Conviction of the Heart: Singer Supports a Favorite Local Stage
What if they threw a concert and nobody came?
That’s a situation famed Santa Barbara singer-songwriter Kenny Loggins will face when he performs at the venerable Lobero Theatre on Sunday, June 28 – with absolutely no one in the audience. Of course, the only reason the show wouldn’t fill the historic theater’s 600 seats is because of restrictions from the coronavirus pandemic that still forbids concert halls and other performance spaces from reopening to cut down on the spread of COVID-19. With no date yet set for when theaters can once again draw an audience, the Lobero is reporting more than $1 million in lost revenue since closing in mid-March.
The Loggins show kicks off a series of low-priced live, pay-per-view concerts that will be streamed on the Lobero’s website (lobero.org) with proceeds supporting the venue and the National Independent Venue Association, which has similar one-off theaters and halls as its members, all of whom are hurting during the closures.
Loggins, whose success (more than 25 million albums sold) is exceeded perhaps only by his big heart that has had him playing annually for Christmas Unity for more than 30 years, talked about the upcoming show at the intimate if empty hall.
Q. You’ve played just about every venue in town over the years not to mention huge arenas around the country back in the day. What made you say yes to this solo show alone on stage at the Lobero?
A. It is a weird thing to be playing at a theater with no one in the audience and just a few camera people hanging out. It’s because I see the Lobero as the sort of musical heart of Santa Barbara. At least it has been all the time since I moved here in 1973, with a lot of cool concerts, and the things Hale Milgrim and Sings Like Hell have brought, a unique level of artists to Santa Barbara. There’s just something very rootsy about the theater that feels like a hometown to me. I think it’s really important that these kinds of venues that are struggling, especially one here where I live, are able to make it through the pandemic. When they asked me, it was an immediate yes. But it’s not a solo show. I’ve got a trio playing.
Oh, I thought it was just you, a solo acoustic thing.
No, I’ve got Rick Cowling, who played bass and backing vocals with me back in the 2000s, and Tariqh Akoni, the guitarist I met last year during the Footloose project at the Marjorie Luke. There aren’t a lot of players like him who can pretty much do anything with a guitar. For me it’s a lot better, something more alive than just one person alone in your living room like you see on Facebook. That’s more my style. I like to have the harmonies. I like to feel the energy of other players. Especially since there’s no one to connect with in the audience. I can play alone if I’m in a room with five or more people. But truly alone is not my thing anymore like it might have been 40 years ago. We all started that way, just alone in your bedroom, writing and singing songs. But ever since the duo with Messina it’s been about connecting with an audience and having that back and forth.
For this show, the trio is perfect, because we can easily be six feet apart and still hear each other. With no audience, we can just play for each other. And we enjoy each other so much that the energy will be almost like watching a home jam session. My plan is to be very, very loose with it. So if something goes wrong, we may stop and start again. It’s going to be very loose and that’s what I like about it. And we’re trying to kind of bring new flavor to some of the tunes, have a level of spontaneity that whoever’s watching knows they’re in for something unique. That’s what the times seemed to be demanding.
That does seem special. Can you give me a sneak preview of some of the songs?
We’re reworking “Whenever I Call You Friend” because I’ve never done it as a trio. That’s going to be a lot of fun. We get a lot of requests for “Danger Zone,” but you really can’t do it acoustically because it’s a rocker and it just falls flat. But ironically “Footloose” works really well because it’s more of a countrified rock song. It works great as an acoustic guitar song. We’re working up “Danny’s Song,” of course, and “House to Pooh Corner,” “Conviction of the Heart.” “I’m Alright” I wrote on acoustic guitar anyway, so that’ll be great. I’m planning on getting into less well-known songs, deeper cuts, they call it, maybe even adding “A Leap of Faith.” But we’ll see where it goes. They want 60 minutes and I’m sure I’ve worked up way too much already. I always do that. Plus a lot of talking and stories.
Sharing stories about the Lobero and why it matters, or how it’s been sheltering at home?
Mostly about how the songs were written, who did what and when, and how they came to be. I’m trying not to tell Rick and Tariqh those stories before so that they’ll have genuine surprise looks on their faces when they hear them on stage. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
Byl Carruthers remembers exactly where he was the moment that he heard about the lockdown orders to combat the coronavirus pandemic in mid-March. That would have been onstage at one of the clubs where Cafe R’n’B, the band he co-leads with his wife, singer Roach, often plays, this time in anticipation of a big summer tour. “The owner came over to the side of the stage and told us the government just shut everything down,” Carruthers recalled. “We had maybe 35 minutes left in the show, and he said if you want to go home I’ll still pay you. But there were all those people out there listening and drinking so we kept going. But for that half hour, it was like everybody in the band and all the people in the audience were thinking this could be the last time we’re going to be able to do this for a while. It was a very weird communal moment just trying to process what was about to happen.”
More than three months later, that moment was the impetus for Carruthers to create the new Live Pay-Per-View series for the Lobero Theatre that kicks off with Kenny Loggins on Sunday night.
“Right after everything shut down, my mind immediately went to not only the bands and the artists but also those venues who have very thin margins,” said Carruthers, whose credits include myriad record production and film directing projects. “A lot of these beautiful stages and very iconic places won’t make it ‘til they can have full audiences without some help.”
Choosing Loggins to lead off the planned four-concert series was a no-brainer, he said.
“He’s obviously one of American’s most beloved singer-songwriters, one who stands apart from his contemporaries because he represents positivity. He brings a certain dimension that felt like it resonated and could be upbeat with what is going on in the world.”
Avoiding exposure to COVID, of course, is a prime concern, despite the absence of an audience. But Carruthers said his “safety-centric” production exceeds every standard put out by health professionals by employing a “forensically small crew” using staggered entrances, staying in an individually assigned space for the entire event and even using just one of the eight assigned bathrooms and stalls. On show day, no one other than the artists walk on to the performance stage. They will arrive through stage doors and take their place on-stage, perform, and exit, without making any contact. In other words, it’s anything but a Danger Zone.
Charging just $15 for the PPV concerts made the events a win-win-win, he said. And if successful, it might serve as a pilot for other theaters and venues around the country.
“It wasn’t about how much we could charge, but how little, because people are out of work, everybody’s struggling. So we’ll make a ticket the same as it was back in 1978.”
And those who tune in will be getting a view that’s not available in normal times, he said.
“Usually you have to place your cameras where they’re not intrusive for the audience. But we can have them go anywhere. So we’re getting great, very intimate shots and cool angles.”