ON the Beat | Sonic Sounds and Scenic Picnics

Stow House and the Botanic Garden Lure Picnickers and Music Fans, Music Academy Grooves On

Lobero LIVE presents Leo Kottke, on Saturday, July 30. | Credit: Amy Kerwin / Courtesy Lobero


Summer is ripe for outdoor gatherings, where food, folks and well-placed sounds converge, and it’s happening this summer, like in the Before Times. Take Tuesdays on the idyllic 19th century-vintage Goleta Stow House lawn, where a sprawling, family-friendly crowd convenes for the weekly “Music at the Ranch.” “Tuesday is the new Saturday and 5:30 is the new midnight,” quipped the leader of the pop cover band Down Mountain Lights last week. We happily savored the pupusas from the Elubia’s truck and a mashup of Fleetwood Mac and the Allman Brothers, and other ambient sounds as we took dog Harper for a stroll around Lake Los Carneros. Life was good, old Goleta, style.

Cut to Friday’s “Summer Serenade” series on the scenic hill above Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, adjacent to its hilltop, view-endowed Pritzlaff Conservation Center. Last Friday, the spotlight was on singer-songwriters, as organized by the Galavant pop-event team. 

A quibble: a second microphone or line should have been provided for the guitar, which got lost in the non-mix during Benjamin Catch’s fetching set. Catch’s originals carve out a personal niche in alt-folk/pop directions, with some Paul Simon-izing along the way. Carly Powers’ ukulele, held close to the chest, fared better in the mix. Powers — gone solo here, but also in the duo the Brambles — sported a strong voice, inventive originals and a sure way with covers by Gillian Welch and John Prine.

The series ends Friday with the Channel Island Chamber Orchestra. Aptly, said Channel Islands are visible in the distance, with info on each island in the property’s rock garden. Picnics and open ears are welcome.

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Molly Joyce performs at Music Academy of the West. | Credit: Zach Mendez

The Music Academy continues supplying healthy jolts to serious cultural life in Santa Barbara’s summer. One highlight of last week’s menu was something of an anomaly, as evocative composer/performer Molly Joyce presented inspiration from the more art-pop and atmospheric ends of the new music spectrum.

At Hahn Hall, after opening with the world premiere of a hypnotic string quartet for the Crimson Quartet, a rippling post-minimalist concoction called Imperfection, the evening turned to Joyce herself. She worked up a unique ilk of art songs, with electronics-effected and looped vocals floating atop her chosen instrument, a tweaked toy organ, all funneled through laptop treatments. Many of the songs, adorned by on screen texts and videos, poignantly addressed the theme of dealing with — and even celebrating — the disability of her severely limited left hand, damaged in a car crash 20 years ago. The end result: something magical and edgily meditative.

Last Friday’s “picnic concert” featured prominent composer Nico Muhly, commissioned by MA to write a series of short piano works, The Bell Etudes. The intriguing and deceptively simple etudes were played by fellows and faculty, including Muhly himself on the bench with Adria Ye on “Teacher-Student” and Conor Hanick giving the world premiere of “Now Honey,” a model of solemn tranquility.

Two weeks back, a chamber orchestra concert filled Hahn Hall, featuring four composers — conductor/composer Teddy Abrams, Darius Milhaud, Caroline Shaw and Prokofiev—the first three of which have had teaching connections with this very campus/compound. Abrams’ Sixth Floor was a pale pastiche, a genre window shopping venture, but it was refreshing to bathe again in the cool proto-serio-swing of Milhaud’s seminal jazz-infused classical piece La creation du monde, and savor the inventive twists on formality/informality in Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1 “Classical.” But the evening’s prize was Shaw’s Entr’acte, with its adventurous and sensuous delving into new expressive possibilities for strings.

MA head’s up: James Darrah and Craig Terry’s site-specific Hahn Hall 1922-2022 An Original Cabaret has its world premiere — in Hahn Hall —  on July 28, and the Academy Festival Orchestra plays the Granada on July 30, led by conductor Stéphane Denève.  


On this big weekend in the old town, the Bowl brings out a potent double-header, with The Chicks and Jenny Lewis on July 29, and pop/musical theater star Josh Groban on July 30. A personal hero of mine, acoustic guitar gee-wizard Leo Kottke, returns to an ideal venue, the expando-living room of the Lobero, on July 29.

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