder gentler musicality in his pocket and heart.

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