[KHTS] – World-famous modern rock band Martha Davis and The Motels and legendary surf-rockers The Surfaris headlined the first Ventura Beach Festival at San Buena Ventura Beach State Park Saturday, May 3. The event was an early kickoff of summer at the seaside community closest to the Santa Clarita Valley, less than an hour due west.
Barley Legal from Redondo Beach and Ventura-area favorites Rey Fresco, Dirty Rice, and Spencer the Gardener opened the show, which started at 11 a.m. and wrapped up just after 5 p.m.
Temperatures in the mid-70s with a refreshing west-southwesterly breeze made it a comfortable day for the estimated 1,500-2,000 fans attending, including at least a few Santa Claritans who fled the 50 miles to the coast to beat higher temps at home.
Festival-goers, many dressed in tank tops, shorts and flops but most also wearing caps and sunhats, ranged in age from infants (wearing headphones) to seniors (wearing hearing aids). They sat or spread out picnic blankets on a large lawn in front of the stage, and enjoyed food, beverages and snacks they either packed in or purchased from a small group of vendors on the site.
The tally also includes a hundred or more locals who enjoyed the show from outside the festival’s fenced-in perimeter, firing up barbecues and quaffing brews as the bands provided the day’s soundtrack well within earshot.
Reaching out to Santa Clarita and Beyond
The nonprofit Friends of Channel Coast State Parks produced the event as a fundraiser and awareness-booster for educational programs and projects at Ventura Beach and other state parks in the Oxnard-Ventura-Santa Barbara areas.
“The idea is that as this festival continues to take off and grow, it is really going to showcase our piece of California,” Melissa Baffa, the organization’s executive director, told KHTS News. “People are going to talk about all this great food, recreational opportunities in our parks and all the fun stuff we have here.”
Baffa said group is actively reaching out this summer to inland communities such as Santa Clarita and the Santa Clarita Valley as well as Palmdale and Lancaster in the Antelope Valley.
“People come from hot inland areas like yours to escape the heat,” she said. “In addition to our camping and beaches, you might want to also check out some of our programs.”
A monthly kayaking meet-up is new this summer, she said. “It’s a great opportunity to escape the heat this summer, come on out and learn how to kayak, and support a nonprofit at the same time.”
Checking In with Martha Davis and The Motels
Now living in the Portland, Ore. area, Davis grew up in the San Fernando Valley, is a former Ventura resident and club-owner (the 2 West Coffee Shop on Main Street downtown), and a former Santa Clarita resident as well. She had many longtime Southern California friends in the Ventura Beach Festival audience.
The rock ’n’ roll singer, songwriter and guitarist first earned notoriety on the club circuit in Berkeley, Calif., in the early 1970s and relocated to Los Angeles mid-decade. After a couple of false starts with various lineups, Davis and The Motels rocked to the top on the L.A. club circuit and signed with Capitol Records on Mother’s Day 1979.
As pictured in their first Capitol PR photo, the band then featured Davis (center), guitarist Jeff Jourard (hat), his brother Marty on keyboards and sax (black shirt), bassist Michael Goodroe (far right) and drummer Brian Glascock (far left). Capitol released the eponymous Motels debut album in fall 1979.
Over the next several years, The Motels scored a couple Top 10 hits and released five albums, two of them RIAA-certified gold. Despite a few personnel and producer changes, Davis and the band earned a large and loyal international following through those records, extensive MTV exposure of their videos, and a lot of roadwork.
She and the group have enjoyed a large fan base in Australia especially since 1980, when “Total Control” from the first album was a Top 5 single there. The first two albums earned Australian gold.
After five albums on Capitol, Davis disbanded the group in early 1987 to focus on a solo career, and Capitol released her “Policy” later that year. The album hit the Top 30 in Australia but peaked at No. 127 in the States. Her solo catalog also includes “…So the Story Goes” (on Clean Sheets, 2004); “Beautiful Life” (self-released, 2004); and “Red Frog Presents: 16 Songs for Parents and Children” (2010).
In the late ’90s Davis assembled a new Motels lineup, hit the road again and hasn’t looked back.
Guitarist Clint Walsh, drummer Eric Gardner, keyboardist Nic Johns and bassist Brady Wills – all young enough to be her sons – have each backed her for the past decade or more.
In that time, Davis and The Motels have released another five albums: “Clean Modern and Reasonable” (2007); “Standing Room Only” (live at the Coach House, 2007); “This” (2008); “Atomic Café: Greatest Songs Live” (from 1979 and 1980, 2009); and “Apocalypso” (an unreleased album recorded in 1981 for Capitol, 2011).
In spring 2014, Davis and The Motels toured Australia and New Zealand and earned over-the-top reviews. Back in California, they’ve been working on tracks for a new studio album.
In July and August, possibly beyond, the group will join friends and contemporaries The Go-Go’s of “We Got the Beat” and “Vacation” fame for an extensive national co-headlining tour of the States.
The two bands shared cheap rehearsal space in Hollywood before they were famous, and shared a bill at the Hollywood Bowl a couple years ago. This summer’s package tour also features a few other still-active groups who first came to fame in the ’80s.
“I am thrilled to be going on the road with such a wonderful lineup that includes Naked Eyes, Cutting Crew, Patty Smyth and Scandal, and of course, The GoGo’s,” Davis said on her website. “I’m a lucky girl, and can’t wait to see everyone. Thanks for the continued support. Love…m.”
After the summer outing, Davis and the band plan to tour the States and Europe, and finish recording and mixing their new, as-yet-untitled album, due out in the first quarter of 2015. Then they’ll be back out on the road to support that.
Try to keep up with them on their official website.
At age 62, Davis shows no sign of checking out of The Motels just yet.
Martha Davis and The Motels Rock Ventura Beach
Backstage at the Ventura Beach Festival just before going on, though, Davis confided to a couple of old Capitol friends that she was a little nervous.
“We haven’t played for a while, but I think this will be fun,” she said.
She added she was also a little nervous about appearing without her usual stage makeup.
Apparently, her personal handbag was temporarily MIA or some miscreant had nicked it, and she felt slightly underprepared.
Seconds later, the band broke into the opening song, “Where Do We Go from Here (Nothing Sacred),” a favorite from the fourth Motels album, 1983’s gold “Little Robbers,” and Davis charged up the steps into her center-stage spot right on cue. Damn the missing makeup, full speed ahead.
Greeting her fans after the first tune, Davis apologized for appearing sans makeup. She joked about the missing bag and its road-funky contents, and asked the audience to keep their eyes and noses peeled for it.
“It’s gonna be the natural look today,” she said, also warning the ostensible thief should fear for his or her life if they open that bag, because the stench could be deadly.
The crowd loved the self-deprecation. In fact, it further endeared her to them. She was a rock star – but not really. She was more like one of them, and hardly needed to look glamorous to win them over. They cheered their rock star on.
From the beginning, 35-plus years ago, whether Davis has her stage face on or not, a Motels concert has always been about her intimately connecting with audiences through her songs, and her dramatically soulful, yearning singing style driven by her band’s powerful modern alt-rock sound.
A large number of the Ventura audience crowded up to the edge of the stage as Davis and her smokin’-hot 2014 Motels turned in an hour-long set. They not only did justice to the original recordings, but also made the songs sound fresh and undated. It reflected both the enduring nature of her material and the quality of the band’s musicianship.
Lead guitarist Walsh, in particular, played some fret-burning solos on his road-worn Telecaster, augmented at times by doubling, echo and other cool effects he controlled with an elaborate array of foot-switches.
Along with the hits and some choice deep cuts, The Motels’ Ventura set also included a rare preview of an unreleased new original, “Ya Wanna Be Happy,” slated for the band’s forthcoming album.
At various times during and between songs, fans in front of the stage reached out to Davis to share flowers, leis, handshakes, fist-bumps and shout-outs. At one point, a few dozen started a conga line in front of the stage.
The audience’s warm reception surprised and nearly overwhelmed her on a couple of occasions. She called out the names of a few people she recognized.
“I feel…home,” Davis said between songs, almost choking up.
To close the show, Davis delivered her perennial tour de force ballad, “Total Control,” from The Motels’ December 1979 debut album, out in December 1979, with as much power and emotion as ever, connecting with the audience. The only thing missing was Marty Jourard’s sax, but Walsh’s guitar solo worked well in its place.
Davis closed the show on a high note – literally. On “Only the Lonely,” a Top 10 hit from the third Motels album, 1982’s gold “All Four One,” she seemingly effortlessly reached up to hit that a cappella note in the song’s last chorus. Cheering fans (and even a couple of curmudgeonly rock critics who’d witnessed the group’s initial rise to fame in the ’70s) were duly impressed.
Surfaris Shred at Ventura Beach Festival
Ventura Beach Festival special guest artists The Surfaris preceded Martha Davis and The Motels with an hour-long flashback to the first golden age of surf music in the early 1960s.
The Surfaris were a bunch of Southern California teens in 1963 when they scored a double-sided hit with the goofy “Wipe Out!” and its B-side, “Surfer Joe.” They recorded half a dozen albums for Dot and Decca in their ’60s heyday.
Co-founder Bob Berryhill co-wrote both “Wipe Out!” and “Surfer Joe,” and he is still shredding as leader of today’s iteration of the band. It’s now a two-generation family affair: The Surfaris also feature Gene, Berryhill’s wife of 48 years, on bass, and their grown-up sons Deven and Joel on guitar and drums-vocals, respectively. You could say the boys were born into the roles; they’ve been rocking these songs with Dad and Mom since they were kids.
Now based in Laguna Beach, The Surfaris celebrated the 50th anniversary of “Wipe Out!” last year with a busy itinerary and extensive media coverage.
At the 2014 Ventura Beach Festival, the Berryhill Gang turned in a sizzling Surfaris set that of course included spirited versions of “Wipe Out!” and “Surfer Joe” (with Joel singing lead), plus other surf and guitar instrumental classics from the era like The Chantays’ “Pipeline,” Dick Dale’s “Misirlou,” The Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird” and Santo & Johnny’s “Sleep Walk.”
The Surfaris’ sets are total throwbacks to the legendary “surfer stomp” dances of the late ’50s and early ’60s. The Berryhills’ vintage Fender guitars and amps look showroom-fresh and sound gorgeous drenched in reverb. California surf rock doesn’t get much more authentic, or much more fun.
Ventura Beach Festival Organizers Already Planning for 2015
“It wasn’t over for 10 minutes before we were already planning next year’s festival,” Melissa Baffa said later. “It’s the first time we’ve done anything on this sort of scale, so it was a wonderful experience and we were really excited to do it.”
Baffa welcomed Santa ClaritaValley locals to visit, support and provide feedback this summer about the beach parks Friends of Channel Coast State Parks serves, from McGrath in Oxnard all the way up to Gaviota State Park north of Santa Barbara.
“The shorthand is that we help bridge the gap between what the state budget provides for our parks and what they actually need in order to serve our communities,” she said. “We fill that gap with money, people and advocacy for our beaches and parks. We need that support, so I’d love for people to check us out on ourwebsite, to take advantage of our program, sign up for our newsletter, and come out for the second year of the Ventura Beach Festival.”
Martha Davis and The Motels and The Surfaris California Rock Summit
Martha Davis and The Motels and The Surfaris met for the first time backstage after The Motels closed the Ventura Beach Festival. Pictured in the group photo are (from left): Motels guitarist Clint Walsh; drummer Eric Gardner (kneeling); bassist Brady Wills; and keyboardist Nic Johns (hiding); Surfaris co-founder and lead guitarist Bob Berryhill; Motels founder and lead singer Martha Davis; and Surfaris Deven (guitar, keys, drums), Gene (bass) and Joel (drums, vocals) Berryhill.
Special thanks to Martha Davis, The Motels, Greg H. Sims, Bob Berryhill, The Surfaris, Melissa Baffa, Friends of Channel Coast State Park, Kat Merrick, Todd Everett, Paige Hagen and Bruce Garfield. Dedicated to the memory of John Carter.