As soon as there was a semblance of a Santa Barbara, music was there. Music accompanied the completion and dedication of the Mission Santa Barbara in 1820, where traditional Chumash tunes shared the air with Spanish song; music and revelries remained with rancho life ’til the very end, until a drought turned a new page on history.
Music, of course, remains with Santa Barbara’s parties and pastimes right up to our present Fiesta, with barely a public park or major street unmoved by the pulse-like bass of mariachi or the rhythms of rock, reggae, and covers galore, all intermingling into the fluid thread of sounds stitching centuries past to celebrations today. From the top to bottom of State Street, here are some of the musical highlights to include on your party procession.
CHOOSE YOUR GROOVE: When it comes to instant energizers, few things beat a good beat, and several of this Fiesta’s headlining acts bring the kind of big-percussion platter perfect for pumping up a party. On Thursday-Friday, August 4-5, Casa Cantina (Casa de la Guerra, 15 E. De la Guerra St.) will be pepped up with funk-soul music from The Bomb and catchy cumbia from Buyepongo (8pm), making it no doubt the most happening little cantina in town at the end of the workweek. When it’s festival finale time, you can begin your day enjoying the tropical rock of Layovr at Casa Cantina (5pm) and end your Saturday night at De la Guerra Plaza, with L.A.’s world beat act The L.A. Impromptu Orchestra (7:30pm). Also on Saturday, livening up El Mercado del Norte (Mackenzie Park, State St. and Las Positas Rd.) will be S.B.’s Anthony Prieto Band (8:45pm), who will close out the festival in fine form with an 11-piece band mixing up world music and funk-inspired sounds — you may need a new pair of insoles after so much polyrhythm. Finally, over at Velvet Jones (423 State St.), L.A.’s famous punk-meets-mariachi crossover act Mariachi El Bronx will double-head as themselves and their punk alter-egos, The Bronx (8pm).
SOUL DEL SOL: If you like your music as smooth as your margaritas and your grooves as deeply tinto as your vino, then you’ll find plenty of homegrown acts to match your mellow or sultry mood. Kicking off Wednesday, August 3, at El Mercado de la Guerra (De la Guerra Plaza), Zephan and the Tribe (5pm) will play a solid set of smoky originals, with Zephan’s voice sweeping you deep into a state of relaxation and follow-up act Mezcal Martini (6:30pm) keeping things mellow with Latin grooves. Kingston’s legendary dance-hall producer Yellowman (9pm) will drop by SOhO Restaurant & Music Club (1221 State St.). On Friday, August 5, El Mercado de la Guerra welcomes the soulful sensations of The New Vibe (8pm) just as the sun will have begun to set, assuring a very smooth transition into night. Beginning at noon on Saturday, Vincent Zorn will freshen up Casa Cantina with gypsy rumba guitar, and from late afternoon on, El Mercado del Norte will have a satisfying set of soul songs, starting with Xenia Flores (4:15pm), a rising singer/songwriter with a soul-bearing voice, and continuing on with two soulfully enriching reggae-based acts, S.B.’s much-loved Cornerstone (4:55pm) and The Upbeat (6:45pm), who, for year after year, have kept S.B. smiling widely with their Channel Islands take on island vibes.
ON THE ROCKS: A few acts will give you the opportunity to rock out with your rocks out. Starting on Wednesday at El Mercado de la Guerra (8pm) and returning Thursday at El Mercado del Norte (8pm), much-adored S.B. act and frequent Fiesta party-starters RedFish are back with huge riffs and classic rock power. At Casa Cantina, Matt Armor will guard the roots of rock with his rustic rock, followed up by perennial favorite Spencer the Gardener. On Wednesday, SOhO also follows the rock beat with Bear Hands and The Moth & the Flame (9pm), ensuring an alt-rock alternative to those who are already flamenco’d-out. On Thursday, Blazing Haley (9pm) will ignite the Velvet Jones atmosphere with a rock-and-psychobilly-themed Fiesta Kickoff.
TAKE COVER: And what would Fiesta be without its cover bands? An extension of gratitude to Area 51, La Bohème, Happy Medium, The Caverns, and Dusty Jugz/The Rincons for continuing to cover all the crowd-pleasing bases. We’d be lost without you.