Molly Tuttle is heading Live Oak Music Festival and is also part of the A&L series. | Photo: Courtesy

This edition of ON the Beat was originally emailed to subscribers on June 13, 2024. To receive Josef Woodard’s music newsletter in your inbox on Fridays, sign up at

For a few decades, avid Santa Barbara music fans of varying and/or eclectic stripes found themselves faced with a delectable one-two punch of festival action in mid-June. First came the world-famous classical Ojai Music Festival (which went down beautifully last weekend: see review here), followed by the Father’s Day weekend friendly blowout of the Live Oak Music Festival, a rootsy and eclectic fundraising big top event for KCBX (locally at 90.9 FM on Goletan turf, and worldly at

The June festival action lured Santa Barbarans, proper, to different corners of the region, starting in the ever-alluring hamlet of Ojai. For most of its now 36-year run, the Live Oak Festival settled into its namesake Live Oak Camp off of Highway 154, but difficult logistics with that venue drove the festival north to the San Luis Obispo’s El Chorro Regional Park, a logical homecoming in the city where KCBX lives and thrives.

KCBX, as we know and love, is a treasured beacon of independent radio on the West Coast, home to Americana, indie, jazz, classical, “world,” and other musical flavors, many of which are represented by the festival programming.

We don’t have the luxury of just popping over the hill to partake, but the strength of the festival’s programming, its root cause, and the enveloping good vibe zone of the event is enough to pull Santa Barbarans up the 101, for a day or a weekend.

The English Beat headlines the Live Oak Music Festival this weekend. | Photo: Courtesy

Headliners this year include the acclaimed and ascendant progressive bluegrass band Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway (also coming to UCSB’s Campbell Hall on December 6 as part of the freshly announced UCSB Arts & Lectures season), another 805 visit by ska-plus party-timers The English Beat and singer-songwriter John Craigie with the Coffis Brothers. Digging deeper into the dense lineup, we find artists from diverse places — geographically and stylistically — from the beloved Latinx band Las Cafeteras to the Eagle Rock Gospel Singers, the jammerific Hot Buttered Rum, and the jazz/not-jazz wilds of Moon Hooch, described in the promo as “cave music.” We’ll buy that.

Live Oak lives on. Get thee northward.

What’s in an A&L Season? Plenty

Yo Yo Ma | Credit: Courtesy

Last Friday evening, roughly 200 curious and culturally (and literally) hungry humans packed into the Montecito Country Club for what is by now a significant date on Santa Barbara’s cultural calendar: the unveiling of the mighty UCSB Arts & Lectures (A&L) season to come. Unfortunately, I missed out, being hopelessly committed to the Ojai Music Festival. But the occasion gives rise to general appreciation of A&L, long an inspired programming bedrock — as well as a forward-thinking proving ground for new and evolving ideas and artists — which contributes greatly to making Santa Barbara as worldly-wise, music-enriched, and culturally blessed as it is.

The turning point also inspires backward-glancing overviews of the season gone by. A personal Top 10 list of music highlights: Nickel Creek, Rhiannon Giddens (with and without the Silk Road Ensemble), Daniil Trifonov, Sierra Ferrell, Herbie Hancock, Samara Joy, Renée Fleming, the Danish String Quartet, and the Kronos Quartet (at 50).

Just on the music front, A&L’s upcoming 2024-25 season is a rich tapestry of allurements, with such lofty regular returnees as Yo-Yo Ma (Reflections in Words and Music, Apr. 5, Arlington), Wynton Marsalis (May 17, Arlington), the great Danish String Quartet (Jan. 31, Campbell Hall), and the always-welcome piano wonder Yuja Wang, in a special duet with pianist Víkingur Ólafsson (Feb. 28, Granada Theatre).

Soprano Julia Bullock perfoms with Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment | Credit: Allison Michael Orenstein

Classical musical options run strong this season, as usual, including eminent old-school violinist Itzhak Perlman and Friends (Nov. 7, Granada) and a very special return engagement by superb soprano Julia Bullock, performing Olivier Messiaen’s song cycle Harawi with the young consortium known as AMOC (American Modern Opera Company). This performance is effectively a “make-up” gig after it was canceled as part of the AMOC-led 2022 Ojai Music Festival program due to Bullock’s COVID bout. Bullock returns on January 21 to show another side of her flexible talent, as an early music soloist with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (Lobero Theatre).

Other “big news” in classical music finds the respected London Philharmonic Orchestra coming to the Granada on October 12, with the wondrous violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja as soloist. The violinist, a k a “PatKop,” has graced Hahn Hall and dazzled with her fresh vision as musical director of the Ojai Music Festival in 2018.

Meanwhile, the season continues a valuable side project, the “Hear and Now” showcase for up-and-coming artists, at Hahn Hall. This series, which once featured a young Yuja Wang, brings us pianist Alexander Malofeev (Jan. 24); the Imani Winds and Boston Brass, together (Feb. 2); violinist with a classical-bluegrass bent Tessa Lark (May 20); and the fascinating Owls quartet (Apr. 11). Timely 805 note: Owls violinist Alexi Kenney was one of the genuine starring elements of last weekend’s Ojai Music Festival, with his stunning media-aided, Bach-anchored Shifting Ground program and more.

As mentioned, Molly Tuttle and band (Dec. 6, Campbell Hall), a Grammy-graced act on the rise, is a surefire calendar-marker. It is part of a “Roots” series also including deep soul/gospel queenly legend Mavis Staples (Oct. 8, Arlington) on the veteran end, and emerging act The War and Treaty (Oct. 8, Arlington) on the newcomer front. Blues fans can soak up the hearty goods of Grammy-nabbing Larkin Poe (Apr. 27, Arlington).

Snarky Puppy | Credit: Ignacio Orrego

Apart from the centerpiece of Marsalis’s big-ish band (13 pieces) appearance, performing the leader’s score to the silent film Louis (May 17, Arlington), the jazz component of the season includes a partying night out with friendly post-fusion band Snarky Puppy (Oct. 1, Arlington). Two important female jazz artists arrive, as well, from keyboard whiz Hiromi’s Sonicwonder band (Apr. 25, Campbell) to a more recent star, alto saxist Lakecia Benjamin and her band Phoenix (Feb. 7, Campbell). We caught Benjamin here as part of the Monterey All-Stars, at Campbell Hall in January 2023.

A “Global Sounds” series wisely ventures beyond America’s borders, from Mexican diva Aida Cuevas (Oct. 20, Arlington) to hybridizing Malian Habib Koité and Bamada (Oct. 30, Campbell Hall) and the Silk Road–sque border-bounding Doos Trio (Kayhan Kalhor, Wu Man and Sandeep Das) (Feb. 19, Campbell).

All in all, A&L promises another rich and varied ride of a musical program from October through May. Time to mark up your calendars.

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