Musicians were thrilled to get back on stage in front of fans in 2021
It’s not the same without an audience.
Musicians emphasized that point repeatedly during News-Press interviews as everyone from rock bands to the Santa Barbara Symphony got back on stage — in front of people — after the state reopened this summer.
Just days after California’s COVID-19 color tier system ended, doors reopened to audiences at the Lobero Theatre.
The good vibrations started there with a concert honoring Beach Boys singer/composer Brian Wilson, who lives in Santa Barbara, on his 79th birthday. Mr. Wilson wasn’t seen at the June concert, but the Lobero was packed for its first program with an audience since the state’s lockdown began in March 2020.
Musical director Sal Leonardo sat at a piano and introduced (or played with) a who’s who of prominent musicians, varying from Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket fame to “Voice” contestant Will Breman. The program featured songs from albums such as the Beach Boys’ groundbreaking “Pet Sounds” album (1966).
Prior to the state reopening, the Lobero hosted concerts without audiences — an unusual, if not strange, concept for performers and viewers alike. But the talent was certainly great. In late 2020, two Montecito rock stars — John Kay of Steppenwolf and Kenny Loggins of “Footloose” fame — performed on the Lobero stage without an audience in programs that were filmed and streamed for people watching at home.
At the time, Mr. Kay, who’s known for hits such as “Born to Be Wild,” expressed empathy for musicians who struggled during the pandemic.
“I had a number of acoustic solo performances scheduled for this year (2020) that had be canceled because of the virus, but I’m not out there trying to build a career, nor do I have to go out there to make a living,” said Mr. Kay, who donated proceeds from his concert to help the Lobero. He told the News-Press that performing is the “bread and butter” for many singers/songwriters.
Mr. Loggins told the News-Press at that time that he missed having an audience.
“The part I miss the most of playing alone on any stage, meaning without an audience, is the sing-along part,” he said. “In ‘Celebrate Home,’ there’s always a sing-along part. In ‘Footloose,’ there’s always a sing-along part. Even the chorus of ‘Danger Zone’ is a sing-along.”
After the state reopened in June, audiences were singing along with performers again.
Fans could be heard loud and clear at places like the Santa Barbara Bowl, where everyone seemed to know the words as Foreigner took the stage.
And lead singer Kelly Hansen told the News-Press how much he loved the spontaneity and unpredictability of live performances in front of a huge crowd.
“All kinds of things happen” at concerts, Mr. Hansen said. “We have people making proposals to people during the show. You see people’s faces. You see people sometimes recalling an earlier time in their life, and you see the music affects people in different ways. Sometimes they’re simultaneously crying and being giddy. It’s an amazing thing to be part of.”
At the Santa Barbara Bowl, the packed audience took out their smartphones, turned on the lights, stood and waved the phones while Mick Jones, the remaining original Foreigners member, played the keyboard while Mr. Hansen sang the 1984 anthem “I Want to Know What Love Is.”
Afterward, the crowd sang, “One more song!”
The sense of enthusiasm, the spirit of an audience experiencing music together, was evident at other Santa Barbara Bowl concerts, including one with Willie Nelson singing his hits, including, of course, “On the Road Again.”
The excitement extended to a popular Santa Barbara venue for local and out-of-town musicians alike: SOhO Restaurant & Music Club.
The upstairs State Street club reopened after the longest closure in its history.
In fact, it was the only long-term closure for the club, which over the years has hosted everyone from local bands Area 51, Raw Silk and Toad the Wet Sprocket to the Santa Barbara Jazz Society, local blues duo Tom Ball and Kenny Sultan, and Santa Ynez Valley celebrity David Crosby.
Co-owner Gail Hansen was thrilled that she could finally reopen her doors to people who share her unwavering love for music.
“We’ve been here 27 years and never closed our doors” for any significant amount of time, she told the News-Press.
At the time, she was thrilled to welcome back Soul Majestic for SOhO’s reopening. “They’re like family to us. We’ve had them on stage so many times. My kids know all the people in the band.”
Soul Majestic vocalist and rhythm guitarist Eric Iverson was equally excited to be back on stage in front of a live audience at SOhO. He told the News-Press that SOhO was the reggae band’s favorite hometown venue.
“We got our start there, and the Hansen family has always been good to us,” Mr. Iverson said. “I like that the focus is on music. I like (the club’s) sound and set up.”
The excitement about going back on stage took place at other clubs in Santa Barbara County and venues ranging from high school and college stages to the Music Academy of the West in Montecito to UCSB Campbell Hall, home to Arts & Lectures concerts. Elsewhere, everyone from the Santa Barbara Choral Society to the acclaimed a cappella ensemble, Quire of Voyces, went back on stage.
And concerts took place in venues such as the Center Stage Theater, upstairs at Paseo Nuevo.
There was also the note of enthusiasm at The Granada, where the Santa Barbara Symphony resumed playing for a live audience.
“I think our audience will enjoy a variety of styles, a variety of genres larger than we’ve ever put together,” an excited Nir Kabaretti, the music and artistic director, told the News-Press about the 2021-22 season.
Opera Santa Barbara was also thrilled to be back on stage in front of an audience, which it did in June in the Lobero with its production of Richard Wagner’s “Das Rheingold.” In the opera, the dwarf Alberich renounces love in order to steal gold from the Rhine River and forge a ring that will make him master of the universe.
Before the state’s reopening, Opera Santa Barbara filmed its actors in other productions and presented the performances on big screens at the Ventura County Fairgrounds (Seaside Park) in Ventura, where people watched from their cars in a drive-in movie setting.
But it wasn’t the same thing as being on stage in front of an audience, Kostis Protopapas, the Opera Santa Barbara artistic and general director, told the News-Press at the time.
“Everyone’s in great form, and we love being able to do what we do in our natural environment,” he said.
Also excited were Santa Barbara Revels, which performed its first-in person production since December 2019 with guitarist and singer Luis Moreno and others playing early California music outside at the University Club in Santa Barbara.
Mr. Moreno told the News-Press the songs were “the Top 40 of the 1830s.”
“I’ve played this music for seventh-generation Santa Barbarans,” Mr. Moreno said. “When they hear that music, tears come to their eyes.”
Santa Barbara Revels went on to perform its production of “The Christmas Revels: An Early California Celebration of the Winter Solstice” this month at the Lobero.
Like other music ensembles, Santa Barbara Revels had adapted during the pandemic with concerts without audiences, which streamed on home computers.
But ultimately, you need an audience, Susan Keller, the artistic director and founder, told the News-Press.
“It’s everything for Revels. Audience participation is one of the hallmarks of the Revels.”