Win, Lose, or Draw

by Josef Woodard

FAIR ENOUGH: Last year at the S.B. Fair & Expo, with a
well-placed lob of a Ping-Pong ball, I won a goldfish (official
species: “Carny Fish”). This sturdy, scrappy-looking specimen is
named Sharky (gender as-yet undetermined) and has outlived several
other temporary visitors to its fishbowl over the year. Some of its
bowl-mates were fancier, more expensive, high fallutin’, and
plainly more sadistic, but they have all found their just rewards
in the mulch pie in the sky. Sharky, though, is alive and well. So,
it happens, is the Santa Barbara Fair & Expo, one of the few
long-standing perennial events in this town. It offers a kind of
precious continuity in this city, extending back before the siege
of the über-wealthy and obscene real estate values changed the
texture of life here. An off-season, humbler kinfolk to the
official county fairs in Ventura and Santa Maria, our fair is
nonetheless ours, smelly and chaotic, kitschy and recurrently
lovable, year after year.

Old fairway rides and some new ones keep things kinetic and
nauseous. The once-cutting-edge Zipper was demoted to the back
corner, but there are the Himalaya, Tilt-a-Whirl, the Spin-Out,
Fire Ball, and the Wave-Swinger (most would make fine band names).
A new attraction is Mardi Gras, a funhouse with blissfully loud
Cajun music pumping onto the Earl Warren Showgrounds asphalt,
reminding us of Katrina’s wake and also that the New Orleans Jazz
and Heritage Festival is also going on as we speak/read.

Meanwhile, in the rodeo area, an only-at-the-fairgrounds event
was underway, in the Spanish-language extravaganza on Sunday
afternoon. Live music and live, muscle-bound bulls made for a wild,
cool marriage of entertainment values. The hot,
dozen-musician-strong Banda Rosa Blanca, all brass and percussion
beautifully blaring, played onstage while young bull-riders braved
bucking bovines. Their rides last only seconds, but then bulls
milled about in the ring, coaxed out by bull handlers as the band
played on. Now that’s entertainment, fair-style!

TAKING IT TO CITY HALL: Ventura’s intrepid Jeff Kaiser is
resolutely a hyphenate character, a trumpeter-electronician-label
CEO-promoter-provocateur, who brings many of those traits to
Ventura City Hall this Saturday for his annual Ventura New Music
festival. Kaiser’s “new music” sphere is largely based on the cadre
of free-improvisation-minded “out cats” from Los Angeles and points
north. Kaiser’s label, pfMENTUM, has been going great guns, and
many of the artists playing in this nearly 12-hour marathon (starts
at noon) are now labelmates. Among the acts are The Unmentionables,
Mike Vlatkovich/Bill Roper, Emily Hay, Kaiser’s own The Choirboys,
The Mentones, and—closing the day/night—the Wayne Peet Trio,
featuring guitarist Nels Cline, recently inducted into proxy rock
stardom through his gig in Wilco (check out

GOT JOY? This weekend brings our beloved S.B. Symphony maestra
Gisèle Ben-Dor to lead the charges for the last time, ending her
luminous decade-plus connection with the orchestra with the
stirring strains of “Ode to Joy,” capping Beethoven’s Ninth. But
joy is not what many of us are feeling at the moment. Official word
has it that she resigned, but it appears, given her lawsuit’s raft
of nasty allegations against slippery S.B. Symphony board
maneuvers, that she was pushed rather than willfully jumping. Rich
folks and/or sneaky board members will have their way, even if it
requires immoral and possibly illegal finagling.

Suffice to say, Ben-Dor was the finest conductor this orchestra
ever had, and she ingeniously ennobled the symphony through her
advocacy of great Latin American music (judiciously interspersed
with the meat-and-potatoes diet cultural conservatives demand) and
recording the orchestra, to good notices out in the world. Are we
now poised for an era of symphonic mediocrity and a warhorse
parade, leaving cultural dung on our streets and earlobes? Time
will tell. Note to Ben-Dor: Thanks for the symphonic memories. (Got


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