This year’s entertainment lineup at the Kern County Fair Budweiser Pavilion is filled with some real crowd-pleasing acts, but this first week’s quartet of shows is particularly funky, and spicy (we’ll get to that part later).
With hours of classic rhythms sure to get you grooving in your seats, all four are legendary in their own right and if you’re familiar with Bakersfield’s tastes in music, you should already know where I’m heading.
The shows are at 8 p.m. and free to enjoy with paid fair admission; however, there’s also a paid ticket option for premium seating that can be purchased in advance for super fans.
I strongly suggest you make room in your social calendar — and plan on repeat visits to “The Bud” as it’s known during the fair. Why? Read on ...
Thursday: Tower of Power
The Bay Area’s finest unit of unstoppable groove will once again grace the Bud Pavilion stage bringing nearly five decades of funk back to Bakersfield.
Known for their iconic horn section and impeccable sense of rhythm, founding members Emilio Castillo and Stephen "Doc" Kupka keep the group touring around the globe year-round. Still anchored by the dynamic duo of original bassist Rocco Prestia and drummer David Garibaldi, the band and its discography have been studied by musicians the world over, even receiving the praises of the Godfather of Soul himself, the late James Brown.
Also known as the “reunion night” for Bakersfield musicians of all ages, expect to see a lot of familiar faces gettin’ down in the crowd. You can also count on Castillo to enjoy his favorite local tacos before the set.
Suggested listening: “Tower of Power” (1973), “Monster on a Leash” (1991), and “T.O.P.” (1993) – which features Bakersfield saxophonist Paul Perez on the record — and the killer “Oakland Zone” (2003). Prepare to be funkafied.
Friday: Sheila E.
At the height of Prince’s popularity, percussionist Sheila Escovedo had already made a name for herself performing alongside some of jazz, rock, and soul music’s biggest names.
How’s this for a resume: George Duke, Herbie Hancock, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, not to mention jammin’ with her father, percussionist Pete Escovedo, who helped lay the foundation for Latin rock with guitarist Carlos Santana and others during the Summer of Love.
But it was her longtime friendship and collaboration with Prince that left an indelible mark on fans. Beginning with her 1984 debut album, “The Glamorous Life,” which featured the hit single of the same name, Miss E’s career flourished throughout the '80s and '90s from studio to stage. More hits came with “A Love Bizarre,” plus a starring role in the 1985 hip-hop flick “Krush Groove,” and sitting at the throne for some of Prince’s biggest tours, including the 1987 concert film “Sign o’ the Times” where she showed why she deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as some of music’s greatest drum legends. Despite thriving as a soloist, you can still catch her performing with her famous father and siblings (all accomplished musicians) today. Her newly released full-length album, “Iconic: Message 4 America,” is a mix of funky tributes with an all-star team of friends that includes Ringo Starr, George Clinton, The Revolution and Fred Stone (Sly & The Family Stone). When it comes to Sheila E., expect nothing short of brilliant.
Equally as synonymous with Bakersfield fans as their peers in Tower of Power, R&B/funk heroes War also remain one of the busiest legacy acts around. Singer Eric Burdon of the Animals helped introduce the group to the radio charts with the 1970 hit single “Spill The Wine,” taking them on a global tour before parting ways to find their own success. After a shaky debut LP, the group’s second album, “All Day Music,” in 1971 helped establish the group as band of the people with hits like “Slippin’ Into Darkness” and the title track.
The hits continued with “Lowrider,” the anthem for cruisers everywhere, “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” “Summer,” “Galaxy” and many others. The group has managed to make it to the ballot of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after qualifying, but still has yet to make the final round, which is a shame. Few bands are able to conjure up memories, emotions and affections like War. Led by original keyboardist Lonnie Jordan, who still has the presence of a twenty-something kid on the ivories, with equally energetic vocals, the group also recently added former Poncho Sanchez saxophonist Scott Martin to the group.
But let’s not forget one of the real draws of the show, Bakersfield percussionist Marcos Reyes, who became a full-time member of War in 1998 after a concert by the band at the Fox Theater. Don’t be surprised if you see tears rolling down the faces of some rough exteriors in the audience when the group eases into “Don’t Let No One Get You Down." Vatos need love, too.
Sunday: Ramon Ayala
The music of Ramon Ayala may not be of the funky sort, but if there was an act deserving of a crown for rousing up a plethora of mixed emotions within a crowd, it’s this king of norteño music.
For those unfamiliar with the name, the 71-year-old accordion-slinging vocalist and composer has without a doubt been a musical presence at more than a few fiestas you’ve attended. Whether you’ve noticed or not depends on what state of mind you are by last call. Originating from the city of Monterrey in the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon, where the accordion reigns supreme, Ayala has penned some of regional Mexican music’s most celebrated songs. But among the 113 recorded albums, four of which earned him a Grammy award, the pair of hits his devoted fans will always scream for in a fit of unbridled ecstasy will forever be “Un Rinconcito en el Cielo” (A Corner in the Sky), an ode to the lovers, and “Tragos de Amargo Licor” (Drinks of Bitter Liquor), an ode to subsequent heartbreak. Put those two songs together and your first weekend of the fair should be complete.
And there you have it. I’ve made my case and I stand by it. Don’t forget to save room for next week.