Peace Love Dirt

Courtesy Live Oak Music Festival (Instagram)

Courtesy Live Oak Music Festival (Instagram)

Welcoming summer at Live Oak Music Festival

The salty smell of Coppertone. A colorful explosion of tie-dyed t-shirts and low-backed beach chairs. A cacophony of live music out in the sun and under the stars. That first sip of an ice cold Cadillac Margarita where the sweet kiss of Grand Marnier meets the sour tang of lime-laced tequila. Summer has finally arrived and I couldn’t have conjured up a better place to greet it than the Live Oak Music Festival.

Believe it or not, this was my first journey to this timeless spot, nestled in the peaceful Santa Ynez Valley, just minutes away from my Santa Barbara home, but worlds away from my fall-winter-springtime life in the carpool lane.

I know it seems like an oxymoron to say that a live music festival featuring a kaleidoscope of sounds ranging from traditional folk, bluegrass, gospel, to blues, jazz, classical, pop, world music and pirate aurghs could actually be peaceful, but somehow this one was.

Unlike some of the musical festivals I’ve been to in recent years, at Live Oak there was no mosh pit to fear, no skunkweed stink and no stale beer spills to accidentally step into. It was just an eclectic mix of great opportunities to hear, make and learn about music in a pleasant atmosphere alongside a community of several thousand genuinely friendly people relaxing and enjoying themselves. What a great way to welcome the summer.

No wonder people have been coming back here for 22 years.

It was Rickie Lee Jones who finally lured us to Live Oak. I was first introduced to her spacey, jazzy, sad chick sounds when I was in college, and thought “We Belong Together” was the most romantic song on earth. I still can’t resist Johnny the King walking in the streets without her in the rain looking for a leather jacket and a girl who wrote her name forever.

Her “Flying Cowboys” CD tunefully distracted me while her album of standards (“Pop Pop”) amused me through my commute during my driving years of living in Los Angeles. Zak was a fan too. We’d seen Rickie Lee Jones perform half a dozen or so times over the years, mostly in dark, smoky clubs, so we jumped at the chance to see her outside under the giant oak trees. The fact that it was Father’s Day was a bonus, as the rest of my family (and a few friends) jumped at this unique way to celebrate the holiday.

As usual, she didn’t disappoint. The sound was great, the setting unparalleled and I still love her music just as much as I did the first time I heard it.

I didn’t have any idea what to expect from the rest of the artists and was happily surprised. Starting with the high energy antics of Baka Beyond, who fuse African music from the Cameroon rainforest with Celtic fiddling, and sing about things like peace and porridge. Then there was the amazing jazz organist Dr. Lonnie Smith, who you really have to see-and hear-to believe; followed by the folksy rock tunes of Josh Ritter, an indie artist who is making a dent in the mainstream big-time, having recently been discovered and marketed by Starbucks.

They were all enjoyable but I have to say I took as much pleasure in people watching as I did the music.

Where else can you see (and Solstice doesn’t count) an absurdly fun parade led by an octogenarian Grandma in a purple tutu; a tribe of Zinka-nosed surf rats; a blissed-out hippie swaying to a tune that only he can hear; a weathered cowboy hosing down the dusty path as a bevy of tiny fairies hand out wishing dust; joined by a 50-ish brunette with a stylish haircut, Prada shoes, and a pair of ladybug wings and a yupped-out backpacker couple loaded down with the entire REI catalog worth of coolers and chairs?

My son liked playing soccer the best and I think my dad enjoyed his nap, so three generations of our family and friends all found something to like under the giant oaks this Father’s Day.

“This is a really cool thing. We should do it again next year,” said my mom, smiling and passing some more food. I couldn’t agree more.

What signals summer to you? Email For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on June 25, 2010.