Blues, beer and barbecue have long combined to form a Sunday afternoon tradition. From downtown bars to backwater saloons, it is an offering that has become a cultural staple embraced across the country. So when it was decided that Ventura’s California Beer Festival should branch out into a second day for its 2011 installment, organizers couldn’t think of a better marriage of merriment.
Not only will the annual festival celebrate some of the finest boutique breweries the country has to offer, but this year’s event will also include a stellar lineup of quality blues music. While Saturday’s emphasis will be on the numerous varieties of craft beer and the traditional sampling thereof, on Sunday it will be barbecue and music that take center stage.
When event organizer Vincenzo Giammanco decided to place a greater emphasis upon the music, a blues-orientated undertaking featuring the likes of Tommy Castro, Chris Cain and Coco Montoya was the obvious choice.
“I am really excited about this because the area hasn’t really seen this big of a blues lineup ever,” Giammanco said.
“When you’re booking bands, it can be hit or miss. But all these guys were available, so, for our first time coming out of the gate, we’re coming out with all guns blazing. We didn’t have a blues festival in Ventura and now we do.”
The beer festival, which now enters its third year, will again be staged in downtown Ventura’s Mission Park. The event was not only designed to give a platform for craft breweries, which often struggle to get attention among their corporate counterparts, but also to bring visitors to downtown Ventura.
“We have had about 4,000 people come to downtown Ventura for each of the past festivals,” says Giammanco. “The hotels were pretty much sold out and people stayed in town and spent a ton of money.”
Part of the motivation for staging the event in downtown Ventura three years ago was as a way to bring people to the area, and thus to local businesses, in the wake of the economic downturn. Which makes the advent of this year’s
Blues, Brews and BBQ event on Sunday all the more fitting.
The origins of blues music and the role it plays in bringing people together in celebration, no matter the social or economic climate, is by no means lost on Tommy Castro, who headlines the Sunday event.
“This music was born out of tough times,” explained Castro. “You have to break out once in a while and enjoy yourself. Whether it is in a little juke joint somewhere in Mississippi or at a blues festival in Ventura, this music has always been about that.”
Having commenced his musical career playing in cover bands in the Bay Area during the ’70s, Castro has carved an illustrious career in rhythm and blues. Not only has he recorded and released more than a dozen albums and gathered numerous Blues Music Awards from the Blues Foundation, but he has achieved perhaps the highest honor any blues man could have bestowed on him — having the immortal John Lee Hooker singing on one of his albums.
“A friend of mine used to play bass with him, and we would go over to his house from time to time and hang out,”
Castro recalled. “And one time when we were there, we recorded him singing on one of my tracks. That turned out to be just a week before he died. I still have this image of him sitting on his couch singing into the microphone that day.”
Another one of the performers anxious to embrace the festival experience is self-taught blues and jazz exponent Chris Cain. Like his colleague, it is the opportunity to take his music directly to the people and the communal experience that imparts which has him enthused about the pending festival.
Sunday’s party will additionally feature a barbecue cook-off. While 20 teams from across the state will compete for the honors, it is not only the victors who are destined to enjoy the spoils. The public will also get to sample the barbecued bounty to the soundtrack of some of the finest blues music ever to congregate in Ventura.
“I was telling my dad the other that even if only 100 people show up on Sunday, it going to be the best concert they have ever seen in Ventura,” Giammanco enthused. “We got the three Bs – blues, brews and barbecue – they all go together.”
The California Beer and Blues Festival will take place at Mission Park in Ventura from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 17, and noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 18. Saturday is for ages 21 and older, Sunday is open to all ages with craft beer available for purchase but no sampling. For more information, visit www.californiabeerfestival.com.