Time has left its mark on the Majestic Ventura Theater, but it hasn’t stolen the spotlight from this grand dame of local entertainment. Now turning 90 years old, she celebrates her longevity with style, offering a concert headlined by no fewer than five bands.
“We’ve never really done a birthday bash before,” says Stefan Brigati, who books shows and helped organize the event. “We hope to bring a lot of attention to these newer bands.”
This Saturday, the venue will commemorate its many years in service to Southern California music fans with a show featuring performers whose offerings are as diverse as the theater’s own history. Taking the stage will be Robot Nature (synth pop), Plan Your Escape (pop punk), Half Past the Revolution (metal), Herbal Rootz (reggae) and The Inside Break (alt and surf rock). The one common thread: geography. Most are local bands.
“We’re trying to show the local talent and local acts,” Brigati confirms. “We got away from that and lost touch with the local community a bit.”
The Downtown Ventura landmark has seen change aplenty in her nine decades. Built in 1928 in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, the Ventura Theater was originally designed as an opulent “movie palace,” a lavish type of venue that became popular in the early 1900s as the film industry sought to attract a more upscale audience. Over time, the space became used for a variety of entertainment: vaudeville, stage plays, a dinner-nightclub and even, for a few years in the 1970s, adult films. But the Ventura Theater’s greatest claim to fame is the one that she has resolutely embodied since the 1980s: one of the county’s main venues for live music concerts.
Seemingly everyone who mattered (in just about every genre) has played here: Ray Charles, Willie Nelson, B.B. King, The Ramones, Bruce Springsteen, Black Sabbath, Joan Baez, Jackson Browne, Peter Gabriel, George Clinton . . . the list goes on. Hitmakers of yesteryear, legends in their own time, up-and-comers and even famous contemporary artists (many of whom used the theater as a warm up ahead of Coachella or bigger shows in Los Angeles) have all graced the Ventura Theater’s stage. It’s fitting, then, that the anniversary show will be just as eclectic.
Brigati says that showcasing such variety is intentional.
“We used to have more rock-based acts,” says Brigati, adding that the theater has expanded beyond reggae and punk to book more pop, modern and rap bands. “I think it’s a great change. We’re going into new territory . . . and it shows more diversity.”
Other trends Brigati sees as the Ventura Theater works its way toward 100 years: different types of events, and more festivals with multiple bands performing.
“Frost and Fire — that’s been a great one,” he says by example, citing the heavy metal festival that started in Ventura in 2015 and has grown in size and reputation since. Frost and Fire IV takes place Oct. 4-6. “That’s a huge three-day event. It’s really taken off. . . . We also have a punk rock show coming up with Black Flag. It’s going to be huge. They haven’t been together in so many years!”
Also on the horizon: the nonmusical venture, Ventura County Toy Con, debuting in September. “Who doesn’t love to play with toys?” Brigati says with a laugh.
Loanne Wullaert, longtime theater manager, is looking forward to the upcoming Gavin DeGraw concert in August.
“I’m a big fan of Gavin DeGraw,” Wullaert says of the singer/songwriter. “He’s someone from nowhere who came from nothing and sang what’s in his heart. . . . Love comes out in the way he sings. . . . If you can generate that same feeling and same kind of sound in a live environment, then you are amazing.”
“This is a chance to see him in a more intimate setting,” Brigati adds.
That setting isn’t as luxurious as it was in its early days. The fountains and plush furniture are long gone, the carpet is showing its age and the gilt on the walls is coming off. But the Majestic Ventura Theater still evinces a somewhat tarnished beauty, and retains its heart and soul — qualities that have done more to bolster the local music community than opulent surroundings ever could. Give the old gal her due: We should all be going as strong at 90 years of age.
The Ventura Theater’s 90th Birthday Bash takes place on Saturday, July 28, at 8 p.m. at 26 S. Chestnut St., Ventura. For tickets and more information, call 805-653-0721 or visit www.venturatheater.net.