Ross Emery, who has been pounding the drums for 30 years for Ragin’ Arb and the Redheads — the band known as “the Rolling Stones of Ventura” — has taken his band’s famous volatility to a new level: respectability.
He’s the promoter/evangelist behind the new incarnation of the Roadshow Revival (formerly Johnny Cash Music Festival) that has been running in the early summer in Ventura since 2009. In past years it filled the Ventura County Fairgrounds with up to five stages and 10,000 people, featuring performers such as Kris Kristofferson, the Blasters and Los Lobos. Last year, it moved to Mission Park in Downtown Ventura.
This year Los Lobos will be back at the top of the bill, but the festival will be concentrated in a brick-and-mortar location, Discovery Ventura, on July 1.
“I went with Discovery because I like the intimate backyard barbecue feel and because it doesn’t require a $40,000 build-out at the fairgrounds,” Emery said. “Discovery, which is now run by the Pemberton brothers, already has a lot of experience with festivals. They’ve had reggae festivals in Santa Barbara that attracted 30,000 to 60,000 people. They have the bricks and mortar, they take on the risk management. I bring in the sponsors. I’m just driving the cruise ship. We’re still going to be bringing in the people, but on a smaller scale.”
With two stages (indoors and out) and a capacity of around 2,000, it will certainly be a more intimate feel. “The stage is about 750 feet away from the furthest vantage point,” Emery noted.
Thirteen bands will play in addition to Los Lobos. Also on tap will be Raging Arb, Jackass, Hard Six and nearly a dozen other bands, many still featuring the hard blues and rockabilly sound of early Johnny Cash.
“I grew up here in Ventura and I stick to my roots,” Emery said. Many in the crowd will come from out of town, he said, but he’s determined to keep the festival true to the loud, fast, gutty rock ’n’ roll he grew up with.
“I like to see our community thrive and prosper, but I don’t want to get too big and grand like L.A.,” he said. “We still have that ‘Oklahoma by the sea’ feeling and I’m still carrying the torch for that roots music.”
Emery, his brother Toby, and three of his bandmates grew up on the beach in Pierpont, surfing and playing music. Stories by the hundreds stick to the band like barnacles. They were banned by the city from playing at the pier, Emery said, after a near riot at a July 4 show back in 1985. Popular with fans but not so much with venues. Looking for trouble and finding it. Ragin’ Arb was the band of a thousand flings and a million hangovers.
Emery has seen it all, but as much as he still loves the music, he’s backed off from the chaos.
“We have never had one incident in nine years at this festival,” he said of Roadshow Revival. “It’s chill. Here’s my theory about that. If security tells me about some kid who snuck in backstage, I’ll tell them to bring him to me. I’ll shake that kid’s hand and buy him a beer because you know what? I was that kid!”
Emery says it’s a marketing tool. Next year he figures that kid will be back with his friends, buying tickets, because that was how it was for him.
“When I was a kid we snuck into a Little Feat concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl,” he grinned. “We ended up in a limo with two of their daughters listening to the music! I’m hearing Fat Man in the Bathtub in the background — I still don’t know how we did it.”
At the same time, Emery makes clear that he’s sworn off alcohol and found a new way to live, devoted to his family and his “peach” of a woman. He’s also refocused the festival. Although he found early success working with Cindy Cash and highlighting Johnny Cash’s music, after the Cash family estate started a music festival of its own, he had to give up promoting the festival under that name. He says he’s rolled with the punches.
“My spirituality has changed,” he said. “In 2015 I got up on stage with three pastors and read John’s favorite scripture. The crowd was silent. Out of the corner of my eye I saw this biker dude, a badass-looking guy. When he starts clapping, the whole crowd claps. And we’ve become friends.”
His point: Like that biker dude you can wear black and leather, have a beard down to your belly and a baleful stare to match — and still be a good guy. Still be about rock and roll. Emery says that he has changed his life and quit drinking, for the sake of his family and the sake of his health. The pride he takes in being a father and family man and responsible businessman in the community shows through. As does his love for rock and roll.
“When we first started it was about feeding my ego and my addiction to alcohol, but now it’s about sharing the music, real American music, with the kids today,” he said. “When you come to this event, you will see a celebration of American roots music. You see everybody at this event, the pin-up girls, the Latino kids, everybody. We bring in bands that sound like Johnny or Waylon or Willie. We had the Blasters three years in a row. We’ve got Los Lobos coming back this year. We’ve played with all these guys. These guys are my friends.”
The Roadshow Revival will be on Saturday, July 1, at Discovery Ventura, 1888 E. Thompson Blvd., Ventura. Doors open at 11:30 a.m. For tickets and more information, visit www.roadshowrevival.com.