On Saturday, July 11, Chris Pelonis picked me up in Los Olivos in his Porsche convertible and said, “You wanna go get a beer and hear some music?” [“Hell yeah!”] So we drove the winding, hilly, gorgeous San Marcos Pass, Highway 154, to the Old Stagecoach Road turnoff into Los Padres National Forest. A few miles in, near the amazing bridge, we came to Cold Spring Tavern, a throwback, log cabin compound of restaurant, bar, Old Ojai Jail and various outbuildings from its establishment back in 1886 as a stagecoach stop. It’s a magical place.
A band was playing outside the log cabin on that Saturday afternoon, folksy rock and a little soul. There were bikers and families and artists and locals on benches and logs and at picnic tables. A great collection of music and nature lovers. Chris is well known in these parts, and he soon drew me into the “green room,” a protected patch of dirt to the side of the log cabin bar, where I met the amazing duo of Tom Ball and Kenny Sultan.
“Tom and Kenny?” I said. “My name is Tom Kenny!” I showed them my ID, then learned a bit about their past three decades as an acoustic blues duo, with tours and festivals and records and lots of live performances. On Flying Fish/Rounder Records. For the past 36 years, every Sunday that they’re not on the road, they play 1:15-4:00 p.m. at Cold Spring Tavern. They were playing the next day. I went back. This time, I drove; Chris rode his Triumph Scrambler.
What a great day! Sunny and shaded, sumptuous tri-tip from a grill, beautiful people, beer and refreshments, and excellent, excellent music outdoors. Tom Ball is on harmonica and sings a growling old blues out of one side of his mouth, punctuating his phrasing with percussive pops on the mouth harp. At one point, he picked up a 1936 Gibson and played a few songs—it turns out that he has a few discs out of his guitar work. He has incredible feel and groove.
Kenny Sultan is a frighteningly good acoustic guitarist, with his own signature line from Martin. And he’s a lot of fun, a showman, a true fan of the blues. He banters with the crowd and has the rhythm and pace of a top comedian. His picking is phenomenal. Tom and Kenny are legends in and around Santa Barbara, and in other places, too, and they have made a life out of music. They were accompanied by friend Jody Eulitz on box-brush percussion. Sometimes friends get up from the audience and sing with them; sometimes they go solo for a song or two to give the other guy a break. A portable JBL P.A. It’s a show that is easy and cool and folksy and highly entertaining. Who doesn’t love an old-timey version of “Fishin’ Hole Blues?”
Teresa Russell and Cocobilli, an electric blues band, followed from 4:30-7:30 p.m., on the small indoor stage, with Patti behind the bar running the place. Cramped and tight, with a low ceiling. Rock ’n’ roll blues. It was awesome. That stage, Chris told me, was where Jeff Bridges and the Abiders made their first public appearance more than five years ago.
I’ll go back to Cold Spring Tavern. The vibe, the relaxation, the sense of shared fun and music…it was fantastic. And it made me think of summer afternoons back home in Indiana, Bloomington in particular. Or weekends with my brother and family in Baton Rouge, or a street fair where everybody was super cool. This kind of music-in-the-afternoon gathering takes place in all kinds of towns all across the country. It will be hard to find one as cool as Cold Spring, but I’m gonna try…
Next stop: Allen Sides and Ocean Way Audio.