Cuyama Mama & The Hot Flashes

Jan Smith and Her Band Stir Up Musical Merrymaking

Cuyama Mama & The Hot Flashes
Courtesy Photo

HOT MAMAS: “Something good is percolating” in the blazing hot Cuyama Valley, said Jan Smith, leader of Cuyama Mama & The Hot Flashes, and I suspect music is one of the ingredients. Tucked away in the folds of the juniper desert, Smith and her band of permaculture farmers and educators are stirring up some of the liveliest musical merrymaking in the whole county — and helping to foster a more sustainable existence on the side.

A sometimes four-piece, sometimes five-piece band of farmers, the group formed on Quail Springs Permaculture in the Cuyama Badlands. Like many farm goings-on, their origin was spontaneous. One day, bassist Andrew Clinard went to neighboring bar The Place with a mind to form a resident house band. His bid was accepted, and a gig was booked — before the band even existed. “I came back and said we have a show. Who’s with me?!” he recalled.

“The egg definitely came before the chicken,” said drummer Ryan Spaulding. Their first show was a hit, and quickly the hypothetical band became a reality, performing at Cuyama Valley’s Fourth of July celebration and in Taft town bars. All musicians in their own right, Smith (vocals, guitar, kazoo), Willow Brehmer (keys), Lindsay Allen (vocals), Clinard (bass, vocals), and Spaulding (drums, vocals) were drawn to Quail Springs by a passion for permaculture, but gelled even further when the opportunity for music arose. “We’ve all been in bands before, but this is the first where people dance,” Spaulding said.

Led by namesake Mama Hen Smith, the Hot Flashes whip up a wild brand of good-time country-folk music, often on the fly and with no grand plan ahead; it’s music for a raucous of-the-moment hoedown or a post-harvest wood-fired pizza party. But it’s their community-building skills that make them so special. As permaculturalists, they have taken their shelter-building, river-restoring, food-growing ways to the people of Cuyama, educating and inspiring youth through the Cuyama Valley Family Resource Center, the Cuyama Future Leaders, and the Cuyama Valley Community Association. “I care about people feeling nourished,” Smith said, calling music “a way to build more and more layers of connection.”

Though they wouldn’t go as far to say they are the musical mascots of the Cuyama Valley (as I might), they certainly are helping spread a positive mode of existence onstage and off. Hear them Saturday, June 6, on KCSB’s The Rickshaw at 8:30 a.m. and in the evening at Cold Spring Tavern at 5:30-8:30 p.m., or even join them for lunch. Follow their Facebook for details.

IN GOD’S NAME: Not long into the UCSB Middle Eastern Music Ensemble’s quarterly concert, an audience member loudly protested the repeated refrains of Allah. “No more Allah! This is America,” he cried. Director Scott Marcus gracefully asked him to leave, and after repeated requests from the Ensemble audience alike, the dissenter left. The man’s protests were not just immensely disrespectful but wildly absurd, given the night’s program. Isn’t music one of the few sacred spaces where our beliefs may freely sing?

Not to be quashed, the show went on, with a stirring ’ud solo from graduating senior Clarissa Bitar and a rowdy Palestinian dabke dance, in which audience members of all ages and skin colors joined hands and danced in a ring around the entire concert hall. Unified under the music of a national identity that, half a world away, triggers missile attacks, this dance and the rest of the evening’s Middle East music showed people at their noblest: resoundingly rejecting hatred, refusing to be silenced, and singing proudly


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