Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Spencer ready to rock Fiesta


Despite rumors to the contrary, Spencer Barnitz is not Santa Barbara’s unofficial rock ‘n’ roll Fiesta ambassador. It just seems that way.
Barnitz and his band, Spencer the Gardener, have performed at virtually every Old Spanish Days Celebration since the group formed nearly 20 years ago, most memorably at the Mercado at De La Guerra Plaza.

This year is no exception. In fact, Barnitz and the band will be playing somewhere all four nights of the celebration. That might seem like overkill for both the audience and the musicians, but Spencer’s concerts are always packed. And the singer-songwriter-guitarist never gets tired of playing this time of year.
“Fiesta was always something for me as a kid that I just really liked,” Barnitz, a Santa Barbara native, said yesterday. “It was always a super fun time in town. I carried that with me into adulthood.”
Barnitz also said that learning to sing in Spanish had dividends beyond Fiesta, helping to shape his world music sound that crosses genres and borders.
“It influenced me in playing all the different styles of music that I do, especially Latin, of course,” he said.
Spencer the Gardener’s first Fiesta gig of 2008 comes at tonight’s kick-off party at Casa Cantina, in the courtyard of Casa De La Guerra, directly across the street from the Mercado. It’s a date the band has played for the last couple of years.
“I really like that space,” Barnitz said. “It has a timeless historical quality. When you’re playing there, it feels like it could still be 1920, 1950 or 1990.”
Spencer the Gardener will also play tomorrow night at Shalhoub’s for the restaurant’s unofficial Fiesta celebration, Friday from 5 to 7 p.m. at El Mercado Del Norte in MacKenzie Park and Saturday back at De La Guerra Plaza, when Barnitz and the boys will play the final set of the weekend from 8 to 10 p.m.
Four shows in four dates might be taxing for anyone, but Barnitz, who lives in an apartment above what used to be Jimmy’s Restaurant on Canon Perdido St., just two blocks from De La Guerra Plaza, said he’s ready, despite having undergone open-heart surgery less than four months ago to repair a faulty valve.
“It was very strange, very surreal,” Barnitz said. “I didn’t have any symptoms that were noticeable. I just went about my day. It’s hereditary and I have it monitored, and one day the doctor just said ‘It’s time.’ I’m thinking, ‘Wow I don’t feel bad at all. Then I had the surgery and I felt awful for a while.”
But he’s been up and at ’em again for more than a month now, ready to maintain Spencer the Gardener’s somewhat misleading reputation as the Fiesta party band.
“We are a festive sounding band, so that makes a lot of sense. And our last CD was called ‘Fiesta,’ but that was made not only for the locals but also for the world. But not that’s all that I do.”
Indeed, the band’s new album, due next spring or summer, will be called “Breaking My Own Heart,” for obvious reasons.
On the other hand, though, the Fiesta gigs have always come in handy in a town that finds it hard to support local bands with any kind of regularity.
“We can just stay home and play for four days straight,” he said. “That’s hard to do in Santa Barbara any other time of the year.”

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