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Making lemonade

After being snubbed by the Downtown Association, bands host their own concert



Concerts in the Plaza has announced its summer line-up, setting the stage for another fun series of Friday shows, but some bands and their fans are scratching their heads at the selections. For instance, why aren't perennial favorites Sugar Daddy Swing Kings playing? (They turned their application in one day late.) And why haven't Cadillac Angels, who set an attendance record two years ago causing the alcohol vendor to run out of drinks long before the show ended, been invited back?

THEY DID IT THEEEEIR WAY! :  The Ballistic Cats and Tony Balbinot (inset) of the Cadillac Angels are hosting their own concert in Mission Plaza on June 8. - PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE BALLISTIC CATS AND CADILLAC ANGELS
  • THEY DID IT THEEEEIR WAY! : The Ballistic Cats and Tony Balbinot (inset) of the Cadillac Angels are hosting their own concert in Mission Plaza on June 8.

# "It just seems that many of these so-called city 'entertainment' committees are stuck in a rut, playing it safe, while great groups collect rejection notices like utility bills," said Cadillac Angels frontman Tony Balbinot. His Santa Barbara-based roots rock act has teamed with local roots rockers The Ballistic Cats and rock/surf/new wave act Tres Gatos to create a concert of their own.

On Friday, June 8, the three acts will perform a free 5:30 p.m. show, called "Under the Radar," at SLO's Mission Plaza Amphitheater. The bands decided to play by their own rules and run their own show, organizing and paying for the concert themselves and it wasn't cheap. In addition to permits and insurance required by the city, they also had to provide security and follow some rather strange rules, such as putting nothing down storm drains not even ice! The concert, unlike those sponsored by the Downtown Association, will also be alcohol-free because the permits and insurance for that added feature were prohibitively expensive.

Cal Poly professor Matthew White of The Ballistic Cats, whose debut recording is being produced by Balbinot at Cambria's Painted Sky Studios, decided to join the concert because of big changes in the music industry. While recording and self-promotion opportunities have exploded for up-and-coming bands, live music venues and chances to play have been drying up.

"It's tough to get a new band out there now," said White, who added that his band will "get exposure and get to play for all ages, which is really important, actually. Mostly we get the satisfaction of presenting our music to the people. These days, musicians have to take things into their own hands."

Balbinot has been touring for decades and has seen performance opportunities dry up: "The pay has gone steadily down. $300 used to be the going rate for a gig, and now it's $200. Meanwhile, when we started touring, gas was 89 cents a gallon and you could get a motel room for $20."

So why spend more than $1,000 to put on a free concert?

"Matthew and I split the cost of the permits and insurance, and Tres Gatos is covering the cost of the sound system, so it basically works out to a three-way split," Balbinot said. "We're going to pass the hat, and if everyone throws in a buck or two, we'll be okay."

Balbinot's not sure why his band hasn't been invited to play Concerts in the Plaza: "Two years ago we broke all attendance records. They ran out of alcohol and we ended up on the TV news. After the show, [Downtown Association representatives] came up gushing about how great we were and how they hoped we come back next year. Then last year we turned in our application and we got rejected! I called and said, 'Do you remember the conversation we had last year?' She said sheepishly, 'Yes.' 'What happened?' I asked. 'How'd we go from "Please come back next year" to rejected?' 'Well, it's by vote,' she said."

Tres Gatos, which the Downtown Association often taps to play the SLO Farmers' Market, also collected their fifth rejection notice in a row.

"Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo's [summer live music series] may as well be Siamese twins," Balbinot said. "The politics and the types of music they're willing to book are eerily similar. I don't think they give the public much credit on the range of music they'd like to hear. They seem to keep it to what I like to call the 'Mustang Sally' syndrome."

According to Julie Jeter (Jules Vern of Tres Gatos), her band decided to join the show because "the Downtown Association has managed to water down the Concerts in the Plaza into a homogenous stew of nethermusic and limit the talent pool to an elite. We know there is more creativity and talent out there to share. We've seen it. This is our chance to support the fellow underdogs."

According to Balbinot, this concert series is indicative of the entire state of the music scene: "When I first got into the business, my three goals were to play L.A., get a record deal, and get on the radio. Now those are the exact things I shun. These days, a record deal is basically a business loan against possible sales. Why would I do that? I make money off the records I produce myself. And commercial radio has become a junkyard for Bible thumpers, Rush Limbaugh, and the Eagles. Did you know where the new Eagles CD is going to be exclusively sold at? Wal-Mart! And the first gig of their tour is playing for the bigwigs at corporate office. I don't say this to bash the Eagles but to show how far things have slid in the music business. Look at the Mid-State Fair. The big-name acts that are there aren't playing because the Mid-State Fair is a big gig. They're there because that's the best they can do now, and that shift down can be felt all the way to Concerts in the Plaza. I mean, we're down in the trenches armed with a 22 going against a Howitzer."

Return of the Beat

JUST CAN'T STOP IT :  English Beat frontman Dave Wakeling returns with his band to Downtown Brew on June 8. - PHOTO COURTESY OF DAVE WAKELING
  • JUST CAN'T STOP IT : English Beat frontman Dave Wakeling returns with his band to Downtown Brew on June 8.
# A few months ago a newly reformed configuration of the classic late-'70s and '80s ska band the English Beat played Downtown Brew. I can honestly say I've never seen the club and I go there a lot more energized, packed, and happy. I looked out across a sea of bopping heads from the stage stretching all the way back to the front door, and people were going off! Girls were screaming for Dave Wakeling, who looked and sounded like he did 20 years ago.

The group ripped through all of their classic hits, from the Smokey Robinson cover "Tears of a Clown" to their own hits, such as "Mirror in the Bathroom" and "Stand Down Margaret," an anti-Thatcher ode that showed the band's political leanings. Now the English Beat returns on Friday, June 8, for an 8 p.m. show ($22 advance at Boo Boo's). Local reggae act The Kicks will open. Get ready to skank for your life!

After the Crowes
Former Black Crowes blues-guitar guru Marc Ford hasn't let his departure from his famous former band slow down his creative juices. His new debut solo CD Weary and Wired is an album full of classic rock riffs and blues-soaked Southern rock twang.

BUILT FORD TOUGH :  Former Black Crowes guitar guru Marc Ford is on his own and playing June 9 at Downtown Brew. - PHOTO COURTESY OF MARC FORD
  • BUILT FORD TOUGH : Former Black Crowes guitar guru Marc Ford is on his own and playing June 9 at Downtown Brew.

# "My influences go way beyond as I do not play nor do I listen to rock," Ford explained. "What influences my playing is folk, blues, jazz, gospel, country, reggae, and the list goes on."

With the Crowes, Ford played before crowds of 50,000 people and sold millions of records, but you can see him on Saturday, June 9, in Downtown Brew at 8 p.m. ($8 advance at Boo Boo's or $10 at the door).

The Travis Larson Band opens the show. The progressive rock trio begins a national summer tour this month to support their newest album, Rate Of Change, and much of the tour will be on Digitech's new 53-foot Digi-Truck, a rolling stage and guitar effects showcase sponsored by the music gear manufacturer.

Grassroots special
Usually Downtown Brew's Grassroots Tuesdays is a group of local acts playing pint night with a scant $2 cover, but on Tuesday, June 12, the club has booked Hawaiian singer-songwriter John Cruz but it's still only two bucks to get in! Now that's philanthropy for you. Thanks, Downtown Brew, for subsidizing our Tuesday.

Cruz, a Grammy-winner, recently released One of the These Days, an album 10 years in the making that follows up his debut Acoustic Soul. The new album marks the end of a decade of turbulence and personal struggles, and a fresh beginning for his life and music. The title track was supposed to be the last song on Acoustic Soul when it was recorded back in 1996, but it didn't make the cut. This year, re-vamped and better than ever, it's the first song on the new album, symbolically picking up right where his first album left off.

Local performer Shane Stoneman will open.

More music
I'm not exactly sure why Minneapolis-based quintet Quietdrive has "quiet" in its name. The band rocks pretty hard in that radio-friendly, pop-hook-meets-stadium-anthem way. The band, which has toured nationally five times, is currently on the road supporting its Epic

Records debut, When All That's Left Is You, and new single, "Time After Time" (a cover of the Cyndi Lauper hit). They're playing Farmers' Market on Thursday, June 7, at the corner of Osos and Higuera St., from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

GOOD OLD FASHIONED FUN :  The second annual Village Summer Concert Series begins on June 10 at the Rotary Bandstand on the Village Green in the Historic Village of Arroyo Grande with The Mud Skippers (pictured) and the 24-member Nipomo High School Jazz Band. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE MUD SKIPPERS
  • GOOD OLD FASHIONED FUN : The second annual Village Summer Concert Series begins on June 10 at the Rotary Bandstand on the Village Green in the Historic Village of Arroyo Grande with The Mud Skippers (pictured) and the 24-member Nipomo High School Jazz Band.

# Former Mighty Croon Dogs singer Laura Lee Carvalho passed away about a month ago, forcing the band to regroup. Now one of the Central Coast's favorite dance bands has a new line-up of veteran groove-makers. Bandleader "Guitar Wizard" Billy Foppiano said, "It's kinda spooky that the band has come full circle, back to some of our original members from a decade ago. Guess the planets and stars have lined up correctly, and we're very excited about the total new sound." The line-up now includes Frankie Paredes on bass, Jerome Taylor on drums, and Scotty Wright on saxophone. Check them out at the Clubhouse on Saturday, June 9. Don't forget the Foothill Boulevard roadhouse offers a free shuttle. in SLO. Call 548-8500 for details.

The Rhythm Brothers are back by popular demand at Matt's Music Stage & School, formerly Divine Appointment Guitars, which recently held a contest to find a new name. Lead by gypsy jazz player Raul Reynoso, the group also features ripping mandolinist Kenny Blackwell. The fun starts at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 9. Call 237-0054 to reserve your $20 ticket.

Pocket Productions has another great evening of indie rock lined up for Saturday, June 9, at the Steynberg Gallery. Electronic artist Lucky Dragons, alternafolkster Bobby Birdman, and Powdered Wigs play at 8 p.m. for $8. Learn more about the artists on, bobbbirdman, or powderedwigs.

The Cal Poly Wind Orchestra and Wind Ensemble will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, June 9, in Harman Hall in the Performing Arts Center's Christopher Cohan Center. The concert features the world premiere of "Grand Opening" by film composer and former Wind Ensemble member Eric Schmidt. You'll also hear Music Department Chair and award-winning pianist W. Terrence Spiller playing Frigyes Hidas' Piano Concerto No. 1, as well as selections performed by student players Mark Miller and Neil Jansen. Tickets range from $8 to $19, available at the PAC Ticket Office or by calling 756-2787.

Coalesce Bookstore hosts a scholarship concert for Cambrian Sam Shalhoub at 7 p.m. on Saturday, June 9. Shalhoub is the recipient of the G. Roger Bailey Classical Guitar Student Scholarship. Under the tutelage of classical guitarist James Edwards for the past six months, Shalhoub is also well versed on the piano and bass, alto, and soprano clarinet. He'll perform music from the Baroque, classical, and romance periods. Tickets are $15 (772-2880), and all sales go to Shalhoub's scholarship fund.

Cal Poly's award-winning Take It SLO ensemble will present a review of contemporary a cappella arrangements at its second annual Spring Concert at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 9, in Cal Poly's Chumash Auditorium. The 14-member ensemble will perform the popular hit "Survivor" by Destiny's Child, "My Hero" by the Foo Fighters, "Put Your Records On," by Corrinne Bailey Rae, and a Beach Boys medley. Tickets are $5 at the door.

SLO's Tridosha Healing Center is hosting a Tibetan Bell Experience on Saturday, June 9, with Karma Moffett, who will perform meditative vibrations on ancient Tibetan instruments. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. ($15 advance by calling 544-8120 or $20 at the door). You can also enjoy a $10 Tridosha Ayurvedic dinner served at 5:30 p.m. Reservations required.

A concert scheduled for Sunday, June 10 at 3 p.m. at the Cal Poly Performing Arts Center marks the end of an era. Gary Lamprecht will be directing the San Luis Obispo High School choirs for the final concert of his 34-year teaching career in the district. The concert will include the Advanced Treble Chorus as well as the award-winning stage and concert choirs. Soprano Inga Swearingen, an alumna of SLO High, will be a featured artist on the program. Alumni are encouraged to attend and join the choirs in singing the traditional closing song "Children of the Heavenly Father." Tickets are $10, available at the SLO High Choir department and at the PAC Ticket Office, or call 596-4050, Ext. 2964, or 756-2787 to order by phone.

After Swearingen plays the first half of the aforementioned concert, she'll dash over to St. Benedict's in Los Osos to play the second half of a 3 p.m. concert with the Real Times Jazz Band. This one costs $35 for adults and $20 for minors. Call 782-0400.

Arroyo Grande surf guitar legend Merrell Fankhauser, the guy behind the classic '60s song "Wipe Out," has a new CD out: Rockin And Surfin Vol 2. "Willie Nelson plays with me and the band on 'Wipe Out,'" explained Fankhauser, who plays Sunday, June 10, at Mongo's in Grover Beach from 4 to 6 p.m. (This will be a weekly event). "I'm still at Fins Saturdays and Sundays noon to 3 p.m. and also playing down in Nipomo at Pacific Breeze Cafe Fridays from 5 to 8 p.m." Head to one of these gigs and bring some extra cash for Fankhauser's killer new CD, which contains 13 original surf rock songs.

The second annual Village Summer Concert Series begins on Sunday, June 10, at the Rotary Bandstand on the Village Green in the Historic Village of Arroyo Grande. The first 1 p.m., free concert features the 24-member Nipomo High School Jazz Band under the direction of Alissa Aune. The Mud Skippers close the show with their special blend of Mardi Gras and Dixieland music. Go to for a complete schedule.

Robby Longley returns to Painted Sky Studios for another concert of beautifully orchestrated neo-classical/flamenco fusion, at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, June 10. A true guitar master, Longley took first place, winning eight out of eight prestigious guitar competitions in Southern California. Tickets ($15) are available at Boo Boo Records and the Cambria Business Center, or by calling 927-8330.

Philadelphia singer-songwriter Nora Whittaker returns to the Central Coast for several appearances: 6 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday, June 11 and 12, at F. McLintocks Saloon & Dining House in Shell Beach 8 p.m. on Wednesday, June 13, at Mongos 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 14, at Frog and Peach and 4 p.m. on Friday, June 15, outside Mr. Ricks at the Avila Beach farmers' market. This is the singer-pianist's third time touring the Central Coast, playing her own brand of blue-eyed soul, the "love child of Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin."

Glen Starkey finds you intoxicating. Let him tell you all about the hangover you caused at


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