For most, Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer — the season of barbecues, beach bonfires and live music under the stars.
Throughout San Luis Obispo County, free summer concerts cater to almost every musical taste, from swing and soul to pop, rock and the blues.
For country fans, the choices range from classic country bands Cuesta Ridge and Monte Mills and the Lucky Horseshoe Band to contemporary country rockers Old Californio and The Crisptones.
Reggae aficionados can groove to The Kicks, Nada Rasta, Resination and the Zongo All-Stars, while world music enthusiasts can kick back to the eclectic sounds of Café Musique, Human Nation and Incendio.
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“American music, historically, is so rich. There’s just so much there,” said James Scoolis, who sings and plays guitar in the band Burning James and the Funky Flames. The group — which includes saxophone player Scott Andrews, keyboardist Terry Lawless, bassist Chaz Matisse and drummer Rich Pittman — performs June 29 in San Luis Obispo, July 15 in Grover Beach and July 21 in Atascadero.
Scoolis, who spent nearly a decade with the House Red Band, said such concerts are a staple of the summer event calendar.
“The crowds are always large and ready to have a good time,” he said, adding that bands love reaching out to new listeners. “People come just because there’s a concert. You get exposed to a lot of (folks) you wouldn’t see in a bar or in a club.”
Scoolis and his bandmates pump up concertgoers with high-energy hits by the likes of James Brown and Marvin Gaye. “The beat is irresistible,” he said, adding that Burning James and the Funky Flames feeds off the energy of the crowd.
“When you have people up and dancing, it’s creating a connection between the band and the audience,” Scoolis said. “It definitely helps us play better when (we) see that people are into it.”
Guitarist Dorian Michael of The Cinders Blues Band also aims for an enthusiastic audience response.
“The music should have sex appeal. It should make you want to get up and shake it,” said Michael, who also performs with guitarist/mandolin player Kenny Blackwell and roots rock band The Mystery Trees.
The Cinders Blues Band, which features Brett Hoover on vocals, Dean Giles on drums and Ken Hustad on bass, will bring its classic blues sound to Atascadero on Aug. 11 and Grover Beach on Sept. 9.
Although the band is rooted musically in the Chicago blues scene circa 1960, Michael said, “We are not a museum piece. We’re playing it with all the influences we’ve absorbed since then.” Their repertoire ranges from Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf to more obscure artists.
“Whether they’re old songs or new songs, that music speaks to people whose lives have some earthy component in it,” Michael said, adding that fans of all ages respond to that “real soulful sincere authentic music.” “When they stick their hands (out) and go, ‘Dude, we loved your band,’ I feel good about bringing the music to them.”
The Red Skunk Band, which performs June 13 in Templeton and July 15 in Arroyo Grande, blends older influences such as gypsy, jazz and swing music with newer sounds such as psychedelic rock from the 1960s and ’70s.
“Everybody brings their own influence to the band,” drummer Ken Davis said, whether it’s classical music, metal or rockabilly. “This isn’t the kind of music you play out of a book. It’s alive. It’s a living breathing thing.”
The band, which recently changed its name from the Red Skunk Jipzee Swing Band, includes guitarists/vocalists Molly Reeves and Sam Boorman, violinist Pamela Sheffler, upright bass player Jamie Mather and trumpet player Justin Au. Although most of the members are in their early 20s, they’re already veterans of the local outdoor concert scene.
"A lot of people come here just for the summer because they known how much entertainment goes on on the Central Coast,” Davis said. “We usually can see a lot of smiling faces in the crowd.”
Reach Sarah Linn at 781-7907.