Rodriguez Returns

By Steven Libowitz   |   August 16, 2018
Sugar’s ray: Rodriguez performs Tuesday, August 21, at Granada Theatre

Like just about every other community across the nation and around the world, Santa Barbara had to wait 40 years to see the singer-songwriter Rodriguez perform in concert in town – something they didn’t even realize they were missing until the movie Searching for Sugar Man appeared five years ago – when he performed at the Granada last spring. The documentary dramatically detailed the incredible true story of Rodriguez, who was discovered in a Detroit bar in the late 1960s by two celebrated producers who thought he could become a rock icon. But after getting Rodriguez’s soulful melodies and prophetic lyrics committed to vinyl, the records fell flat, selling unbelievably few copies, and the singer-songwriter slipped into obscurity. Somehow, a bootleg recording made its way into apartheid South Africa, where he turned into a mysterious phenomenon unbeknownst outside of the continent. After securing an Academy Award, the film finally propelled Rodriguez to the fame he’d never known.

Rodriguez – who still lives in the same home in Detroit that he was in when he made the records – held the audience spellbound with his half-century old songs and a few new ones at his show last year, and this Tuesday, August 21, he’s back to play the Granada again. As others have found, his interviews are even more nonlinear than his songs, but a few gems came out in a phone conversation earlier this month. 

Q. What did the film Searching for Sugar Man get wrong about you? What did they miss?

A. There wasn’t anything missing, nothing I would add. But it wasn’t my film. It was the director. I was only in it for eight minutes. But that’s okay. I didn’t expect any of it.

What’s your perspective on the whole situation, the unexpected fame, the worldwide success , five years later? How do you think it’s changed you if at all?

It’s changed a lot since those 10 days at the Sundance Film Festival, and after Sony Pictures Classics picked it up. When it hit home video, that’s when it went global. It sure is unusual. From rags to riches. But it’s all true. I’ve been touring now for five years. I like it that people can hear me. That’s what musicians are for. I want people to be able to hear me.

People sure do seem to love hearing you play live. At your show here last year, it felt like a two-way thing. Are you aware of the affect you have on your fans, more than just an entertainer, something bigger?

I hope to reach the audience, but I’m just a musician playing my compositions. And much of it is audience-generated. They love my songs, and I can tell that. I’m verbal and vocal wherever I appear. I appeal to the collective consciousness of the audience. They know what’s going on and what’s going down. I care about realness. That’s what I’m looking for.

Does that sense of shared vision, an almost spiritual sense, resonate for you?

It’s poetry for me, and political. I encourage people to get involved, especially now in the times we’re living in. But what I mostly think about is the performance. Whether it’s spiritual it’s not really for me to say. It’s self-expression. I’ve been doing these songs for almost 50 years. I consider the compositions have a life of their own. Music is a living art to me.

Is there ever going to be a third album of new material?

Well, I’m hoping it gets to that point. I am writing, but the compositions take a long time. And there are some legal issues. But I’ve been touring, playing in front of thousands of people, visiting a lot of countries. That’s where most of my time goes now. We’re going in late September to Royal Albert Hall in London, and the tickets are pretty much sold-out for two shows, so that’s a real highlight. It’s special because it’s so late in my career. Also going to be in Australia in February. Travel is amazing. Young people should all get a passport. When you do that, you open up everything.

Sax Man Segues to the Stage

Last weekend marked not only the conclusion of the 2018 Summer Festival at the Music Academy of the West (MAW), but also the close of a chapter in the career of Patrick Posey, the institute’s vice president of artistic planning and educational programs for the last six years. Posey came to the Academy following five years at the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City, where he last served as director of orchestral planning, taking care of the logistics of the institute’s five orchestras.

That work – and the contacts he made while stationed in Manhattan – served him well in his important position here in Montecito. Over his half-dozen years at Mirafloras campus, Posey has helped to transform the MAW program via the groundbreaking partnerships with the New York Philharmonic and London Symphony Orchestra, and through attracting luminous musicians to serve as faculty artists, including Carter Brey, Jeremy Denk, Conor Hanick, Frank Huang, Eugene Izotov, Joseph Pereira, Barbara Butler, Charles Geyer, Glenn Dicterow, Jorja Fleezanis, and many others. He also contributed to the uptick in the star quality of conductors and guest artists attracted during his tenure, including, this year alone, Gustavo Dudamel, Michael Tilson Thomas, Stéphane Denève, Emmanuel Pahud, Caroline Shaw, and James Darrah.

But now Posey is departing from his administrative post at the end of the month to continue his career serving on stage as a professional performing saxophonist. Posey, who has appeared regularly as a guest artist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, and Santa Barbara Symphony, has also booked recent gigs with the Philadelphia Orchestra and other ensembles, and has decided to focus on following that path as a full-time endeavor, necessitating leaving his position at MAW.

He talked about his MAW legacy and his future plans earlier this month.

Q. As you leave the MAW at the end of the summer, do you also feel like you have completed the mission you came here to do?

A. When I came here, (MAW president) Scott (Reed) and I discussed some very specific goals for MAW and the programming: building an orchestral partnership, professionalizing the operation, and recruiting top-tier faculty and world-class guest conductors and artists. When we took a look at the list we created back then, we had ticked off all of the items. MAW is at a place that we saw back then as where we wanted to get to. So sat this point, it feels like we’ve brought it home.

There is certainly room for more growth, but I’ve also been looking at what’s been going on for me outside of MAW, which is that I’ve been playing a lot more often. I performed in 34 concerts last season, and was in and out of town for 16 weeks. I’ve never had such wonderful opportunities as a saxophonist before, and there’s a lot of momentum. So, it seemed a good time for both of us for me to step away and into something new.

It seems that might have been easier to do in New York, which is more of a Mecca for classical music. Why not then?

There’s really not much to do as a classical saxophonist. When I was in New York, I’d get a concert every other month, which wasn’t too hard to keep up with while having an administrative job. But when I moved out here, I started getting work first at the Santa Barbara Symphony, then Los Angeles and San Francisco, and other orchestras in Los Angeles started calling. Over the course of a few years, I’ve been invited to more places, and there are a lot of orchestras just in California alone. In the last year, it got maxed out, all of my free time outside MAW was spent either preparing for or traveling to and playing the concerts. In September to October of last year, I played five different instruments (soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxes, and clarinet) for five different orchestras, performing 10 pieces of music. That was challenging.

This was always your dream, to have a performing career?

When I took the job as assistant orchestra librarian at Juilliard, I came there as a good way to put food on the table while I got my name out around town. I thought it would take a couple of years before I could step out and become a full-time freelance musician. It took a bit longer, and for a while I didn’t think it would happen at all after years as a full-time administrator. It snuck up on me over last few years while I was working full time, but it’s finally happening so I’m very excited to explore this side of my career, one that’s always been there as a desire.

You are moving to L.A. in the fall. Will we see you again in town?

MAW is commissioning a piece of chamber music for me to return next summer to perform in the world premiere, so I’ll be back then for sure. We’ll be announcing the composer in the fall. I’m excited to come back and perform with my (former) colleagues here on the faculty. It’s a great nod to the composer residency program which is one of the major programs that I brought to MAW that we are very proud of, and also to the works I’m going on to do as a professional saxophonist. Playing chamber music with mixed ensemble is one of my favorite things to do. It’s a great treat and tribute. I also will keep my relationships with the Santa Barbara Symphony and the other musicains/friends I have in town. My friendships with members of the community are not going to go away. It’s easy to come up for a weekend.

Looking back at your tenure here, what are you most proud of?

The opportunities we created for performers, composers, and our audience to come together and celebrate making music in all of its forms, from chamber music at the Lobero, to composers coaching in master classes, the Opera Takeover on campus this year with James Darrah, and community concerts in big venues. We’ve really found a way to have music-making of the highest order intersect with audience appreciation and engagement. It’s really for everyone in Santa Barbara – not just limited to a select few, but opened to all. Just last night, Conor Hanick’s piano recital was all music composed in the late 20th century. I looked around at the full house and the appreciative audience and thought about the fact that this program 10 years ago would have been a real oddity, but now it’s normal. That makes me proud too.

The Sounds of Summer Students

As one summer music festival with young classical artists comes to a close, another local offering gets underway this weekend. The UCSB Department of Music’s third annual festival takes place on Friday and Saturday, August 17-18, and feature many Santa Barbara-based musicians performing free concerts out at the college campus near Isla Vista. UCSB graduate composition student Rodney DuPlessis serves as artistic director for the 2018 festival, which continues as a student-curated and managed event. He’s booked events to display a spirit of inclusivity, with programs covering a variety of genres from traditional to new, East to West, and analog to digital.

Friday’s offerings include original contemporary works for viola and electronics performed by UCSB Music alumnus Jonathan Morgan; rancheras, boleros, corridos, sones, and gustos from Mexico with Mariachi Las Olas de Santa Barbara; original works for quarter-tone piano by UCSB graduate composition students Matt Owensby and Scott Perry; and an ambient guitar, electronics, and video experience presented by UCSB graduate composer Nick Norton. Saturday’s lineup features two carillon concerts performed by UCSB carillonist Margo Halsted; a Children’s Concert performed by various festival artists; a cappella and choral works ranging from Renaissance motets to contemporary works with Adelfos Ensemble; and music and dance from Indonesia and Malaysia with Gamelan Sinar Surya.

The festival concludes on Saturday night with a special performance by Los Angeles Percussion Quartet when the Grammy Award-nominated ensemble will perform original pieces by UCSB graduate students DuPlessis, Mason Hock, and Marc Evans in addition to favorites from the new music repertoire.

Admission to all events is free. Visit for dates, locations, times, and details.


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