Get ready to get happy! This year’s Ventura Music Festival lineup promises another interesting mélange of musical styles during its two-week run, and the schedule is packed with joy. From Pink Martini’s groovy tunes at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center to an encore performance by Ojai’s Perla Batalla (last year’s Leonard Cohen tribute was deeply moving; this year she takes on Frida Kahlo) at Ventura College Performing Arts Center (VCPAC) to the entertaining guitar virtuosity of El Twanguero, fine classical artists and more, there is, once again, something for just about every musical taste under the sun.
The festival kicks off on Thursday with delightful “gypsy jazz” at the historic Olivas Adobe courtyard led by Grammy-winning multi-instrumentalist and Ventura resident John Jorgenson. Attendees can pack a picnic for preconcert dining and there will be a full bar. Jorgenson, on acoustic guitar, mandolin and vocals, brings an all-star quintet that includes Casey Driscoll, Rory Hoffman, Simon Planting and Rick Reed.
Friday afternoon, it’s the ever-popular “Tea and Trumpets” at the Pierpont Inn that includes a four-course English tea with the fanfare. That evening, El Twanguero, aka Spanish guitarist Diego Garcia, promises to “mash it up” with his mix of blues, rock, Flamenco and Latin twang backed up by muy caliente musicians with Español/Chicano/funk sounds and rhythms.
Garcia, a double Latin Grammy-winner and recent transplant to California, divides his time between L.A. studio work and gigs and European tours.
“I’m really excited to play the festival! Ventura is going to be the first to premiere my new record, Electric Sunset. It’s a very eclectic album that’s like a map of L.A.,” says Garcia. “I just moved to California, so playing in the area gives me exposure in the U.S. It’s an honor to perform on the same program as other musicians like John Jorgenson, who I’d love to play with!”
Saturday night, the amazing 12-member orchestra Pink Martini, which enjoys a huge following for its lounge/classical/jazz/pop sound, promises to blow the roof off the Oxnard Performing Arts Center. The group performed at the VMF in 2008, and fans have been awaiting the Portland-based group’s return for a decade. Leading vocals will be China Forbes.
Sunday afternoon, it’s time for Beethoven and Dvořák performed by Trio Céleste at Ventura College Performing Arts Center with a preconcert talk by VMF Artistic Director Nuvi Mehta.
The following week — July 18-22 — promises more musical jewels. On Wednesday, there will be a free public concert of upbeat cumbias, revamped doo-wop and American classics thanks to Jarabe Mexicano.
“This is a real addition this year,” notes VMF Executive Director Susan Scott. “Jarabe Mexicano is performing a free full-length concert outdoors. Normally there would be some hefty ticket prices. They are tremendous and will knock it out of the park!”
This fiesta will take place at Mission Park on Main Street (across from the mission). Be sure to wear your dancing shoes and bring low chairs, blankets and possibly a picnic.
Akropolis Reed Quintet performs on Friday night at VCPAC with a special nod to Leonard Bernstein and his jazz-classical composition Prelude Fugue and Riffs as well as Gershwin’s American in Paris, Duke Ellington’s River and John Steinmetz’s Sorrow and Celebration. Steinmetz states in the program notes that, “The deaths of two young African American men, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, were on my mind. Sometimes sorrow, in bringing people together, can cut through the illusion of separateness, and that is cause for gratitude and celebration.”
Crowd pleaser Perla Batalla returns to present her “Frida Kahlo Song Cycle” celebrating the famous artist and her tumultuous relationship with fellow artist/husband/tormentor Diego Rivera on Saturday night.
Last but not least, the festival takes its final bow on Sunday afternoon with Malashock Dance — a choreographed departure and something different.
“Last year was so very good, we wanted to at least meet that level, and I am absolutely confident we’ve done so. It’s certainly terrific and people are going to love it,” exclaims Scott.
“Music has a unique capacity to bring people together,” she continues. “There is no festival without people — and when people come together it makes a sense of community. . . . A shared community is a very lovely thing.”
This year’s lineup is terrific, but next year is the 25th anniversary. Stay tuned for a pretty amazing 2019 festival. Scott is already making big plans.
“It’s going to be bigger! A year-long silver anniversary celebration,” she teased.
The Ventura Music Festival takes place July 12-22. Schedules, venues and ticket prices vary. For more information, call 805-648-3146 or visit www.venturamusicfestival.org.