Folky Maneuvers in the Day
On this week’s musical agenda, the folk arts — in various forms and flavors — will be riding through town and commanding our attention. In one corner, it’s time for another edition of the unique and worldly minded Folk Orchestra of Santa Barbara, bringing a Bluegrass/Americana-themed program to the evocative and historic venues of El Presidio Chapel and Casa de la Guerra on October 8-9. Multi- instrumentalizing founder and tireless brainstormer Adam Phillips never fails to impress with his programming and ability to assemble a tight mass of game, dedicated musicians for the cause. See folkorchestrasb.com.
But a brightest spotlight should be cast on another proud homegrown phenom — the Old-Time Fiddlers’ Festival (known for most of its life as the Old-Time Fiddlers’ Convention), which celebrates its grand 50th anniversary this Saturday, October 8.
What for decades has irradiated its bluegrass/old-timey good vibes on Goleta’s historic Stowe House compound has its roots on the sloping lawn of the UCSB lagoon, another facsimile of a fiddling-friendly natural outpost. Back in 1972, the bluegrass-obsessed Swiss immigrant Peter Feldmann, a fine musician who also championed folk music at his old Bluebird Café on Anapamu Street, bravely launched the event.
Feldmann built it, and “they” came. The quiet but mighty bluegrass musician scene arrived from around California and beyond, throwing their hats into the competition ring and also gathering into happily jamming clubs of musical humanity. Those impromptu jam pockets make for a key charm at the Stowe House festivities as we drift around the property, checking out the official stages but also lured by the official unofficial jam sessions dotting the grounds.
Feldmann will perform on Saturday on a list of headliners including Bruce Molsky and Rafe Stefanini. Feldmann stepped away from the festival many years ago now, and it’s now operated under the auspices of the Goleta Valley Historical Society and with the informed artistic direction of David Bragger. But if there are any statue honors in the offing, Feldmann should be the model. See fiddlersfestival.org.
Festival as Soul Refresher
Last weekend’s 65th annual Monterey Jazz Festival, the only world-class jazz festival in doable driving distance of Santa Barbara, unveiled an inspiring program, bigger than last year if still shy of the full dimensions of pre-COVID life. Highlights, to these ears, included a reformulated The Bad Plus (now a more rock-flecked unit, with guitar and saxophone instead of piano); the MoodSwing reunion of Joshua Redman, the masterful and show-stealing Brad Mehldau, Christian McBride, and Brian Blade; potent young chanteuse Samara Joy; mighty vibist Joel Ross’s band Good Vibes; and a one-two Sunday evening finale of the evermore important, uniquely soulful singer Gregory Porter on the main stage and powerhouse drummer Nate Smith’s genre-splitting band KINFOLK on the new West End Stage.
As it happens, three of the acts from the Monterey fest this year are headed Santa Barbara’s way, courtesy of the UCSB Arts & Lectures season. Young pianist-organist Matthew Whitaker (at Campbell Hall on November 17) is a crowd-pleasing dynamo who happens to be blind and is fully in charge of his energetic soul-jazz groove machine. The all-female group Artemis (Campbell Hall, April 23, 2023), formed in 2017, has become a bolder entity as it goes, with an assured mainstream-contemporary acoustic quintet sound with special attention seized by founder-pianist Renee Rosnes and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, both of whom busted the gender glass ceiling long before the thankful and recent focus on women in jazz.
The changeable feast that is Monterey Jazz Fest on Tour — each incarnation of which launches on the Monterey arena stage — lands at Campbell Hall on January 29, 2023. This year’s permutation features two vocalist legends — Dee Dee Bridgewater and Kurt Elling — as well as rising alto saxist star Lakecia Benjamin and pianist Christian Sands.
Spirits were bolstered and the deep power of jazz (never mind what you hear in the funny papers) was reconfirmed in Monterey, right up through Porter’s benedictory closing song, “No Love Dying,” with cell phone lights all atwitter in the arena by the thousands. It could have been a cheesy moment. Instead, it was cathartic.
This is the week that hometown hero Jack Johnson comes “home,” venue-wise, to the Bowl in a two-night stand, Tuesday and Wednesday, October 4-5. … It’s not unusual to catch suave soul man Tom Jones in town on occasion: The next one is at the Arlington on Wednesday, October 5. … Mike Younger, an environmentally concerned blues-plus artist from Tennessee stops in at SOhO on Monday, October 3, promoting the long-delayed (20 years!) release of his album Burning the Bigtop Down, whose illustrious credits includes Muscle Shoals mainstays the late The Band drummer Levon Helm and famed producer Luther Dickinson.