Festival Crowds Music to Ojai's Ears : Concerts: Three performances today will bring curtain down on the 48th annual event. Percussion ensemble keeps the beat Saturday.


During the Ojai Festival, Scott White can step outside his home in the cool evenings and listen to the violins sing and the French horns swoon from nearby Libbey Park.

But Saturday, the only sound White could hear was the chorus of car motors and the murmur of human traffic as music aficionados filtered into Ojai for the 48th annual music fest, which concludes today.

"It's hell," White said of the hot midday traffic crunch he encountered trying to drive along Ojai Avenue to the dry cleaners. "Compared to a normal Saturday it must be four or five times the amount of cars."

About 5,000 people were expected to attend the three-day concert series, which started Friday evening and is one of the nation's most prominent music festivals.

This year, Michael Tilson Thomas leads the New World Symphony of Miami in three concerts today, the last of which begins at 5:30 p.m. in Ojai's Libbey Bowl.

But the crescendo of activity in the normally quiet town could not sour White's tone.

"I still like having the music festival," White said. "Despite the traffic, it's a nice event."

And the invading concert-goers couldn't agree more.

"You can't beat the setting and the weather's perfect," Camarillo resident Dee Dee Tamburrino said. "All you need is a blanket and a shady tree."

Tamburrino and her friends hit Ojai early Saturday, eating breakfast at a nearby cafe before attending the 10 a.m. family concert, featuring SouthBeat, the New World Symphony's percussion ensemble.

Newbury Park residents Jean and Chris Curtis brought their 5-year-old son, Patrick, to Saturday morning's performance.

"It was fabulous," Jean Curtis said. "Patrick is real interested in music; he was captivated the whole time."

The Curtises were hesitant about bringing their youngster to the music festival, fearing he would be bored or restless. But the ensemble's flamboyant drum banging and musical storytelling mesmerized the 375 people in the audience, many of them children.

Patrick said his favorite part of the performance were the xylophones.

"They banged on them really hard and really loud," the 5-year-old said. "I think that's cool."

But some festival-goers aren't as enthused by the discordant and often avant-garde music that the festival strives to include in its novel musical programming.

"We've been coming for about 25 years," said Pacific Palisades resident Olga Farbstein. "We used to come for the concerts . . . (but) they're getting a little too modern for my tastes."

Despite the festival's emphasis on progressive music, Farbstein said she returns year after year because she loves the ambience of the event.

Her friend, Rosalind Loring, who has been coming to the festival for about 10 years, agreed.

"We always go to the Philharmonic in Los Angeles, but it's a very different experience to sit here under the oak trees," said Loring, who lives in Westwood. "We never miss it and we never leave without buying something."

And that's music to the ears of local merchants.

Ojai's art galleries and restaurants typically profit off the weekend crowd. The Ojai Festival is one of the town's largest events.

"It'll be a crazy weekend," said Pamela Pilkenton, a saleswoman at Massarella's pottery shop and gallery. "A lot of people who come in here from out of town already have pieces and come back to add to their collection. They've kind of become fans."

Across the street, a monstrous breakfast crowd descended on the Ojai Cafe Emporium before the 10 a.m. concert. "It was packed," hostess Kelly Brown said. "All the tables were full."

Human Arts owner Hallie Katz said she expects her gallery to double its normal business during the festival.

"This weekend could be comparable to a weekend before Christmas," she said. "We really gear up for it."

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