PICTURED: Clockwise from top left: Sublime With Rome, Aubrey Logan, Jiji Kim, Dramane Koné, Las Cafeteras and Víkingur Ólafsson.

by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer


Open and shut, indoors versus outside, curfews, masks, tests and vaccination status: All these things had the local music industry in a bit of a tailspin during the first half of 2021. It was a rosier picture come June 15, however, as California lifted nearly all pandemic restrictions. Venues are busier than they’ve been in nearly two years . . . although many are still not quite back to what they once were.

Until venues were able to open fully, we put a lot of focus on local artists, profiling several of them for our Homespun series. Hannah Jobus, Jason Brock, Anne Hall, Laura Mihalka and the House Arrest band were among the many local musicians who livened up our Music section in 2021.

Once again, Concerts in Your Car — live music enjoyed from the safety of your car — entertained audiences. Among the bands that performed on that large, outdoor stage-in-the-round at the Ventura County Fairgrounds were Vanilla Ice (headliner for the Tequila and Taco Music Festival) and War. The Sound Mind Mental Health Music Festival brought several big names to the area, including Fitz and the Tantrums, Lovelythebad and Ian Sweet. Concerts in Your Car transitioned to Surfer’s Point Live over the summer, in recognition of the fact that limited in-person gatherings were permitted again, and hosted the Throw Down — the world’s largest cornhole tournament — at the end of August. The fairgrounds’ concert season ended in October with a big musical event headlined by Sublime With Rome.

New West Symphony spent most of 2021 “traveling” the world with its all-virtual Global Sounds, Local Cultures series, and even featured Korean-born classical guitarist Jiji Kim for its May “Tour of Mexico.” International flavor could be found as well during the  Thousand Oaks Pop-Up Arts and Music Festival, which hosted performers like Las Cafeteras and Gabra360 for its outdoor concerts, and in Ojai, which saw the arrival of African drummer Dramane Koné. The Stagecoach Museum Lawn in Newbury Park was the setting for a variety of Americana acts, including New Orleans-inspired Honey Island Swamp Band, while the Carolyn Sills Combo brought “country-western swing with a feminine perspective” to the NAMBA Performing Arts Space in November.

The biggest news on the music scene, however, was probably the return of the area’s two major musical events: the Ventura Music Festival in July, and the Ojai Music Festival in September. Both featured a somewhat truncated schedule (each took place over a single weekend) but plenty of energy and excitement. “Queen of Sass” Aubrey Logan brought her trombone, vocal power and tremendous stage presence to VMF (along with string trio Time for Three and classical guitarist Andrea Roberto). Up in Ojai, OMF had its usual stellar lineup of eclectic talent, which included the festival debuts of Rhiannon Giddens, Francesco Turrisi, pianist Víkingur Ólafsson, the Attacca Quartet, violinist Miranda Cuckson and recorder player Anna Margules.

It truly was a year to remember. It may have taken the local music scene a little longer to pick up, but once it did, it landed with a bang and a shout. Just take a look at our After Dark music listings over the past few months, and it’s easy to see that that momentum is only continuing into the new year: Ventura Theater, The Canyon in Agoura Hills, local breweries, bars and wineries all seem to have something going on every weekend. Party on, Ventura County — here’s to a rockin’ 2022!