By L. Paul Mann
Jake Shimabukuro :: 02.13.12 :: Carpinteria Plaza Playhouse Theater :: Carpinteria, CA
The non-profit Carpinteria Plaza Playhouse Theater is the Santa Barbara area's newest live music venue. The 83-year-old little movie house has recently been remodeled as a community playhouse and concert hall. The theater sits in the center of downtown, in the little beach town of Carpinteria. Originally named The Alcazar, the theater was built in 1928 by, Henry J. Muller and run by Hollywood movie star Oliver Prickett, famous for his movie roles in the Ma and Pa Kettle" series. Ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro played the first big show of 2012 in the tiny 200 seat theater. The maniacal Shimabukuro has become a well known name in the indie pop music world over the last few years, playing relentlessly at big festivals like Bonnaroo, tiny spaces like the Plaza Playhouse, and venues of all size in between. Shimabukuro is also well known for working with non-profit music associations, and is the spokesmen for the Music Is Good Medicine" organization, which led him to his gig at Playhouse.
The masterful musician embraced the sold out crowd and praised the superb acoustics of the structure. The sound at the venue benefits from a near perfect acoustic geometry, with low ceilings and solid square walls. Local rock veteran Brian Auger, master of the Hammond B3 organ, was so taken with the quality of sound in the tiny theater that he has become the de facto volunteer sound engineer. A rock star since he formed Brian Auger's Oblivion Express in 1970 with no less than 30 of his own albums under his belt, Auger has become a well respected music producer and engineer, and is in discussions with Shimabukuro to collaborate on a new project.
Shimabukuro gave Auger frequent kudos during his extended concert, featuring two sets of some of his best known classic covers like Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody" and newer material reflecting his Hawaiian roots. Shimabukuro is most famous for his explosive renditions of rock classics, where he can be heard playing lead and rhythm parts at the same time by strumming with one hand while picking strings with the other. But his musical career began in a much more traditional mode, playing the ukulele in the traditional style of his native Hawaii with the group Pure Heart.
Shimabukuro had an appreciative crowd enthralled with renditions of classics like George Harrison's While My Guitar Gently Weeps," creating a huge crescendo of sound with his tiny instrument. Many in the crowd drove hours from cities further south to join lucky Carpinterians for this very special show. In fact, Shimabukuro gave a shout-out to one Japanese couple who had apparently flown in from Japan to attend the show.
In keeping with the community spirit of the venue, local beer brewery Carpinteria Island Brewing Company and a local winery donated some of their best alcoholic offerings that were sold for a paltry $5.00 for a very large glass as part of the fund raiser.
After the nearly three hour concert, a gleeful Shimabukuro hung out in the lobby for another hour. Dutifully greeting each fan who waited to meet him, signing autographs and patiently posing for pictures, he remained in the theater until the very last fan had a chance to approach him. I had a chance to chat with him about the first time I experienced one of his concerts. I was at the 2008 Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee. I was hanging out in the beer tent far in front of the massive main stage while Metallica played their ear shattering three hour marathon set. As the veteran metal band ended their show, I noticed a little guy with a ukulele setting up his equipment on the tiny stage of the beer tent. Suddenly, Shimabukuro erupted in a frenzied, flaying wall of sound and Metallica fans began flocking to the little stage to hear the Jim Hendrix of the ukulele play a mercurial set. Shimabukuro smiled at the memory and noted that he played louder at that show then any he could remember. He also indicated that he was ready to return to Bonnaroo anytime that they want him back.
The concert at the Plaza Playhouse was a huge success and several big name acts are in the works for upcoming shows. Even buying tickets at the venue is an unexpected pleasure, with no fees of any kind. You can purchase tickets directly at the box office or online using Paypal, The only downside to the remarkable little venue is that tickets sell out fast as local residents know a good thing when they see it. Find more information on this new venue here.
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