If there was one subject that everyone who attended the inaugural Topa Topa Mountain Folk Festival in Ojai earlier this month was talking about, beyond the tremendous music and overall great vibe, it was the venue itself, Libbey Bowl.
While outdoor bowl concerts are staples of the live music experience in California, Ventura County has long been devoid of such a venue that could handle a legitimate concert. More so, we’ve had to contest with the legendary Hollywood Bowl just south of us and the Santa Barbara Bowl to the north, which is generally considered one of the finer outdoor venues in the United States.
That’s all about to change with the newly remodeled, near-perfect venue nestled in the back of a beautiful park in downtown Ojai.
The Bowl’s history dates back to 1957, when it first opened with none other than iconic composer Aaron Copland conducting a performance of Tender Land. The venue instantly became a local favorite, and the home base for the annual Ojai Music Festival. Initially named Ojai Festival Bowl and located in Civic Center Park, the name was officially changed to Libbey Bowl in the ’70s in honor of Edward Drummond Libbey, who originally donated the land.
Decades of use and exposure to the elements left the primarily wooden Bowl outdated and in rough shape by the turn of the century. The citizens of Ojai turned to former mayor and music lover David Bury (also a renowned architect) to design a new structure that was faithful to the original but modernized as well. A Build the Bowl campaign was started and successfully raised a multimillion-dollar figure to replace the old structure.
Finished in the summer of 2011 (and sadly opened the same week the beloved Bury passed away from prostate cancer), the new Bowl has seats for close to 1,000 with an additional 200 (give or take) in the lawn area. It received rave reviews, but remained a bit of a secret outside of Ojai.
With a series of recent shows that appealed to a more diverse audience, however, and a deal in place to bring in more, there is simply no hiding it anymore. Last month the city of Ojai Council approved a long-discussed bid by concert promoter Sterling Venue Ventures to put on from 10 to 17 events over a four-year period. Sterling is the same company that books the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills and it clearly knows the demographic. Bowl shows this past summer included Rick Springfield and 1960’s stalwarts The Zombies.
For traditionalists who remember the venue’s community-based history, not to worry. The Bowl will remain home to the Ojai Music Festival and is still available to other organizations. Case in point: this weekend’s Don Felder concert, a fundraiser for both Ojai Valley Community Hospital Foundation and Community Memorial Healthcare Foundation.
A member of the Eagles, Felder is not as famous as his other Hotel California cohorts Don Henley, Glen Frey or Joe Walsh — and that’s a real shame, considering that he wrote the music to that iconic song and several other hits. Despite his 27 years in the band, he may now be best-known for the massive fallout (and even more massive lawsuits) that followed Felder’s termination after the band’s reunion in the ’90s and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His biography, Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles, was a best-seller and a critically acclaimed read that reminded many of his importance in the band. It also helped Felder launch a solo career.
What the Felder show will help accomplish, besides raising funds for the new Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura and a new Continuing Care Center in Ojai, though, is the growing belief that Libbey Bowl has become one of the best places to see a concert in all of Ventura County.
Don Felder appears at Libbey Bowl, 210 S. Signal St., Ojai, on Saturday, Oct. 22. For tickets and more information call 800-838-3006 or visit www.libbeybowl.org.