In the early part of the decade, the local music scene was riding high. From dive bars to all-ages venues and everything in between, Ventura was a boom town.
Then in 2007, the bottom dropped out. A perfect storm of venue closures, band break-ups, recession and a cultural shift away from live music left the scene devastated.
Strangely, there was one key player whose absence directly correlated to the timeline of local live music’s demise. His abrupt departure from a scene he helped create left many local artists wondering why he left and what would happen if he ever returned. Now with the music scene on an upswing, the man in question, Brian Parra, has returned.
The 33-year-old Oxnard native, a passionate local music fan started the American Cheese Band in the 1990s. A fixture on the popular open-mic circuit back then, Parra found his true calling in the actual organizing and promotion of shows and bands.
Parra and friends soon formed Blackbird Music and began booking shows and hosting open-mics in various venues.
When they set up shop at the Livery Theater in 2002, though, Blackbird took flight and for five glorious years, ran Sunday night shows at the small downtown theater. Booking virtually any and every local band during that time, along with a who’s who of soon to be massive artists including The Plain White Ts, Yellowcard, Sugarcult, Motion City Soundtrack and more, Blackbird was the heart and soul of the local all-ages music scene.
Parra and Blackbird’s reputation was built on an honest, put-the-artist-first-at-all-costs attitude (including often pulling money out of pocket to cover costs.) They even started a label which put out releases by local artists like Le Meu Le Purr, Franklin For Short and The Missing 23rd.
By 2007, Parra noticed the previously mentioned changes in the air, and between slowing crowds and growing expenses, Blackbird ceased the weekly Livery shows.
Then life, as it often does, got in the way. Despite helping to turn Billy O’s into a happening spot (he invented the still strong weekly residency nights), Parra married and started a family which led to an almost instant break from the music scene.
His partner, Travis Whitlock, took over the label duties of the Blackbird business and moved up north while Parra, for the most part, retired and assumed that naturally someone would come in and fill the void of local promoter to start another healthy scene.
As previously stated, that didn’t quite happen. Instead things hit rock bottom in his absence. Then in 2009, as well documented in these very pages, the Ventura County music scene fought back from the brink of total annihilation.
Despite a healthy domestic life, that new energy couldn’t help but inspire and motivate Parra, who is back on the local music frontlines with Saturday Night Sound (SNS), a multi-faceted professional company that employs all the vast experience of his many years in music promotion.
The new venture acts as a one-stop shop for pro audio sound, audio and venue consultation, karaoke and DJ services at reasonable prices, but with an emphasis on quality and friendly service. What’s got local artists buzzing most though about SNS is the talent and booking division.
While some may herald the return of Parra as the saving grace of the local music scene, or at the very least the missing piece, Parra remains completely humble.
“I was always just one aspect of the scene. During the two years I was gone, I was surprised how much I really missed it. The bands, the clubs, the people,” he says. “I have a newfound drive to be involved again. I think it’s going be a great year for the local music scene.”