One of the biggest parties in Santa Barbara history took place for more than twelve hours on Sunday February 25.

The marathon Kick Ash Bash concert and fair took place at Ursula and Patrick Nesbitt’s pristine Bella Vista Ranch and Polo Club in Summerland, a town just to the south of Montecito, California. The event was organised to thank first responders for their efforts to save local communities from the disastrous recent fires and accompanying mudslides.

Over 1,500 tickets were distributed to local first responders and their families, for a day of incredible live music, carnival rides, and an incredible spread of free gourmet food and drinks. Exhibits showcasing local response agencies showed off the latest equipment from helicopters to new fire engines and more than a thousand residents paid for the event by purchasing tickets for the main event starting at $250 and going up to thousands of dollars for special VIP tickets. The event raised over two million dollars, with all the money going to the Santa Barbara Firefighters Alliance.

Much of the crowd brought their families, primarily to enjoy the sumptuous food and endless pours of local wine and local micro-brewed beer. But the real attraction to the event was the unique musical line up, anchored by famous local pop stars and celebrities alike. The festival was divided into two parts, with a main event from noon until 6pm and an after-show scheduled until 10pm but which ended up stretching until nearly midnight.

The main event got underway right at noon with some emotional speeches and patriotic tunes. The first singer on stage was 14-year old Lauren Cantin, who sang 'God Bless America'. The Santa Barbara Middle School ninth-grader sang alongside her Santa Barbara Youth Ensemble choir at Sunday’s gathering. It was later revealed that she was the young girl that was pulled from the mud in her Montecito home.

Her father was killed in the mudslide, and one of her two brothers is still missing. She was later joined onstage by the two firefighters who rescued her, Ben Hauser and Andy Rupp. Another emotional moment followed when the very pregnant Ashley Iverson - widow of San Diego County firefighter Cory Iverson, who was killed while fighting the fire in Ventura County - came onstage and announced her intention to create a foundation to help first responders communicate their trauma.

The mood then turned more festive when resident Dennis Miller came onstage to MC the event. A pattern was established with famous area residents either appearing onstage or via video to lend their support and thank responders, followed by a musical act. 'American Idol' singer Katharine McPhee sang next in a brief performance of 'Somewhere over the Rainbow'. The biggest surprise of the day came early when pop star Katy Perry arrived onstage to get the music going. The Santa Barbara native was emotional talking about her brief time living in Montecito. Then she lightened the atmosphere by quipping, “Okay, so I am really from Goleta," an attempt at local humour: Goleta, just to the north of Santa Barbara, is a very blue-collar town and Montecito is one of the wealthiest communities in the country and is perceived as such.

Perry launched into a four-song mini set backed by two acoustic guitarists, first apologising that she was getting over a cold and hadn’t been able to sing for a week. But that didn’t keep her from belting out the four tunes with surprising accuracy. In this stripped-down emotional performance, without all the grandiose pop trappings, a passionate Perry seemed to perform in an almost blues-like style that showcased her vocal abilities. The 33-year old singer appears to have become a more mature vocalist with a more dynamic vocal range than she had in her younger years. After the performance, Perry met with a group of spellbound young girls from the audience and posed for photos and signed autographs. Her sincere and heartfelt thank you to the firefighters set the emotional tone for the day.

Carpinteria, the next town south of Summerland, was also walloped by the fires and mudslides. That city is also home to famous musicians including Dishwalla, who played the next set as a scaled down trio of guitarist Rodney Cravens, lead singer Justin Fox, and drummer George Pendergast, doing an acoustic set. The band opened with their biggest hit, 'Counting Blue Cars', and the crowd who had just settled back into their seats after the Katy Perry set, instantly leaped to their feet and clapped and sang along to the four-song set.

Resident and iconic actor Jane Seymour came onstage to thank the first responders and introduced the next group, the Sisterhood. The band featured a country rock duo comprised of Ruby Stewart (Rod Stewart’s daughter) and Alyssa Bonagura, backed by Alan Parsons' band, acting as the house band for the day. The charismatic duo led the veteran rock band in a country-tinged five-song set full of exquisite vocals. The group was joined by a choir of young local singers.

Another Montecito resident, Ellen DeGeneres, was the next host, who introduced singer, guitarist and songwriter Glen Phillips, best known nationally as the founder of the band Toad The Wet Sprocket. Phillips is well known locally, participating in all sorts of charity events over the years. It is not unusual to find the low key musician practicing in local alleys or street corners.

Phillips, a prolific songwriter, has released four solo studio albums and some live recordings. Here he played a short set with his current collaborators, Sean and Sara Watkins, from the Nickel Creek band. The trio played five songs to an appreciative crowd full of familiar faces to the much revered Phillips.

Actor Don Johnson took over the MC activities to announce the next set by the electrifying guitarist Steve Vai, who was the lead guitarist for Frank Zappa’s band and who played with him at the Arlington Theater in Santa Barbara on December 8, 1980, the night John Lennon died. Backed by Alan Parsons' group, Vai's short set featured a guitar duel with the newest member of the Alan Parsons group, guitarist Jeff Kollman. Kollman held his own against Vai in a jaw-dropping and ear-shattering guitar jam.

Another resident, former tennis star Jimmy Connors, came onstage to introduce the next act, Richard Marx, who played a short set that included some of the biggest hits of his 30-million-selling career. He was followed by Wilson Phillips - Carnie Wilson, Wendy Wilson and Chynna Phillips, daughters, respectively, of Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and John and Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas - who brought their own rock band to the Bash.

The group, whose debut album sold over 10 million copies back in 1990, played a set consisting of 'Hold On, Release Me', 'You’re in Love', 'Impulsive', and 'The Dream is Still Alive', before being joined onstage for their finale by the children’s choir that had performed earlier, in an inspiring cover of 'California Dreaming' which had the whole audience singing along.

Dennis Miller returned to the stage to tell more jokes and introduce the next group, the Alan Parsons Project. Parsons also acted as the event's musical director and with good reason: he has one of the most impressive resumes in rock music history, having worked as a young engineer on the final Beatles album as well as on Pink Floyd’s 'Dark Side of the Moon'.

He went on to be at the forefront of progressive music with his band the Alan Parsons Project. As, usual Parsons' band featured an alternating cast of lead singers, each taking their turns with distinctive vocal skills. In addition to the exquisite vocals, the members are also extraordinary veteran musicians. The extended set had young and old music fans dancing in the late afternoon sun.

One of Santa Barbara’s most well known musical icons, Kenny Loggins, closed the Kick Ash Bash with an extended show that wowed the crowd and all the musicians attending. The set kicked off right as a brilliant winter sunset painted the polo fields in a warm orange glow, and Loggins brought his full band of veteran rockers to perform some of his biggest hits.

It was a fitting finale to the event as Loggins has laboured tirelessly for local charities over the decades, including Unity Shoppe that provides goods to families in need, and numerous fundraisers for children’s musical programs. Loggins extended his set past to the allotted time much to the delight of the euphoric crowd, spurred on by the copious amounts of complimentary food and drink.

He brought out the children’s choir again to help out on a few songs, but the final song was one that few in the crowd will soon forget. In an extended cover of The Beatles' Hey Jude, Kenny and the band led a small army of musicians who had performed earlier in the day in a monumental jam that had the whole audience singing. With Alan Parsons on guitar and vocals and members of Sisterhood, Wilson Phillips and more joining in, it was an awe-inspiring close to the Bash. But that was only the end of the beginning as an entirely new roster of performers was preparing to play for the evening After Bash.


Photos by L. Paul Mann
www.lpaulmann.com

















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