by Josef Woodard

FIESTACULAR: Mention Fiesta to five different
Santa Barbarans and you might get five different responses, from
grins to grimaces. Some make a point of fleeing town in fear of
what Old Spanish Days brings, namely partly teetering hordes and
streets flecked with confetti and horse dung. Some eagerly soak it
in, and for different reasons — i.e. the excuse to bathe in wanton
revelry and eat Mexican for a few days, or to embrace the cultural
pageantry of our Spanish heritage. Of course, others find the whole
Spanish angle a bit queasy and politically incorrect, given that
this was Chumash territory until quite recently, when the Mission
system brought its program of slavery and disease northward from
Mexico to the indigenous population.

Never mind all that complicated — and inevitable — chatter for a
moment and consider this assertion: The least controversial and
most exciting cultural event during Fiesta (sez me) is not in the
mercados, but up at the Santa Barbara Bowl, where Fiesta Saturday
night means the annual Mariachi Festival. On the
purest level, the festival is politically correct in that it tips
its hat to the Mexican heritage that is so strong in this town,
rather than to the imperial Spanish part of the equation. This
joyous and quite sophisticated musical style, born in Jalisco in
the mid 19th century, can be heard around town come Fiesta time, in
varying degrees of polish. But the festival brings some of the top
groups anywhere, and this year includes dazzling regulars
Mariachi Vargas, Mariachi Internacional, Las
, and Mariachi Juvenil, with
special guest Beatriz Adriana. A benefit for the
Santa Barbara Foundation’s scholarship program, the Mariachi
Festival is a win-win-dance situation and a hot ticket come the
lazy daze of Fiesta time. Act now: It sells out. There is some
justice in the world.

BOWLFUL OF DREAMS: Recently, two different pop
singers with jazz aspirations hit the Santa Barbara Bowl, in as
many weeks. First came Linda Ronstadt, whose 1985
“What’s New” project preceded the current standards craze by about
a decade-and-a-half. A week later, popular Canadian crooner
Michael Bublé showed his polished, antique musical
wares and bon vivant manners. What both shows offered us was a
fleeting encounter with jazz content, which ironically served as a
cruel teaser for those of us who, while plenty appreciative for
what the Bowl season has to offer, feel that the program is far too
weighted to the fluffy stuff of pop music.

The Bowl, a public resource, is Santa Barbara’s finest large
venue, and one of the greatest of its type/size in the nation. With
such a serious status, shouldn’t there be a way to include some
“serious” music in the mix? Why not enjoy the more sophisticated
wares of classical, opera, world music, jazz, and other music
running deeper than the four- to six-chord pop variety? Of course,
there are thorny economic logistics in the way, but one would
think, given the high cultural pride and moneyed nature of Santa
Barbara could enable resourceful ways, i.e. underwriting, around
such obstacles. One can dream, at least, especially in the middle
of the jazz-parched summertime.

STAGESPEAK OF THE WEEK: It’s no longer safe to
assume that the demographic you share a concert venue with shares
your views on extra-musical matters. Walkout Dan
was recently unimpressed by John
, as he cast aspersions on the current
administration. At the Bowl, we recently got two variations on the
theme of stage-side social commentary: Lefty Linda Ronstadt trashed
Enron and little Bush while introducing a song, and got mostly
“yays” from the crowd, but also enough “nays” to serve as a wake-up
call to the diversity of dissenting voices in the house. Middling
Michael Bublé opined that he refuses to opine: “Artists and
celebrities should shut the hell up about their opinions,” he said,
to a general roar of applause. He’s from the shut-up-and-sing
school. (Got e?


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