Ask any local music fan about what is missing from the scene and usually you get the same two answers: not enough venues and not enough bands. Of course, there is an unending supply of young hardcore bands who play one show then break up, but when it comes to original, scream-free rock bands, Ventura County is in short supply.
Perhaps both issues will be closer to a resolution when two longtime staples of the scene throw their hats back into the ring. The Selah Cafe, for years a hotbed of local music as the Garden Village Cafe, is reopening under new management, and they’re kicking things off on the sonic side with a free performance by Ventura’s gift to alt-country, Far From Kansas.
Far From Kansas and its members have been playing around Ventura in various incarnations since the late ’90s. The brainchild of two longtime friends, chief songwriter-singer Joel Levin and multi-instrumentalist Frank Cruz, the band has more or less been a side project to their main priority: higher learning.
Education is a running theme in the band’s music and history. Author of over 200 songs, Levin is better known locally as an English teacher at Buena High School, while Cruz spends his days working on his Ph.D. in American literature at UC Berkeley.
Obviously, such a background makes for super-literate songs that drip with Steinbeckian imagery, like “rusted Golden Gate Bridges” and “sunrise in the freezing Barstow desert.” In fact, beyond their obvious influence, John Steinbeck and Bruce Springsteen are both mentioned directly on the group’s new record, The Ghost Inside of You.
Recorded last year and recently released on their own label, Shelter From the Storm Records, the band’s second album finally makes good on Far From Kansas’ long promise of becoming a great band. Full of lyrically rich and hook-filled rock songs, it is an early front-runner for local release of the year. When you add in last month’s sold-out CD release party, it is safe to say that the band is quickly becoming more than just a weekend outlet.
Which leads one to ask: If things continue in such a positive direction, is the band ready to give up the cushy day jobs, leave the wives at home and take to the highways of America they spend so much time singing about? The answer, according to Levin, is yes and no.
“I have a fantastically awesome day job, but I have to be honest and say it would be nice to do both,” he says. “We’ve got no preconceived notions about major label deals, but we would love to find a supportive indie label and tour during the summer. That would be our dream come true.”
It’s a dream that gets a kick-start when Far From Kansas heads out on its first ever tour of California next month — during spring break, appropriately.
Until then, you can catch them for free on March 10 at what just might be the start of a rebirth for a venue, a band and, if we’re all lucky, a scene.