Clockwise from top left: Fitz and the Tantrums (photo by Luke Dickey); Adaawe (photo by Taso Papadakis; Shylah Ray Sunshine (photo by Mariana Schulze); Delta by the Beach; Third Eye Blind (photo by Mark Webb).

by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

The big news in music for 2020: the lack of it. At least for a while. 

Most local musicians make their money performing and touring, and these individuals were hit particularly hard once COVID-19 made that impossible. Hope springs eternal, of course, and creative types are good at workarounds. Despite several hiccups, some bands did play on. 

Remember when . . . 

It seems like ages ago since you could head to your favorite bar or concert hall, buy your ticket and rock out with a crowd of fellow fans. But for three months is 2020, we could do just that. We covered Eric Johnson, the Grigoryan Brothers, Dermot Kennedy, Koo Koo Kanga Roo and Yächtley Crëw — all of whom played shows at local venues. Our feature on Fitz and the Tantrums ran in the March 12 issue…going to press a few hours before the March 13 show at the Majestic Ventura Theater was canceled.

It was a sign of things to come.

Tuning in

At first, there was nothing to report at all — venues were dark and everyone was too busy scrubbing their groceries and looking for toilet paper to worry about anything else. But eventually, local musicians and music organizations joined the digital revolution, using Zoom, YouTube, Facebook Live and other online services to connect with listeners.

The Ventura Music Festival had an impressive lineup planned for its upcoming season. Executive Director Susan Scott called on many of those artists — as well as past performers — to create Music Connects: A VMF Digital Festival. Artists like Adaawe, Anderson and Roe and Perla Batalla recorded messages to accompany music videos or past performances, giving music lovers insight into their creative process. 

Ojai Underground Exchange live streamed concerts from musicians like Kelly’s Lot, while Yächtley Crëw had fun making socially distanced videos. The NAMBA Performing Arts Space hosted lots of online programming on its YouTube channel, including a concert/documentary combo hosted by local blues artist Doc Ventura and his band Delta by the Beach.

Back to the drive-in

The music scene picked up steam again over the summer, when CBF Productions — the organization behind the California Beer Festival — built a large, state-of-the-technology stage at the Ventura County Fairgrounds. Music lovers could drive in, tune into a concert using their FM radios, and enjoy live music in the safety of their vehicles. 

The first of these Concerts in Your Car took place at the end of June and featured Ventura native Super Duper Kyle. That was followed by performances from Third Eye Blind, Fitz and the Tantrums (particularly welcome after their March show was canceled), Metalachi, 311 and Bush. The stage also hosted the John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band and Gordon Goodwin and his Little Phat Band — both appearing courtesy of the Ventura Music Festival.

It wasn’t long before other locales started doing the same. The Canyon in Agoura Hills took over space at the Oxnard Performing Arts and Convention Center to host Carpool Jams (featuring local tribute bands like Queen Nation, Mirage and Erotic City) in the parking lot. The TO Arts Roadshow, presented in part by the Bank of America Performing Arts Center, featured music, theater and more at The Lakes at Thousand Oaks, and Hillcrest Center for the Arts managed some drive-in events at nearby Conejo Creek Park South.

Local artists in the spotlight

With fewer live concerts to dominate our music coverage, we found more opportunity to profile local musicians. Artists we featured in 2020 include Sik Sik Sicks, Rain Perry, Tony Ybarra, Shylah Ray Sunshine, Andy Wray, Burleigh Drummond and Zorba Cruz. 

That’s a wrap for 2020. Going out with more of a whimper than a bang: Now that both Concerts in Your Car and Carpool Jams are currently on hiatus, it’s going to be a quiet winter. On the other hand . . . there are shows already in the works for spring, and a vaccine is on the way. Music to our ears. Happy New Year, Ventura County.