Summertime in Santa Barbara is delineated by several tidy, perennial punctuators, tied to the calendar and to events. We get a seasonal harbinger with Memorial Day, otherwise known as the weekend that I Madonnari descends on the Old Mission parking lot in its artful chalky glory. Summer Solstice wends and slithers its way up State Street, marking the official arrival of summer, and July 4th rears its less flamboyant head soon after.
This weekend marks summer’s deep water mark, or the deep dog daze mark, depending on your perspective. We’re mainly talking, of course, about Fiesta-a.k.a. “Old Spanish Days,” a.k.a. La Fiasco-the controversial, conquistador-loving long weekend which lures tourists, leisure-seekers and wanton revelers into town, and chases out many locals who opt to avoid the noise and litter.
This scribe, veteran of dozens of Fiestas by now, belongs to the camp of the belated convert. Never mind the political incorrectness of imperialist gloating and the rodeo, and the parade’s bizarre tradition of waving white folks on horseback. Music and tasty cheap grub can be found at the three Mercados, and at least one Fiesta time tradition-the Mariachi Festival, Saturday at the Bowl-is a highlights of our, whatever the genre. With proceeds benefitting scholarships for Latino students, the great-music-for-a-good-cause project is up to its 12th annual festival now. Saturday’s performers include Mariachi Cobre, singer Mercedes Castro, Mariachi Imperial, and a tribute to the late Mexican actor-singer Jose Pedro Infante Cruz.
But wait, there’s more: it’s also time for the Ventura County Fair, the closest county fair to Santa Barbara, proper. Music flows freely (well, for just the modest price of admission) for a week-plus, and includes some token C&W-Tanya Tucker and Jo Dee Messina-a morsel of pop kitsch-Tony Orlando and Dawn-yesteryear rockers-The Bangles, The Motels REO Speedwagon-and younger rock goods-Lifehouse, Hinder/Papa Roach.
Lastly, but certainly not leastly, this is a big weekend for the Music Academy of the West, the local classical music oasis each summer. Each summer, the Academy’s vocal department, under Marilyn Horne’s prestigious guidance, presents a fully-staged opera at the Lobero. Although we’re often treated to obscure delights (i.e. Handel’s Rodelinda, Britten’s Albert Herring and Nino Rota’s The Italian Straw Hat), this year’s fare is that loveable old operatic warhorse La Boheme (Friday night and Sunday afternoon).
On Saturday, the Academy Chamber Orchestra visits the First Presbyterian Church for a concert featuring the irrepressible, but deeply musical, violinist Gilles Apap, and conductor Alexander Mickelthwate, fresh off his gig leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl. The fare is Mozart and Hartmann, but we can reasonably expect some Apap-ian detours into genres beneath and adjacent to classical music, in the strictest sense.
FRINGE BEAT: In jazz album releases, the past keeps knocking, and reminding of the greatness lurking in vaults. One of this season’s gleaming unburied treasures has at least a provisional regional angle: the two-disc live set Cornell 1964, by Charles Mingus Sextet with Eric Dolphy (Blue Note). Mingus and righthand firebrand alto saxist/flutist Dolphy were Los Angelenos who headed east to find their muse and their destiny, and this relaxed set, also with pianist Jaki Byard, trumpeter Johnny Coles, tenor saxist Clifford Jordan, and drummer Dannie Richmond, the playing is cool and inspired, whether from Mingus’ songbook, Ellingtonian tidbits, “Jitterbug Waltz” or a quirky “When Irish Eyes are Smiling.” The power point, though, is Mingus’ blues “So Long Eric,” written because Dolphy had given notice, but later imbued with deeper meaning when Dolphy died later that year. This qualifies as essential jazz listening we never knew was missing from our lives.
STAGE SPEAK OF THE WEEK: Great American baritone Thomas Hampson, during an onstage speech at his Lobero Theatre recital, during a selection from his “Song of America” project: “Classical music is not in crisis. We’re alive and well [waves across the musician-stocked audience]. Society is in crisis.” (got e? firstname.lastname@example.org)