ON the Beat | Season’s Gazings, Santa Barbara’s Live Music Returns in Fuller Force

Our Live Music Scene Springs Back to Pre-COVID Life and Calendar-Marking Status in the Coming Season

Ukrainian sensation DakhaBrakha perform at the Granada on October 6 | Credit: Courtesy

What a difference a year makes. As music fans leaned into the coming concert season around this time last year, a wary sense of hope hung in the air. The COVID-fueled moratorium on live music was lifting and marquees and concert seasons were a buzz again, albeit with strict masking policies and vaccine border patrols in place.

On one celebratory weekend last September, locally linked stars aligned when Toad the Wet Sprocket pulled a two-nighter at the Lobero and Jackson Browne put another notch on his decades-deep Santa Barbara Bowl history. In Santa Barbara’s rich and regular classical music scene, institutions began rousing from their slumber and the formidable Ojai Music Festival rolled up its sleeves and unveiled an inspiring, John Adams–directed 75th anniversary feast last September (nudged into the “safe zone” from its normal June slot).

Hélène Grimaud | Credit: Matt Hennek

On the multi-genre front, the mighty cultural force/source of UCSB Arts & Lectures (A&L) sprang more fully into live action. Generally, there was a heady if cautious renewal atmosphere for live music in town. Of course, the buzz suffered a mid-season chill when the Omicron variant rained on the parade in January, before music life resumed — again.

On the brink of the new season starting this fall, the concert calendar has filled up beautifully, with a fuller sense of return to normality (still a bit fuzzy around the edges). Pop-wise, the Bowl (sbbowl.com) season still sports such tasty treats as Nine Inch Nails (Sept. 13) and Jack Johnson’s two-night stand (Oct. 4-5).  The Lobero’s calendar (lobero.org) continuously expands, including upcoming Tab Benoit (Sept. 2), Cat Power (Sept. 9), Suzanne Vega (Sept. 28), and Jakob Dylan and a fresh cast of musicians and brand new material from The Wallflowers (Oct. 7). 

CAMA (camasb.org), which had a shortened season last year, returns with a powerful roster, including the august Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (Sir Simon Rattle’s old band), Juilliard String Quartet, the Romeros Guitar Quartet, and Santa Ynez resident/global superstar pianist Hélène Grimaud.

The Santa Barbara Symphony (thesymphony.org) launches into a hearty 70th anniversary season with a grand collaborative evening of the lusty-rousing Carmina Burana (Oct. 15-16), with the Santa Barbara Ballet, Choral Society, and other choral groups. Other Symphony high points include music by former Santa Barbara film composer icon Elmer Bernstein, Ted Nash, and former Oxnard-ian Miguel del Águila.

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After braving the shifting streaming/live vicissitudes of the past two years, Camerata Pacifica keeps up the faith and the chamber music fire with its 33rd season, and the intrepid Opera Santa Barbara’s (operasb.org) roster includes Tosca (Oct. 1) and a rare, welcome visit to the world of Wagner, à la Die Walküre (April 23).

A&L (artsandlectures.ucsb.edu), both an oasis and a thriving cultural ecosystem of its own in Santa Barbara, once again delivers on the promise of a rich and varied season, keeping our calendars busy from October to May. As a tidy indicator of the organization’s “better living through diversity” directive, the new and fresh-minded country star Charley Crockett makes his local debut at the Arlington for A&L’s kickoff night of October 2, followed two nights later by the Ukrainian sensation DakhaBrakha, at the Granada.

Certain lofty figures, including well-dressed and well-heeled jazz legend Wynton Marsalis and cellist/humanitarian Yo-Yo Ma, return to Santa Barbara via A&L with such regularity that we may forget or underappreciate their continuing importance in the global context. Marsalis deviates from his usual big-band presence with an April 4 concert with his quintet, his original, Miles Davis–inspired format when he first emerged as a young lion in the ’80s. This year, cellist Ma shows up in a power trio with Emanuel Ax and Leonidas Kavakos (Jan. 27).

A&L nudges up the jazz aspect of its menu, a laudable move in this relatively jazz-starved town. The list includes precocious young pianist Matthew Whitaker (Nov. 17), a return of the ever-changing Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour (Jan. 29) and the female-driven ARTEMIS (Apr. 23). Classical piano is well-represented, with the ever-popular Lang Lang (Feb. 27) and the ever-respected Víkingur Ólafsson (May 11). New music stops include the renowned Parisian Ensemble Intercontemporain’s film-music evening around the film The City Without Jews (Jan. 28) and Sō Percussion (a star of this summer’s Music Academy of the West festival) with Caroline Shaw (Apr. 21).

Of course, the list goes on and on. In short, Santa Barbara’s 2022-23 calendar is chockablock with cultural options of the musical sort, and more. Bust out those figurative sharpies and discerning mouse clicks and go to town, literally and otherwise. 

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