In what is becoming a late-summer mainstay in Ventura, the Ventura Hillsides Music Festival is making its sixth appearance, and as with its predecessors, the organizers pulled off quite a coup in getting some top-name talent for a cause that is coming more and more to the forefront.
Veteran road warriors Little Feat will headline the show, supporting their latest record Join the Band. Also on the bill is the dobro-wielding Taj Mahal, who has spent the last 40 years taking the blues in many crazy directions. Singer-songwriter
Mason Jennings is also on the bill, along with the reputable local representation in the form Todd Hannigan & the Heavy 29s and Rey Fresco.
The proceeds will go to the Ventura Hillsides Conservancy (VHC), whose mission is to permanently preserve the hillsides, canyons and open space in and around Ventura. Most of this land is private property, so the conservancy seeks creative ways to not only keep the land from being developed, but to also develop opportunities for public access.
“We work with landowners and government agencies to conserve land,” says Stephen Svete, president of the Council of Trustees for VHC. “We work to own land or have it donated; we embark on stewardship and eventually hope to provide public access.”
A recent example of success was the donation in December of a small parcel of land on Cedar Place near Grant Park. The VHC hopes it is a signal of things to come.
“I truly hope that this generous donation of land will inspire other landowners and community members to work with VHC to conserve Ventura’s open space hillsides for future generations,” says William B. Smith, a VHC trustee, in a press release.
Leading the way in this year’s festival, Little Feat brings its road-tested mix of blues, country, and R&B. The group is supporting a new record on which it is joined by artists such as Jimmy Buffett, Dave Matthews and Brooks & Dunn playing new versions of their classic songs. Keyboardist and former Ventura resident Bill Payne is looking forward to playing his old town, where his memories range from checking out the surf from the roof of Cabrillo Junior High School to playing a benefit for
the late Robert Kennedy at the old Mayfair Theatre.
“I imagine everyone playing there [at the Ventura Hillsides Music Festival] is going to be stellar, and it will be a lot of fun.” he says.
Also on the bill is two-time Grammy Award winner Taj Mahal, who has spent a career taking the blues in all sorts of different directions, mixing it at times with jazz, European and Hawaiian elements. He is also supporting a new album, Maestro:
Celebrating Forty Years.
Local Todd Hannigan is best known for his soundtrack work on the Jack Johnson surf flick Thicker than Water. He has released one album of his own and will release a second in November. And fellow Venturan Rey Fresco is one of the few bands that can claim the harp as a central instrument. It won a battle of the bands at Rookees, and also just released a new record.
Hannigan looks forward to playing for the VHC. “It’s a great cause, and they’ve done some good work over the last few years,” he says.
The lack of a large marquee name a la Jack Johnson doesn’t seem to worry the organizers much. While last year’s event, headlined by Johnson and reggae legends Toots & the Maytals, sold out in 15 minutes, tickets for this year’s installment are still on sale, much the same way they were in most of the other years.
“We have a great talent pool, tickets are selling at a nice clip, and much like the other years, it [will] still [end] up being a full house,” Svete says. “The pre-sale [for last year’s concert] sold a record number of tickets, and we expect a huge number of repeat attendees.”
The festival will also ramp up the cause for what the VHC deems as “sustainable event management,” with the ultimate goal of a waste-free event. Ventura Hillsides Music Festival Director Lynn Bartosh was inspired by the Telluride Bluegrass
Festival in Colorado, which incorporated renewable energy and festival waste reduction.
“We have laid solid groundwork in previous years and this year we will take it to the next level,” she says in a press release. “My ultimate goal is to produce a festival that is zero waste.” Among these elements are composting stations for leftover food, a ban on plastic disposable water bottles, and encouraging vendors only to use biodegradable food containers.
Little Feat’s Payne summed up the efforts of the VHC, their mission, and the festival itself: “It’s all about making this a better place to live for our kids. I’m proud to be involved in it.”
Ventura Hillsides Music Festival featuring Little Feat, Taj Mahal, Mason Jennings, Todd Hannigan & the Heavy 29s and Rey Fresco, Sept. 13, 1 p.m., at Arroyo Verde Park in Ventura www.venturahillsides.org