Vagabond Opera

Ben Z Mund

Vagabond Opera

Grooming Tips from Vagabond Opera

Talking Moustaches and Music with Portland’s Eclectic Cabaret Masters

As someone who accessorizes with top hats and mustachioed swag, it’s no surprise that Eric Stern is spending his day off from touring in a Berkeley coffee shop called the Royal Ground. He leads a Portland-based band called Vagabond Opera that will debut The Pocket Watch, its first show with a plot, at SOhO this Sunday. Their performance style incorporates an old-timey flair that marks their theatrical contribution to the neo-cabaret phenomenon. The Vagabonds play a variety of instruments that run the gamut from cellos to theremins to accordion. They sing in 14 different languages and draw inspiration from Arabian music, tango, and Parisian hot jazz — all of which hardly cover their near-encyclopedic derivations. But Stern is self-aware of how these sounds mix together. “The biggest danger is that [these different sounds] don’t just become a hodgepodge of stuff thrown against the wall,” he said, “so we really try to integrate it with the show.”

And that’s just the music. The Sepiatonic dancers join the Vagabonds by bringing the moves: a fusion of cabaret and Balkan belly dancing that adds a vaudevillian quality to the show. Stern even calls one of the dancers, Karolina Lux, “a real highlight of the show, for sure.”

Looking at pictures of Stern, he appears to have stepped out of a top-hat-laden time portal, and in conversation he proves himself a real Renaissance man. He developed an appreciation for music by way of his parents, who own and run a record store in Philadelphia and play instruments. He was classically trained in opera singing in Philadelphia and Europe, and traveled to places like Turkey and Greece to perform. As director of the Vagabond Opera, he says he keeps his leadership style in check: “[My position] does not mean that you give orders but really that you put people in the right places so that they can do their best work.” He even has advice for aspiring mustache groomers: “It’s best if you shave it off and start from the beginning of training it to go a certain way right from the beginning with a firm yet gentle touch.” It’s clear that kind of touch has been the guiding force behind the band.

The Vagabond Opera plays SOhO Restaurant & Music Club (1221 State St.) on Sunday, June 30 at 8 p.m. Call (805) 962-7776 or visit

To submit a comment on this article, email or visit our Facebook page. To submit information to a reporter, email

Be succinct, constructive, and relevant to the story. Leaving a comment means you agree to our Discussion Guidelines. We like civilized discourse. We don't like spam, lying, profanity, harassment or personal attacks.

comments powered by Disqus
event calendar sponsored by:

Senior Fair Hosts the ‘Young at Heart’

The Senior Fair brought together more than 25 organizations to match needs with services.

City College Ranked #1 by Value Colleges

High graduation rate, community service, and online degree programs made SBCC a 'flawless investment.'

News Commentary: Ribbon Cutting Is Not As Easy As It Looks

Grand opening for new Eastside bridge conveys a tingle of progress.

Santa Barbara Rental Prices Have Skyrocketed Over the Last Five Years

The average rent for a South Coast studio is $1,553.

Trio Stops the Show at Board of Education

More than a dozen appeal to Santa Barbara Unified School District to maintain music classes and programs.