The Vina Robles Amphitheatre may have a competitor for the moniker of the most beautiful live music venue in Santa Barbara County. En Fuego Events has brought a family-friendly live music series to the serene Elings Park, which is nestled in the mountains of the Santa Barbara Mesa. Evenings at Elings celebrated its final concert of the year, with a reggae bash headlined by old-school reggae icon Don Carlos on Friday, September 17.
The concert featured two well-known local reggae acts, the Free Love Project and Cornerstone, as openers. The festival site, literally nestled between two mountains, features a large green field used for soccer and other sports with a natural sloping hill, creating a natural amphitheater. The festival was designed to be family-friendly. Children under 12 are free, and bringing family pets along is encouraged. Blankets and chairs are welcome. Many concert-goers even brought frisbees and soccer balls to play within the vast expanses of the green fields used for the venue. Gourmet food trucks and locally brewed craft beers were available at modest prices. The 5 pm start time of the concert saw a large crowd gather early, but concert-goers spread out widely so nowhere in the event site felt crowded.
The Free Love Project opened the show with a spirited hour-long set. The band was founded by long-time Ventura Reggae and Ska maestro Darren "Zorba" Cruz. Cruz has performed in successful regional bands, including Irie Ites, SkaDaddyZ, and Strand Quentin, since the 1990s. The musician formed FLP during the pandemic to collaborate with local musicians sharing a love for the Reggae genre. Cruz wrote some songs and advertised on local social media to form a band. The response was overwhelming with musicians wishing to participate in records and live shows, including members of bands like Stalag 13, I Decline, Ill Repute, Raging Arb, Night Demon, The Question, Rising Son members, All A Blur, Bobby Campbell, and his brothers Brandon Cruz and Dalton Cruz. The band Cruz assembled for the Elings park concert showcased an enormous talent with no less than ten seasoned performers on the stage. Three generations of local residents, many of them from the surf community, danced to the hypnotic beat.
Another Ventura-based veteran, Reggae/Ska band Cornerstone took the stage as the sunset on one of the last days of summer painting the green field in an orange glow. The band played a spirited set as the crowd began to swell all across the venue. Locals cheered when the band was joined by singer Mike Organista and guitarist Zac Pike, members of Carpinteria’s favorite ska band, The Upbeats. The pair brought a layer of 2 Tone Ska to the group, and the crowd responded emphatically, dancing ska style all about the front of the stage.
As evening fell, a beautiful full moon appeared over the mountains, and stars began to light up the sky. A band of veteran musicians appeared on stage, complete with backup singers and a horn section, and began to play an introduction. The large crowd now began to pack tightly around the stage, many with their children on their shoulders. Then Don Carlos strolled onto the stage looking like an iconic godfather of traditional Jamaican Reggae music, and the crowd erupted in jubilation. Kingston-born Don Carlos began singing in 1973 as a member of Black Uhuru, the band that won the first Grammy for Reggae music. The 69-year-old wore a massive smile throughout a set of traditional Reggae dance music. He would frequently dance and strut about the stage to the audience's delight, most of which were doing their own trancelike dance. The veteran performer dug deep into his catalog to play some of his biggest hit songs, including Black Uhuru’s seminal 1977 debut, “Love Crisis,” and solo hits like “Night Blues,” “Nice Time Tonight,” “Dice Cup,” “Hog & Goat,” “I’m Not Getting Crazy” and “Spread Out.” The show ended just before the 10 pm curfew, with almost all of the large crowd staying until the very end.
Evenings at Elings 2022 season opens with a show on March 11 headlined by Israel Vibration.