David Longstreth at Ojai Deer Lodge | Credit: Rebecca Horrigan

Driving through winding dark roads to Ojai on a cold Thursday night for a concert at the Deer Lodge, I wondered just exactly what I was getting myself into. But the moment we pulled up to the historic roadside eatery, performance venue, and watering hole, I knew we were in the right place. Established in 1932, the oldest restaurant and tavern in Ojai glowed from the inside out with a patio, blazing fire, and an even warmer welcome from our server. 

The menu features classic comfort food with a fresh California spin. Their truffle parmesan brussels sprouts were the savory blast I was craving, and the Lodge Burger topped with bacon jam provided the perfect base. Their beer list plays the hits, and I happily grooved with an Edel Pils on draft from Enegren.

Openers Steven Van Betten and Blue Belmont gently ushered us into the intimate main stage with their tender tunes, and David Longstreth, best known as the main maestro of the Dirty Projectors, followed suit with a spare yet stirring set. 

Beckoning the crowd to come closer in a “punk rock” style, the tea-drinking Longstreth filled the room with the closeness of a punk rock show but at the same time with an easy peacefulness. The crowd hardly swayed, let alone moshed. He started with the acoustic guitar, playing sweet new ditties such as “Certainty” and “Song of the Earth,” his steady yet wide-ranging vocals anchoring each song and keeping the crowd in rapture. 

He moved onto the Wurlitzer, and then hit the electric guitar for my favorite slice of the set. The jangly chords on “The Searching Spirit” from his most recent 5EPs contrasted beautifully with his honey-like vocals. The Dirty Projectors’ hit “Dance for You” was a true joy to see live. The audience even got to chime in when Longstreth needed help with a line. It felt like we were in his living room having a sing-along. 

And as far as living rooms go, the cozy Deer Lodge has got to be one of the most special. I can’t wait to come back, get cozy, and take in another night of magic.

The Deer Lodge Ojai is located at 2261 Maricopa Highway, Ojai. For a list of upcoming live music shows, visit deerlodgeojai.com/live-music.

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