Thursday, July 3, 2008

Muldaur kicks off concert series


The July 4th weekend is here, and that means picnics, barbecues, beaches – and lots of music being played in the great outdoors.

In a strange twist of fate, the Santa Barbara Bowl – the biggest open air venue of them all in Santa Barbara’s South Coast – will be dormant for four solid midsummer weeks dating back to last Thursday’s 311/Snoop Dogg concert. The music drought doesn’t end until July 25, when Mercy Me and David Crowder kick off a period boasting six concerts in two weeks, including the first appearances in years of classic rock Bowl alumni John Mellencamp, James Taylor, Steve Miller and Joe Cocker.
But the city’s popular Concerts in the Park series gets underway tonight at the sea breeze-blessed Chase Palm Park, just a few blocks west of Stearns Wharf. The Parks & Rec series has really upped the ante for the season kick off, bringing Maria Muldaur – the purveyor of one of the sultriest radio hits in history. “Midnight at the Oasis” – back to town less than a year after she headlined at a Santa Barbara Blues Society concert.
In recent years, Muldaur has mostly eschewed the folk/jugband/singer-songwriter path she traveled in the early days – when the jazz-inflected “Oasis” became a surprise left-field hit – in favor of delving into an exploration of American roots music, including paying tribute to old-time women pioneers of the blues Bessie Smith, Memphis Minnie, Sippie Wallace and others.
Muldaur has earned nominations for a W.C. Handy Award as well as two Grammy Award nods in the Traditional Blues Category in 2005.
The blues mama approach was the gist of her SBBS gig last September.
But she’s also immersed herself in the swamps of Louisiana, playing Cajun, Zydeco and other upbeat music from the region. It’s within this latter iteration Muldaur will perform tonight, accompanied by her Red Hot Bluesiana Band.
“We’ve been trying to get her here for three years, so everybody is thrilled that she’s opening the series,” said Judith Cook McCaffrey, Recreation Programs Manager, who has been in charge of the  Chase Palm Park concerts since the program began some eight years ago. “She’s the real deal. It’s going to be a great show.”
The Chase Palm Park series continues every Thursday (save for Fiesta week) through late August, featuring a smorgasboard of musical styles for the family-oriented concerts. The idea is to balance genres and expose the concert-going audience to music they might not otherwise hear, McCaffrey said.
“I try give people a taste of music they might not normally choose to come to if they were paying for it,” she said. “But I’ve come to know this audience as the years have gone by. We do a survey every week, and get them to fill out comment cards. And what they tell us is that they want to dance. That’s why they come.” 
Catering to those tastes is the biggest change over the years, McCaffrey said.
“I’m booking fewer groups of non-danceable music,” she said. “Within those parameters, I’m getting as wide a range as I can arrange.”
Accordingly, the remainder of the season is not only devoted to dance-inducing acts, but also ones that have been here before.
So Cal country band Coldwater Canyon (July 10) was a huge hit when they played at Chase Palm Park last summer, McCaffrey said.
“They played 45 minutes longer than they were supposed to, which nobody had ever done before. They just kept playing and we couldn’t shut it off with the crowd dancing right to the end, as they jammed away. It had gotten so dark, you could see the clouds of heat rising above the musicians, like steam coming off their bodies.”
Loekane Pryor (Aug. 7) hasn’t performed since the first year of the series, McCaffrey said.
“He sinced moved to Hawaii full time, but it just worked out that he has a new CD out and is on tour on the mainland, so we were able to get him,” she said.
The other acts performing this summer include: ‘60s hits band Captain Cardiac & the Coronaries (July 17), ‘70s soul-dance-party band Soul City Survivors (July 24), Lisa Haley & Zydekats (Aug. 14), and Raymond Michael’s “Tribute to the King,” Elvis Presley (Aug. 21).
The concerts take place 6 to 8:30 p.m., and admission, as always, is free. Bring lawn chairs, blankets, picnics (but no alcohol, please) and dancing shoes (since the ground can get a bit prickly in the bald spots) and make it an evening under the stars in one of Santa Barbara’s favorite family-oriented summer pastimes.
The much smaller Alameda Park series also gets underway this weekend, with the Mari Martin Band performing from 3 to 4:30 p.m. on Sunday. Best known as the charismatic co-lead singer of popular funk party band Area 51, Martin also sings blues and jazz, all of which meet in her own solo shows. The shorter series also features world music with the Gilberto Gonzalez Band (July 11), classic and modern country band CRV (July 6), and traditional Hawaiian music group Kaleo Naea (July 27).
Call 897-1982 or visit

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