Lobero Ready to Have to Fun, Fun, Fun All Over Again

By Steven Libowitz   |   May 27, 2021
The Lobero will host a Brian Wilson tribute, Songs of Summer, on June 19

David Asbell has had it up to here with the pandemic. 

The longtime general manager of the Lobero Theatre piloted the venue through a pandemic pivot along with everybody else to stay relevant during the last 14 months. For the Lobero, this meant partnering up with an indie producer to host live streaming shows from the stage of the former opera house featuring such local luminaries as Montecito residents Kenny Loggins and John Kay, among others. But for all its virtues, virtual music just doesn’t come close to the real thing. And Asbell is ready to prove it once again. 

So, although quite a few protocols remain in place, on Monday, the Lobero Theatre became the first of the major venues in town to book a live concert at which the general public — and not just invited guests — will be able to be in the audience. The June 19 Songs of Summer show is a tribute to Beach Boys’ mastermind Brian Wilson, who will turn 79 one day later, with summer officially arriving the day after that. 

Sal Leonardo’s Brother Sal and The Devil May Care band boasting L.A. session musicians will be the backing band for a roundup of guest vocalists performing favorites from Wilson’s vast catalog that stretches from early 1960s Beach Boys to his ongoing solo career. Locals Glen Phillips, The Brambles, and Will Breman will be joined by L.A.-based singers including Garrison Starr, Chris Pierce, Shane Alexander, Leslie Stevens, Todd OKeefe, Max Kasch, and others paying tribute to Wilson’s joyful songs that reek of summer, love, and fun fun fun.

The concert is the brainchild of the Santa Barbara Music Foundation, the nonprofit run by Polly and Steve Hoganson, who owned Ventura’s homegrown music club Zoey’s Cafe for eight years through 2013. They have since formed the foundation — and the associated Ones To Watch production company — with a similar mission of creating memorable experiences for both artists and audiences while earmarking a portion of the net profits for local charities.

“What better way to kick off summer and the first show in the beach town of Santa Barbara than to have a celebration of Brian Wilson music?” Polly Hoganson said earlier this week, noting that the Lobero was on board immediately. 

For his part, Asbell said that as long as promoters are willing to follow whatever pandemic restrictions are in place at showtime, he’s all for getting shows back in the theater. 

“If there are local entities like the Santa Barbara Music Foundation that want to do an event, and they’re prepared to do it with 200 people or less, well, I don’t want us to be the one saying ‘No, it’s not a good idea,’” Asbell said. “We’re going to take the protocols very, very seriously. We’re going to open up safely. But the fact is that when the community wants us to open, we will be there. We’ve got to get back to live music.”

The opening concert is anticipating no rollbacks in the current tier system, Hoganson said, as the plan is for all of the singers to be on stage offering harmonies before and after they take leads on a song or two each. Leonardo and his band are regulars at L.A.’s Hotel Cafe and will be providing the accompaniment for between 24-28 of Wilson’s classics, rehearsing either in person or online with each of the singers in advance before a run-through on the morning of the show.

“It’s going to be boom, boom, boom, helter skelter, just like you’re singing at the Grammys working with the same backing band,” she said. “We’re encouraging the audience to join in and make it a really fun celebration of great music, Brian Wilson, and having the Lobero and live music back.” 

Like all of the local venues, the Lobero is a bit concerned about ramping back up again from a logistical point of view, having had to furlough more than two-thirds of its staff as the lockdown dragged on, with most of its laid-off employees having moved on to other jobs, Asbell said. But the facility has enough of a staff to handle a show, and the volunteers who came to a meeting held outside in the courtyard in April have enthusiastically endorsed helping out with getting entertainment back on the hallowed stage.

“The ushers are generally an older demographic and almost all of them have been vaccinated by now,” Asbell said. “They’re feeling relatively comfortable in coming back, and that was even before the CDC’s latest announcements. Hearing it’s safe to be indoors without a mask on is obviously very good reinforcement.”

Even so, the Lobero will be strictly enforcing a requirement that all patrons must produce a vaccination card or proof of a negative COVID test in the previous 72 hours to attend the concert and keep masks on throughout the show. But the end of the pandemic and the restrictive protocols that restrict attendance can’t come soon enough for the theater manager. 

“From a very selfish point of view, I need the coronavirus to get the f— out of here so we can fully open up,” he said with not even a trace of an apology. “There’s a lag time between what the CDC says and (changes to) the California health guidelines, and I’m OK with that, because the bottom line is we need to get open and stay open. The virus has to be at a certain level of control — a great deal of control, actually — before we’re allowed to play ball. I get it. But I want to start playing ball.”

The game gets going again on June 19. Visit www.lobero.org for details.


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