It’s been a jam-packed couple of weeks since the last PANO, and there’s a lot to catch up on. Every performance venue and gallery from Ventura to San Luis Obispo has something scheduled right now, and it’s been a challenge to get to all of it, never mind write it all up. I’ve seen four fine plays, two brilliant concerts, and a half-dozen excellent art exhibits in the last two weeks. As of this afternoon, Tuesday, April 12, I’m looking forward to another pair of concerts and two dance performances–all before Saturday. It’s time to get out and see how we are. 2022 promises to be an unforgettable arts spring on the Central Coast.
WHO KNOWS WHAT YOU ARE AT CAW
On Thursday, March 31, Diana Small and a great cast of actors/musicians put on “Who Knows What You Are,” an all-original music and theater performance at the Community Arts Workshop on Garden Street. Many members of the “Westmont-Garde” were in attendance, and the stage was full of them. Small, sporting Nico-like long straight locks and singing with rock-star confidence led the group through nearly two hours of new material. Edgy, inventively-staged vignettes skewered such personal matters as a trip to the gynecologist. Band members Paige Tautz and Marie Ponce proved adept at lip-syncing to the evening’s darkly humorous video projections. It will be interesting to see where this innovative project goes next.
Once upon a time in 1973, a former road manager for the Grateful Dead, Hank Harrison, published a scrappy underground paperback about the band called The Dead Book: A Social History of the Grateful Dead. Written in a fragmented, flaky style and primarily devoid of rational analysis, The Dead Book nevertheless did a fine job of communicating the atmosphere on the Haight, out of which the band sprang. Harrison manages to catch Jerry Garcia in a flash of clarity at one point. The legendary guitarist boiled the band’s emerging musical mission down to a two-word command– ”embroider bluegrass!”
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I bring this up as a way to explain and celebrate the extraordinary resurgence of psychedelic bluegrass and the music of the Grateful Dead. On Tuesday, April 5, the Punch Brothers made up a COVID-postponed concert for UCSB Arts & Lectures with an outstanding two-hour show at Campbell Hall. Chris Thile and company were on fire, roaring through a mix of numbers from their catalog, including several from their most recent release, “Hell on Church Street.” I’ve seen Thile several times, both with Punch Brothers and solo, but I’ve never seen him so ebullient. Singing with his bandmates around a single old-fashioned floor-standing microphone, he danced, whooped, hollered, and carried on like a man possessed by the spirit of bluegrass past. Although Punch Brothers never ventured into the Grateful Dead’s songbook, several of their exuberant breakdowns were as dissonant and spacey as psychedelic rock.
Five and six nights later, Billy Strings arrived at the Santa Barbara Bowl for two wildly rocking shows that veered between bluegrass, country, and ominous psychedelia, sometimes within a single song. I was at Sunday’s performance, and I can attest that Strings’ rendition of the Dead classic “Wharf Rat” was a properly religious experience. More comprehensive reviews of both these shows are forthcoming on independent.com.
POEM OF THE BODY
Midweek I cruised up the coast to San Luis Obispo, where the SLO Museum of Art has several excellent exhibitions on view, including the spectacular Faig Ahmed: Collisions. In the rear gallery, two Central Coast painters, Lena Rushing and David Limrite, have joined forces for an unusual and haunting show of contemporary portraiture. Rushing’s massive oil paintings of 21st-century goddesses would look great in a neo-hippie’s Haight-Ashbury home. Using a range of traditional painting techniques, from the stylized “statement” drapery of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres to the flat patterned symbols of Henri “le Douanier” Rousseau, Rushing ravishes the viewer with over the top visual stimulation.
By contrast, David Limrite’s nude, faceless figures occupy an evocative pictorial space that straddles the line between physical privacy and interiority. Titles like “What I Could Do If I Could Just Get Started” and “Nothing Lasts Forever But We Always Try” indicate his focus on mental states and bodily manifestations. The whole show is worth a trip to SLO, always a great and consistently surprising art destination.