Jack Johnson (right) and band | Credit: Leslie Dinaberg

This edition of ON the Beat was originally emailed to subscribers on March 2, 2023. To receive Josef Woodard’s music newsletter in your inbox each Thursday, sign up at independent.com/newsletters.

Soundtrack for this column: Jimi Hendrix, “In From the Storm,” here.

And the Accidental Epiphany Award of the year may well go to … the mighty, neighborly Jack Johnson. Of course, we’re talking about pop-star-next-door Johnson’s formidable grace under pressure and “ride the wave you got” adaptability at his Lobero show last week. When feisty winds knocked out the power downtown during Zach Gill’s opening set, the show must and did go on, as Johnson and his veteran aggregate pushed, powered, and spontaneously massaged their way through an entire show in the dark. (I was going to say without power, but there was plenty of power in the house that night, of the collective emotional kind, plus some help from battery-powered lights from Johnson’s touring entourage.)

As the UCSB-magnetized semi–Santa Barbaran suggested, toasting the Lobero’s remarkable 150th birthday milestone, “Ulysses Grant was the president when this theater was built. It’s cool to be doing it this way, because that was the situation back then.”

He later made another comment about the pop-up “unplugged” aspect of the show, commenting, “Whenever I play in Santa Barbara, it stirs up all these memories for me. Now, we’ll always have the memory of this night to hold on to. I’ll have to write a song about it.”

Respectfully, Jack, we will hold you to that.

Big kudos go out to Johnson and company, but also the trusty folks who make the Lobero work and rock.

The Eagle Flies on Wednesday

Credit: Josef Woodard

On the following night at the Lobero, David Crosby was to have performed, but his passing meant he was there in spirit only. (Johnson tipped his hat to the Croz by covering the classic “Teach Your Children” during his set.) An invite-only crowd of VIPs, patrons, and Lobero-connected people showed up for a special presentation in honor of the theater’s official b-day. A few important facts: The Lobero is the oldest continuously running theater on the West Coast, and the fourth-oldest in the country (after two theaters in Philadelphia and the winner, the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee).

As Lobero board member and unofficial historian Brett Hodges pointed out, inspired (and/or crazy) founder Jose Lobero had the temerity to build a 1,700-seat theater, out of a former school building, in a city with a population of only 3,000 in 1873. Echoes of Fitzcarraldo danced in our heads.

The Lobero also screened two fascinating short films, created by Bennett Barbakow and Tyler Rumph, which regaled us in the ambience and history of our most beloved venue in town.

Hodges also gave a passionate and fact-filled keynote speech in which he identified a significant “fab four” involved in promoting and running the place: boosterist and Director of Development Jim Dougherty, Administrative Director Marianne Clark, longtime Technical Director Todd Jared, and the theater’s amiable and “get it done” guy David Asbell, who has been holding down the executive director role for 27 years, longer than any other in the theaters annals (as Hodges pointed out, even Jose Lobero only really lasted two years in that role).

As for the evening’s secret “special guest,” that role was animalistically filled by a certain gold-plated eagle sculpture going back 170 years. It was originally lost in the maritime accident when the Yankee Blade steamship crashed on the area’s Pt. Arguello, resulting in 40 deaths and a shipwreck involving the loss of the precious eagle. It turned up and Jose Lobero inducted it as a mascot for his Brewery Saloon on State Street and then on the original Lobero building. After the original theater went dormant in 1917, before being artfully rebuilt by Lutah Maria Riggs and her boss George Washington Smith, in 1926, the eagle was still missing until rediscovered at a San Marcos Pass ranch in 1960. Said eagle, housed in the Santa Barbara Historical Museum for years, where it was lovingly restored, has been reinstalled for a few months in the lobby of the Lobero.

The gathered crowd was slyly led around to the theater front for a champagne-coated eagle unveiling. Then, as Asbell told the crowd, they were invited to head over to the El Paseo and “party like it’s 1873!”

Stephen Cloud | Credit: Josef Woodard

A thought struck me as I spoke, on the Lobero patio, to veteran promoter Stephen Cloud (whose main day job for decades has been as Keith Jarrett’s manager). Cloud, as one who has presented hundreds of shows at the Lobero since the ’70s and has been a critical consultant and liaison to CAMA and other Lobero connections, could reasonably be considered a “fifth Beatle” in the “fab four” equation.

And while thinking about Lobero-linkages deserving wider recognition, Santa Barbaran turned Austinian Peggie Jones’s miraculous and mold-breaking series Sings like Hell, which lasted for 20-plus years, brought to the Lobero “living room” a wealth of musical goods by the “best music you’ve never heard” (plus those we have heard, e.g. Randy Newman, Jason Isbell, Rufus Wainwright, the Avett Brothers, Nellie McKay, Lake Street Dive, John Hiatt, Guy Clark and locals David Crosby and Jackson Browne). The series also proposed a paradigm of how a subscription-based concert series outside the “serious music” world could thrive, and groove.

Of course, thriving, grooving and musing have gone down in this hallowed hall for many decades, as a selective roll call of names onscreen last week reminded us. Among the luminaries: Igor Stravinsky, Marian Anderson, Orson Welles, Andrés Segovia, Odetta, Susan B. Anthony, Richard Pryor, Frank Lloyd Wright, McCoy Tyner, Brad Mehldau, Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell, the Bad Plus, Herbie Hancock (with and without Wayne Shorter), Sir András Schiff, Lily Tomlin, Yo-Yo Ma, Dave Brubeck (many times), Ahmad Jamal, Neil Young, Los Lobos, Jack Johnson … and the list goes — and is going — proverbially on.


Willie Watson | Credit: Courtesy

Classical music doings this week are of a beckoningly high order, including the local debut of the Attacca Quartet at Hahn Hall on Sunday, March 5 (see story) and the Miro Quartet tonight (March 2) at Santa Barbara Museum of Art — both quartets featuring music of composer Carolyn Shaw. Camerata Pacifica plays an all-Bach program at Hahn Hall on Friday, March 3, and, speaking of the Lobero, Los Romeros (see story) lands in the venue deep in their family lineage, on Saturday night (March 4).
Preservation Hall Jazz Band, those old favorites with early jazz in the veins, hit the Lobero on Friday, March 3, and the masterful funkmeister George Clinton returns to the Chumash Casino on Saturday, March 4. Say no mo’.
Local fans of the subcultural world of instrumental acoustic guitarists have been lucky and well-treated over the past several years, thanks to the shows under the rubric of Santa Barbara Acoustic, presided over by luthier and well-connected acoustic guitar world figure Kevin Gillies. Since 2016, the émigré from NorCal has ushered important musicians in the acoustic field through our town, in a series at the intimate Alhecama Theater and, in recent years, Sunday nights at SOhO.

As part of what is reportedly the final season of these special shows at SOhO, this Sunday (March 5) brings along a return visit from Willie Watson, gifted guitarist, singer, songwriter, and cross-genre, roots-minded tale spinner. (Watson replaces jazzer John Jorgenson, who had to cancel). Upcoming in the swan song series: Abby Posner, Marley’s Ghost, Transatlantic Guitar Trio, Carl Verheyen, Sofia Talvik and the great jazz-folk phenom Becca Stevens.


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