Acousticats’ Bluegrass Sound Becoming Progressively Unique : Quintet is known as a bluegrass group, but really plays music from the mountains of California, or ‘brown-grass music.’


If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of hearing the Acousticats, their new CD, “The Cat’s Meow” lives up to its name. And it’s a great introduction to the California-based quintet’s unique sound. The group will unveil its second album Sunday evening at Nicholby’s during a concert and release party.

The Acousticats’ first record, “Down at Evangelina’s,” made it to the bluegrass charts. And they headlined last month’s annual Live Oak Folk Music Festival near Santa Barbara. Which might lead readers and listeners alike to conclude that this is a bluegrass group. Cy Clarke, lead vocalist, guitarist and composer of most of the Acousticats’ material defined their musical style.

“We’re known as a progressive acoustic band but also at times as bluegrass,” Clarke said. “But we don’t play music from the hills of Tennessee. We play music from the mountains of California. We don’t play bluegrass--we play brown-grass music.”


Clark said the group avoids political themes in favor of evoking the diverse culture of California. For instance, Clarke’s new song, “Kern County Fandango,” is about the dance parties held on the early California ranches. And they’ve included an old Allman Brothers rock ‘n’ roll song, “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.”

“Our influences are steeped in the past. But the Acousticats are part of a new and emerging tradition in music,” Clarke said. And in keeping with the latest trend in music of artist-owned labels, the Acousticats have debuted the album on their own label, Ranch Records California.

Whatever you call the music--it’s great listening. Joining Clarke are Phil Salazar (fiddle), Charl Ann Gastineau (violin), Tom Corbett (mandolin, guitar) and Rick Borella (bass).

“Phil and I have worked to create the hallmark of our sound--the interplay of the twin fiddles. The original compositions provide the catalyst for innovative arrangements, finely tuned vocal harmonies and hot solos,” Clarke said.

To get that hot fiddle sound, Salazar said he first improvises the fiddle solos, transcribes them from a recording and later writes the twin fiddle parts.

“Phil plays fiddle and Charl Ann plays violin. But there really is no difference except stylistically. Charl Ann’s is more of a persuasive violin style. Phil just flat out shreds. And he probably does it better than anyone,” Clarke said.


“We like to joke,” said Salazar, “Charl Ann teaches the violin Suzuki method and I teach the Harley-Davidson method.”


Save the Dates: The following country stars will perform at the Ventura County Fair, which runs Aug. 17-28: Hal Ketchum and Carlene Carter, Aug. 17; the Marshall Tucker Band, Aug. 19, and Tanya Tucker, Aug. 24.

Darlene O’Connell & the Dixie Flyers will play for a Ventura Concert Theatre Country Dance Night, July 23. And the group will open the Jerry Jeff Walker concert at the same venue on Aug. 26. Platte River Crossing is slated to play for the theatre’s Country Dance Night on Aug. 27.

The popular local band Shiloh will open for Restless Heart on Oct. 15 at the fourth annual Gold Dust Gala fund-raiser sponsored by Community Memorial Healthcare Foundation in Ventura.

If you’re looking for places with no cover charge, Logsdon’s in Santa Paula, has free line-dance lessons Wednesdays from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. The bonus is Steve Hill performing for your listening and dancing pleasure. And the Starting Gate in Ventura has free line dance lessons on Wednesdays from 6 to 8 p.m. and live country bands on the weekend. The Galleon Room in Goleta offers couples dance lessons Thursdays from 7 to 8:30 p.m. and some of the area’s best country bands play there Thursday through Saturday.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that clubs don’t clear enough profit to pay a dance instructor, a live band or deejay and the rent. These venues can’t run on goodwill alone. Yet many dance fans arrive early to avoid a cover charge where it applies. And some folks even visit their cars where they keep a cooler with water or soda. This sort of stuff has caused some club owners to consider switching to a non-country format in hopes of attracting a more profitable clientele.


Cousins has changed its format to live music Thursdays through Saturdays. Miss Ila offers 7 p.m. lessons on Two-Step Tuesdays and Kathy Bailey teaches on West Coast Swing Wednesdays, beginning level at 7 p.m. and intermediate at 7:45 p.m.

Susette Warynick, owner of the Orchid Bowl and Galleon Room, gets a gold star for submitting band and dance info regularly and on time, no less! If you want your listing to reach the readers, please follow her example at least two weeks before the event.


* TWO STEPPIN’: Your guide to Ventura County’s country music scene. Page 4

* WHAT: Acousticats CD Release Party/Concert

* WHERE: Nicholby’s, 404 E. Main St., Ventura

* WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Sunday

* COST: $4

* FYI: Call 653-2320

* ETC.: The Acousticats also perform 7 to 10 p.m. Thursdays at Cold Springs Tavern, 5995 Stage Coach Road in Santa Barbara, 967-0066. They will appear 7 to 9 p.m. Aug. 6, at the Olivas Adobe Folk Music Series, 4200 Olivas Park Drive in Ventura, 658-4726; Acousticats information, 563-6395.