On April 2, locals gathered at Mission Park to celebrate Ventura’s sesquicentennial (150th) Anniversary with a Big Bad Voodoo Daddy concert. Proceeds from the concert will help fund the music and art programs of Ventura Unified School District.
“I feel proud to be the Superintendent of Ventura on its 150th anniversary. The anniversary gives us some perspective on what a wonderful town we live in, a town that has flourished since the days of the Civil War,” said Ventura Unified Superintendent Michael Babb.
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy is a jazz and swing band formed in Ventura by singer, songwriter, and guitarist Scotty Morris in 1989.
“The core members of the group all lived in Ventura and Oxnard. Our singer, Scott, he grew up in Oxnard and Ventura. Our drummer, he grew up in Ventura and they met through the Ventura music scene and they played around together and everyone was connected through different friendships […] so the band formed from connections here in town,” said band member Andy Rowley.
Hundreds of people gathered in Mission Park for the concert, whether on lawn chairs, dinner tables, blankets, on the grass, seats near the stage, or standing.
The park was filled to the brim with excited locals ready to celebrate Ventura’s 150th anniversary with a homegrown band.
Wine, beer, and other refreshments were also provided for the audience by local breweries.
The concert began with a welcome message from Mayor Eric Nasarenko, whom with the audience sang “Happy Birthday” to the city.
Sabrena Rodriguez, president of Ventura Education Partnership, then thanked the sponsors for their contributions. The Ventura Education partnership is a local, non-political and non-profit organization that supports and benefits education in the Ventura Unified School District.
The organization, which is made up of volunteers, also provides grants, recognizes the work of staff in the district and engages the community. The Ventura Education Partnership arranged and executed the concert.
Babb also welcomed and thanked the audience for attending.
The band then started out with “Zig Zaggity Woop Woop,” as each member entered the stage while playing their instrument, getting the audience fired up.
Next was the “Simple Song,” in which the band showed skills in variation of a slower song.
After that was “Jitters,” a fast paced song in which audience members around the park started dancing to.
Couples were dancing with each other and many people started to come up to the front of the stage to dance.
At this point, Morris took a moment to welcome and thank the audience, congratulated Ventura on its 150th anniversary, and talked about the importance of funding music and art programs in schools.
The band then played “Save my Soul” and “Mr. Pinstripe Suit” in which even more audience members headed to the stage and danced with each other.
At this time, a massive crowd had formed in front of the stage with everyone having fun and dancing all over the park.
Next was “Hey Now” in which Morris engaged the audience to sing along with him.
The band then played “Reefer Man” and “Minnie the Moocher” and the audience kept dancing and singing along.
Morris then announced that in two weeks Big Bad Voodoo Daddy would be celebrating its own anniversary, to which the audience cheered.
Throughout the concert, Morris was introducing the other band members during their solos.
Next, the band played “Jumpin Jack,” which got the audience riled up.
The band then played a variety of pieces including “Jungle Book,” “You know You Wrong,” “Big Time Operator,” “You and Me (bottle),” “Go Daddy-o,” and “Mambo Swing.”
The audience was cheering, dancing, and clapping and several encores were made. The crowd in front of the stage kept getting larger.
The band finished off the night with “Goodbye Song,” in which members from the Cabrillo Middle School Jazz Band joined them onstage and danced.
The audience cheered and gave a standing ovation. Many people thoroughly enjoyed the concert.
“I thought it was very cool, I’ve lived in Ventura my whole life and it’s nice to see everybody get together and celebrate something like this,” said audience member Chris Heresy.
“I thought the music was fabulous and I thought it was great that they included the kids from [Cabrillo] at the end,” said audience member Sharon Kerr.
“I think it’s really neat and I think it’s great that they had this concert [for the 150th anniversary].”
The band, which was named after an autograph by blues guitarist Albert Collins, has sold over a million records, performed internationally, had their music appear in many television shows and movies, and has made appearances in “Dancing with the Stars,” Superbowl XXXIII, and more.
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy has also performed for three of the last four U.S. Presidents, including Bill Clinton, has performed with many top-tier symphony orchestras, and was given a Key to the City from Ventura in 1999 for being a “local musical treasure.”
The band members include:
- Scotty Morris: vocals and guitar
- Kurt Sodergren: drums and percussion
- Dirk Shumaker: bass and vocals
- Andy Rowley: baritone saxophone and vocals
- Glen “The Kid” Marhevka: trumpet
- Karl Hunter: saxophones and clarinet
- Joshua Levy: piano and arranger
- Anthony Bonsera, Jr.: lead trumpet
- Alex Henderson: trombone
The band’s website provides further information and even more achievements.
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy has also been very involved with helping raise funds for art and music education in Ventura in the past.
A few years ago, they participated in a project which benefitted Ventura High School, Buena High School and a couple local middle schools.
“What we initially did is, some of the budget money was distributed to the school bands and then they had a general fund where educators could apply for grants to get supplies and things they needed,” Rowley said.
“So we had some schools with that money build recording studios, some kilns built for the ceramic department, there was some audio-visual equipment, so it was a spread across the board as far as arts and music so it feels pretty great to be a part of that,” Rowley continued.
Babb explained the involvement of Ventura locals with art and music.
“[The] people who live here support the arts, attend events and voted for art education in the parcel tax election. They tell me they are appreciative that we emphasize the arts in schools,” Babb said.
Rowley discussed the lack of funding in the arts and music, compared to athletics.
“Athletics always get the bigger fund because they generate more income for the school, but not everyone is into sports so it’s lopsided,” Rowley said. “I think it needs to be more of a plane field with the funding. I think they could spread some of that funding to the arts and music and sciences as well and spread it more evenly than they do in the athletics.”
“I think more people would benefit from the music and arts if they had more funding, even athletes would benefit from it,” Rowley said.
Rowley talked about the importance of music and art education.
“Any time in your life when you have an up or a down or anything that happens in life I think there is a connection with music and if there is a song playing you will remember when you fell in love or you saw a piece of art or something that really connects with you and in times of your life you always go back to that,” Rowley said.
“I mean art and music apply to everything if you think about it, it’s connected in one way or another. Studies have also proven that music and art education expands students’ brains and opens them up to different thought, helps them express different ideas […] so if there is any way that you can open up people’s eyes to the rest of the world and what’s out there I think music and art does that.”
All of the funds earned from the concert on Saturday will also be going into Ventura Unified School District’s music and art programs, through the Ventura Education Partnership.
Babb expressed his appreciation for the Big Bad Voodoo Daddy concert.
“We are grateful to the band and all the hard work of the organizers. We live in an aesthetically pleasing place that inspires artistic expression. I think the arts are what binds all learning to the imagination.”
Ventura was incorporated in 1866 and later took over Santa Barbara County – renamed Ventura County – in 1873.
Before then, it had been a part of a Chumash provincial capital called Shisholop which was visited by Juan Rodrigues Cabrillo, Sebastian Viscaino, Gaspar de Portola, Juan Bautista de Anza and Father Junipero Serra, who named the city in the late 1700s.
After an oil and agriculture boom in 1873, the city truly flourished and grew.
The population kept growing from there. There were 4,156 people in 1920, 11,603 in 1930, and 16,643 in 1950.
The completion of the Ventura Freeway from Los Angeles to Ventura in 1969 helped the population to eventually reach approximately 108,961 today.
Babb commented on the changes he had seen in Ventura throughout the years.
“Since my family moved here in 2001 we have seen a whole host of social and physical changes to the community, most importantly the ubiquity of technology,” Babb said.
“When we came here, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook had yet to be invented. Cell phones folded shut. I am excited about technology’s role in personalizing learning experiences as we move ahead,” Babb continued
Babb thinks “the city is a perfect scale and a good mix of the natural and the people-made. I am lucky to live and work here.”
Rowley also expressed what he felt about Ventura over the past years.
“It’s definitely gotten bigger but it still has – and that’s the beauty of it – even though it’s increased in size it still has the small town vitality and small town charm that makes it so special and that’s why people want to move here and that’s why it is expanding,” Rowley said.
“Downtown’s come around, there’s a lot more happening down there and I love how have gone and discovered the old buildings and tried to preserve the charm that made this town what it is in the first place and what makes it so special,” Rowley said.
Locals aren’t the only ones who give Ventura recognition; national magazines have also recognized the city as a great place to live.
Ventura has been chosen as one of the top 10 best place to live in America by Men’s Journal.
The city has also been ranked as the 23rd best place to live in for 2015 on the Livability website and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has recently named Ventura County as the most desirable place to live in America.
Babb stated that these rankings were “not surprising” because Ventura is so “beautiful and interesting.”
Rowley talked about the importance of giving back to the community.
“We are a part of the community and I think if you’re in a community it’s important to make it a better place for everyone whether you’re a musician, a doctor, or what capacity your occupation is, if you have the means and if you have the time and opportunity I think it’s really appreciative to give back to our city. It just makes it a better place to live for everyone and makes the community closer.”
Rowley expressed the importance Ventura had to him.
“We get to travel all over the world and I gotta say this town is pretty special […] when you leave this town for a while and you come back you really appreciate what a special place it is.”
Background photo credit: Ela Yasa / The Foothill Dragon Press.