Perla Batalla at the Luke Theatre | Credit: Isaac Hernandez

This edition of ON the Beat was originally emailed to subscribers on September 14, 2023. To receive Josef Woodard’s music newsletter in your inbox each Thursday, sign up at

As a ripe launch for the new season of the much-cherished ¡Viva el Arte de Santa Bárbara! series, the spotlight turned to an artist with particularly deep roots in the series. Perla Batalla, the Ojai-based and world-traveled singer, was actually the inaugural artist here in 2006, the start of one of Santa Barbara’s most rewarding cultural enterprises. The series and four-day residency, sponsored by UCSB Arts & Lectures, focuses on Mexican regional and other Latin American-related music and dance. Batalla fits the bill perfectly.

Cut to 2023, and Batalla returned in high and energized form, with a versatile band in tow, featuring go-to Los Angeles pianist Karen Hammack, guitarist Gilbert Gonzalez on nylon-stringed guitar, and Michael Velasquez on electric bass. As Batalla explained, they had performed eight concerts in schools, including the customary concert stops at Isla Vista School, Guadalupe City Hall, and with a climactic, free-to-the-public, grand finale at the Marjorie Luke Theatre.

Perla Batalla at the Luke Theatre | Credit: Isaac Hernandez

On this Sunday evening, Batalla handily took charge as she sashayed onto the stage after the band warmed up with a Latin-ized version of Sonny Rollins’ already innately Caribbean “St. Thomas.” Batalla is blessed with an assured and matured vocal instrument, rich, sonorous, and deep. Needless to say, she is also fluently bilingual, which lent a special impact given the context and objective of this series.

As she told the crowd (in English and Spanish), she is of mixed blood, Argentine and Mexican, and celebrated her heritage with her 1998 album Mestiza. Aptly, the setlist touched on songs from both sides of the border, from a funk-spiced variation on mariachi to Nat King Cole’s bolero arrangement of “Nature Boy,” with visits to merengue, salsa, and elsewhere on Mexican music soil.

Late in the show, Batalla served up a potent reading of the ranchera classic “Sabor a mi,” and from another corner of Mexican favorites (including her own and her father’s), she brought the house down — and to its feet in a standing ovation — for her stirring take on “Cucurrucucú paloma,” penned by Tomás Méndez in 1954 and now a timeless treasure of Mexican music.

Familia is important in this band, which also features Batalla’s husband (a television chef) Claud Mann on percussion, and with vocal cameos by her gifted daughter Eva. Eva first graced the stage on a song which also included a brand-new poem by Santa Barbara Poet Laureate Melinda Palacio, whose new piece is an eloquent prayer and lament for migrant children, and a quest to “redeem them.” “On the river, we will float on a song,” Palacio intoned, resonating with the musical surroundings at the Luke.

One of Batalla’s claims to fame, and a pivotal portal to her worldly career, was her time as a background vocalist, along with fellow Ojai-connected singer Julie Christensen, in the legendary Leonard Cohen’s band in the early ‘90s. She has gone on to participate in many a Cohen tribute project. As she told the crowd, Cohen told her that Spanish was his favorite language — just the sensuous sound of it, despite his lack of linguistic grasp.

She returned the gesture by turning in a version of his classic “Dance Me to the End of Love,” a la Cha Cha, and partly in Spanish. For an encore, the band waxed balladic on the theme of Cohen’s anthem “Hallelujah,” warmed up by the dialogue of mother trading verses with daughter.

Still to come in the new “¡Viva el Arte” season: Folklórico de Los Ángeles (October 13-15), Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles (January 19-21), Quitapenas (March 8-10), and Jarabe Mexicano (May 17-19). Info here.

Son Volt’s ‘Day of the Doug’ | Credit: Courtesy

Alt-Country Voltage, in Doug Mode

We know Sun Volt as mainstays and pioneers of the vague alt-country universe, with lateral linkages to Uncle Tupelo and Wilco (long story). The man in charge, with the gruff but friendly and just twangy enough voice, is Jay Farrar, but for the moment, Sun Volt’s spotlight is on another mutant-twang king entirely: the late, great Doug Sahm, to whom they dedicated the new album Day of the Doug. Sahm (1941-1999) was a one-of-a-kind country and genre confounder, whose long career ventured through the Sir Douglas Quintet, the Texas Tornados and … Doug Sahm.

A Sun Volt show is always worth a visit, especially in a compact space such as SOhO, where the band stops on Tuesday, September 19 as part of their Day of the Doug tour. It will be the night of the Doug in our humble beach town.

Sun Volt comes to SOhO on Sept. 19 | Credit: Courtesy


Folk Orchestra of Santa Barbara goes Medieval Sept. 23-24: expect them to bring out some unusual instruments. | Credit: Courtesy

Fans (and fans-to-be) of the unique and always invigorating Folk Orchestra of Santa Barbara, be on the alert next weekend, September 23 at the Trinity Episcopal Church and September 24 at the Presidio Chapel for the next adventure cooked up by mastermind and multi-instrumentalist, multiculturalist Adam Phillips. Phillips takes on a myriad of different musical points-of-focus with each concert. This time out, the FOSB goes Medieval, with music from various points European and Scandinavian. Info here.

For a not-alt country menu, head to the Chumash Casino on Friday, September 15, when mainstream country star Dustin Lynch touches down in the 805. His chart-topping hit list includes “Small Town Boy,” “Ridin’ Roads” and “Where it’s At.”


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.