Ojai’s magically inviting Libbey Bowl has been hiding in plain sight pretty much since it was first built in 1957 and then fixed up eight years ago. Last Friday night, Los Lobos happily stumbled onto this outdoor stage for the very first time in their 40-year history as one of the greatest rock-and-roll bands America has produced. Perhaps it wasn’t Los Lobos at their exceptional best, but the melding of place and music made everyone — even those who’ve long forgotten — believe in the possibility of summer all over again.
David Hidalgo, the band’s driving musical genius, lead singer, lead guitar player, and all-around man mountain, showed signs of physical erosion. Still, he positively tore it up on such crowd-pleasers as “Let’s Say Goodnight,” “Don’t Worry Baby,” and “Will the Wolf Survive?” When Hidalgo invited the audience to rush the stage and dance, audience members happily obliged. Conspicuous by their absence was the blessed lack of security personnel. Bags were not checked and asses not plastered to the seats. Old men, middle-aged women, and very young kids took to the stage to shake it to the throbbing syncopation of “Más y Más.”
Los Lobos’ genius is a group effort, Hidalgo’s brilliance notwithstanding, and the band melted the crowd with a searing blast of tropical humidity with “Chuco’s Cumbia” and “Cumbia Raza.” The show was short but very sweet. No new tunes were unveiled, but it was a chance to reacquaint oneself with one of the most overlooked songbooks ever, plus a few covers. No one does “Bertha” better than the Grateful Dead, and even that’s debatable. And sure, “La Bamba” may have been overplayed a bit over the years, but Friday night, Los Lobos reminded the crowd why, including it in a close-out medley with “Good Lovin’,” the Young Rascals’ monster hit from the mid-’60s. Good loving indeed.