Due to the unnerving persistence of the coronavirus, holiday parties have taken a hit this season, but thanks to UCSB Arts & Lectures, one of Santa Barbara’s very best winter solstice traditions will continue, albeit in a virtual format. Lots of great December memories have been formed over the years around Pink Martini’s annual appearances at the Arlington. There’s always a special feeling on these occasions — people dress up, there are decorations on the State Street tree, and friends come out to eat, drink, and enjoy one another’s company on the way to the show. Although that can’t happen this year, Arts & Lectures has seen to it that we can have the next best thing. On Thursday, December 10, at 5 p.m., Pink Martini founding members China Forbes and Thomas Lauderdale will dish up a cabaret version of their show online, replete with songs in multiple languages, acknowledgements of the end of an unforgettable year, and plenty of their trademark musical wit and glamour.
If you’re already a fan of Pink Martini, then you know that these two performers are the band’s heart and soul. Lauderdale’s comprehensive knowledge of musical genres complements Forbes’s steely focus on the precision of a lyric, and the results can stand comparison with the work of their idols. “Sympathique (Je ne veux pas travailler)” for example, their first international hit, sounds as familiar on first hearing as anything by Edith Piaf, and the self-aware syncopation of “Hey Eugene!” from their third album is as irresistible as Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.” Yet Lauderdale and Forbes are no mere imitators; for proof that they are on a par with the architects of the great American songbook, look no further than their most recent composition, an unassuming little number called “The Lemonade Song.” Written by Forbes and Lauderdale along with Hotel Café legend Jim Bianco, and released on YouTube in August, it’s the unofficial anthem of the pandemic experience, whittling the old saw about what to do when you get lemons down to its essence, then stringing it with a delightful succession of “You’re the Top”-style couplets.
When I spoke with Forbes from her home in Portland, Oregon, last week, she was busy with supervising some work on her house, yet not too distracted to share a good laugh and some thoughtful words about this unparalleled year. “Portland has been scorched,” she told me; “there are portions of the city that are unrecognizable” She said that at times she finds herself wondering “is this really my town?” Yet she can also see beauty in the way the city has begun to come back and cites “trust” as the factor that will allow the things that have been ripped apart to heal. She said she misses playing the Arlington for her friends at UCSB Arts & Lectures, and that she has always liked seeing the great Pink Martini fans of Santa Barbara, both in the theater and at what she remembers as “a great afterparty.”
In addition to writing “The Lemonade Song” with Lauderdale and Bianco, Forbes has been active on social media this year, developing a singularly satisfying and lowkey presence on Instagram @chinaforbes. She calls the intimate performances she posts there “a way to inspire myself,” and says that it was not something she was doing before the pandemic. For those who know and love this woman’s inimitable voice and style, these diary-like entries have made the last few months easier to bear.
For information and tickets to the cabaret performance on Thursday, December 10, at 5 p.m. visit artsandlectures.ucsb.edu.
Every day, the staff of the Santa Barbara Independent works hard to sort out truth from rumor and keep you informed of what’s happening across the entire Santa Barbara community. Now there’s a way to directly enable these efforts. Support the Independent by making a direct contribution or with a subscription to Indy+.