Ventura Harbor has a long industrial tradition. Before it was full of fine, expensive boats and tourist-oriented shops, it was a dump, and the adjacent Ventura Keys was an airport. The sewage treatment plant and a petroleum tank farm are remaining relics of the industrial past. It's often windy and cool down there in the harbor--sort of where the smell meets the swell if the wind is just so.
There hasn't been nighttime music in the harbor since Hussing's went away a few years ago, but like a breath of fresh air for music fans, Lorenzoni's Espresso Bar & Cafe is offering affordable acoustic music on weekends. One of the featured performers is laid-back troubadour Alan Thornhill, down from the Ojai Valley, performing from 7 to 10 p.m. Saturdays. It's a free show, and there's free parking as well.
Lorenzoni's has a lot to offer for those out for a night of PG-rated fun, featuring about 110% fewer hassles than your usual club. First of all, there's no gnarly bouncers, no beer, no drunks, no cops and thus no trouble. No dopey dancers are likely to slam into you and knock you flying, either. Also, Lorenzoni's has great food--the Southwestern melt is worth the journey alone. They have all sorts of teas, coffees and flavored cappuccinos, and some serious belt-loosening pastries.
The place has a bunch of doors and, thus, a breeze, and usually, a lot of strolling tourists. Also, a few cute little sparrows cruise by looking for handouts. And Thornhill, who has been playing locally since the late '60s, appreciates the ambience.
"Usually this place is packed," Thornhill said. "The place is real open, and usually we get a lot of walk-in traffic. I like these kinds of gigs--I've had enough of those smoky bars."
Thornhill travels light. He sets up against the wall, opens one of the doors and gets a cross breeze working, perches on a bar stool and entertains with his cool, clear voice. It's as laid-back as a Sunday morning in Ojai. Thornhill even gets to take his young daughter, Naomi, to these gigs. He good-naturedly informs the crowd of a $5 charge per table for anyone who doesn't sing along to his daughter's favorite song, "Puff the Magic Dragon."
"I've been playing music all my life--my parents were very supportive," he said. "I used to listen to everything on the radio; I'm a self-taught guitarist. I formed my first band in junior high school and we used to play school dances.
"I've been in a few groups over the years, the last one was Little Brother, which broke up about four years ago. That's the way it is with bands--they come, they go. It was a five-piece band that played old R & B songs. I love that kind of stuff."
These days when he plays, Thornhill generally does the kicked-back tour. In addition to Lorenzoni's, he can be seen strumming and crooning at such places as Wheeler Hot Springs in Ojai, or SOhO and Cold Springs Tavern in Santa Barbara. Since he graduated from Hueneme High School in 1968, he's played at a lot of the venues that no longer exist, such as Charlie's and the Sand Dollar in Ojai.
"From time to time, I've played all over the county; I've toured and I played Back East as recently as February. The local scene is always changing. There's a lot of good musicians, but very few places to play. Right now, I'd say the Ventura-Santa Barbara scene is pretty bleak."
Thornhill released a pair of tapes last year--one a Christmas album and the other, "The Time, the Tide & the Tears," which contains 10 acoustic originals. He's had some considerable success selling his songs, too.
"I know a lot of songs. I could play a whole night of originals or a whole week of covers," he said. "I'm always writing new songs, and sending them off to other artists and publishers. Chris Hillman of the Desert Rose Band recorded one of my songs, and I've had songs done by Kenny Loggins.
"I love the music part of all this, but it's hard to make a living at it. I'm a carpenter, so sometimes, it's hard to find the time. I just do what I do."
* WHAT: Alan Thornhill.
* WHERE: Lorenzoni's, 1575 Spinnaker Drive, Ventura.
* WHEN: Saturday, 7 to 10 p.m.
* HOW MUCH: Free.
* FYI: 658-2228.