‘The Last Honky Tonk Hero’

By Steven Libowitz   |   September 21, 2021
Mike Dawson & The Smokin Kills (Photo via Facebook)

We’ll leave it up to the listener to decide if the new CD from Mike Dawson & The Smokin Kills lives up to its title. But we can tell you that the guy fronting the band is the real deal: Dawson is the former longtime DJ, music director, and producer at KTYD, Santa Barbara’s classic rock radio station back in the days before streaming and Sirius. My brief time at KTYD (as an ad rep of all things) pre-dates Dawson’s but everyone in town who paid any attention to rock ‘n’ roll sure was aware of him as it’s safe to say he was the hardest working man in show biz this side of John Palminteri

Dawson departed for Los Angeles 15 years ago, but has frequently showed up on stage at SOhO, the upstairs restaurant/music club he used to frequent — in every sense of the word — during his Santa Barbara stint, when he would check out concerts several times a week, making connections like crazy. That same raw energy comes through on Hero, a down-and-dirty Bakersfield-style country-rock record powered by Dawson’s whiskey-soaked vocals. The title is an homage to the Waylon Jennings song, no accident as Smokin Kills bassist-producer Ted Russell Kamp has been a member of Waylon’s son Shooter Jennings’ band for 15 years.

Dawson and the band descend on SOhO for a CD-release party this Thursday, September 16.

Revel in the Autumn Equinox

Unlike some arts organizations in town, Santa Barbara Revels didn’t recycle videos from its archives or abandon its audience altogether during the total public event shutdown phase of the pandemic. In fact, the 14-year-old organization dedicated to honoring a diverse range of cultural traditions by blending music, dance, and storytelling put out more programming than in a typical year, albeit exclusively virtually. That included producing the annual Christmas Revels show as a one-hour video recorded largely live with proper distancing protocols at the Marjorie Luke Theatre, as well as the May Day Celebration and Pub Sing, plus its first-ever Summer Solstice entry, all of which can still be viewed on the Revels Vimeo at https://vimeo.com/user8958466.

“Our Christmas show was the closest of all the companies to being a theatrical version, as we were able to pull off that was costumed and recorded live to give a true sense of the show,” Artistic Director Susan Keller said. “People who saw it really appreciated our efforts.” 

But now it’s finally time for people and performers to once again get together in public in person with the organization offering a live gathering for its Autumn Equinox concert this Tuesday, September 21, at the University Club.  

“There’s nothing like having a live audience, because so much of Revels is that interaction, getting everyone involved,” Keller said. “It’s the very heart and soul of Revels and really what it’s all about.”

Or as Revels’ longtime motto puts it: “Join us and be joyous.”

The first foray back to the way it was is the annual event meant to preview the upcoming holiday production. Only this year it also reprises music that was heard at the Lobero four years ago, as An Early California Celebration of the Winter Solstice — with an original script penned by Keller to mark Revels’ 10th anniversary in 2017 — was only seen by half of its intended audience as half of the shows were canceled when the Thomas Fire threatened to encroach upon the town.

The hook for the show is the novel Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana, Jr., written after a two-year sea voyage starting in 1834, which included some time in Santa Barbara where he attended a high-society wedding. The Spanish-influenced music of the era is what he might have heard during the time. 

The Equinox concert expands the era to encompass nearly three centuries of Mexican and Spanish musical traditions from the New World, all curated by Revels music director Erin McKibben, who will sing and play flute and lead the ensemble featuring violinists Kristine Pacheco-Bernt and Marie Hebert, cellist Kathryn Mendenhall, harpist Rebekah Scogin, singer-guitarist Josh Jenkins, and guitarist Luis Moreno. The selections include the popular song “La Paloma,” “El Vito” complete with audience participation, and Manuel de Zumaya’s Mexican Baroque Cantata.

“That’s more a classical-oriented piece, but it was played at the Mission, so it fits,” McKibben said. “But mostly we’ll be doing the Early California songs, which is a really nice concept to hear on the patio [at the University Club], because that’s where this music was played at that time. And it’s all very Santa Barbara oriented.”

Moreno will also offer an introductory lecture on the music of the era to put things in perspective for the audience. Which, of course, is the Revels’ way.

(Santa Barbara Revels’ Autumn Equinox concert takes place at 7 pm September 21 at the University Club’s Sola Patio, 1332 Santa Barbara St. Tickets, which include a glass of wine, cost $30 in advance, $35 at the concert. Visit www.santabarbararevels.org.) 

Book Smart

Chaucer’s is to be congratulated for its generous supply of virtual author chats that have taken place all through the COVID crisis, helping people to connect over the love of letters even if only online. (This week’s entries can be found in the Calendar of Events on page 36.) Ditto for the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, who just last weekend hosted Montecito’s own maven of dry wit in accessing humanity’s foibles. 

But nothing compares to holding books in your hands, thumbing through the pages, searching for a special bargain, or unearthing a title you might never have even thought to ask Amazon about while poring through well-organized bins — not to mention connecting with others over a passion for the bound-written word. Hence, we’re sending up a special hurrah for the return of the annual Planned Parenthood Book Sale, a massive “recycling” effort that moves something on the order of 100,000 books onto new readers’ nightstands every year in what is said to be the largest used-book sale between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Last year, the event was moved to the nonprofit’s warehouse near the airport, truncated to just a long weekend with only a few people admitted inside at a time. Whether this weekend’s return to Warren Hall at the Earl Warren Showgrounds to launch the 10-day event is a smart choice, pandemic-wise, is debatable, although the large space will have fans running, while vaccination cards or negative tests won’t be required. But risk versus reading has its own equation, and you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a category that isn’t represented at one table or another. 

Smartly, the folks who run the book sale know how to entice shoppers to make return visits, as the stock is constantly being replenished, with new titles arriving at Warren right up until the penultimate day, as everything is half off on the final Sunday. To be fair, it’s also a matter of space, as the nonprofit receives way more items at its donation warehouse than they could ever display at one time. Speaking of which, the Red Shed outside the space is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for folks to deposit boxes and bags of books, CDs, DVDs, and board games and puzzles. With such volume of volumes, it’s not at all surprising that the book sale isn’t just one of those fun-raisers, as the benefit event annually brings in around $300,000, a significant percentage of Planned Parenthood’s budget. 

For those who want first crack at the titles, a special opening-night “preview” takes place on Thursday evening, September 16, with a $25 admission fee and the “joy” of jostling re-sellers and other collectors. Otherwise, admission is free for the full span of the sale, September 17-26. Call (805) 722-1517 or visit www.ppcccbooksale.com.


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