In 1979, the legendary singer/songwriter and guitarist Bob Marley made a historic performance at the Santa Barbara Bowl. He’s known for his stage presence and plethora of hit songs, and his music has inspired newer generations worldwide. More than 30 years later, during the Old Spanish Days of Santa Barbara, “Could You Be Loved” echoed again through the S.B. Bowl — this time sung by international superstar Juan Esteban Aristizábal Vásquez, better known as Juanes.
A singer, songwriter, and guitarist himself, Juanes has drawn from his Colombian musical heritage, reaching moderate success with his band Ekhymosis before skyrocketing to international fame as Juanes. Like Marley, he has written a multitude of hits and is active in social philanthropy.
His fame has reached the status of legend, and when you see him live, it’s easy to understand why he gets barraged by women who run up on the stage to steal a kiss, or to see how a sold-out crowd cannot sit still, yelling at the top of their lungs for two hours. His band is perfect, tight and sharp, and the audience is putty in Juanes’s hands. He opened with a seemingly nonstop medley of Loco de Amor singles and familiar hits, then slowed down for a recognizable Marley guitar riff. His Cumbia version of “Could You Be Loved” alone was worth the price of admission. And during one of his ballads, Ximena Sariñana, his Mexican tour mate, joined the stage for a memorable duet. By the end of his first set, all the women were screaming bloody murder. He removed his button-down shirt, and then I started screaming, too. When he yelled “Santa Barbara, Viva la Fiesta!” I almost took my shirt off in reply. My heart didn’t stop pounding.
Juanes’s showmanship is magical. He has the uncanny ability to weave songs together, build tension with melodic cues, and yet still leave you completely guessing. After wooing the audience for an hour, he left the stage for about 10 minutes. The crowd was cheering, completely stunned, thinking he might come back for a quick encore — but he didn’t do just that. He came back for an epic return of unexpected covers, Juan Gabriel’s “Querida” and Joe Arroyo’s “No le pegue a la negra.” By this time, there were a few brave souls who jumped the stage for a moment with Juanes, putting the security to work. A few were lucky to get through, but most of them were intercepted with NFL lineman accuracy.
This would have been the perfect time to close the concert, but the show went on with “La Camisa Negra,” “La Luz,” and “A Dios le Pido.” Juanes ended the show with an audience selfie, an awesome memento, for I will tell my great-grand-children that Juanes, nuestro Bob Marley, rocked a sold-out S.B. Bowl and said my favorite words in the English language: “Viva la Fiesta!”