From electronic-music wizards and a classical violin virtuoso to a hip-hop band and good old blues, rock, jazz and Americana, the 15th annual Carlsbad Music Festival has a little — make that a lot — for everyone.
“If you go to a jazz festival, you know what you’re going to hear,” said San Diego percussionist Nathan Hubbard, who will perform this weekend with two of his bands. “Most festivals are clear about what they book, but that never is the case with Carlsbad. Here, you have no idea what’s happening and what the performer is going to do.
“You can walk around and explore. But if you want to hear a certain thing, you have to search for it. There have been times when people have told me: ‘We tried to find your show, but couldn’t. But we ended up hearing something else that was interesting’.”
The Carlsbad Music Festival, which begins Friday, boasts a craft-beer garden, food trucks and an artisan market. Usually attracting around 4,500 people, it’s held in charming Carlsbad Village. With St. Michael’s By the Sea as the festival hub, the event is less than a block from the ocean.
While the outdoor concerts are free, indoor concerts are ticketed. As founder and artistic director Matthew McBane observes, there’s a celebration of music and community outdoors, while the ticketed events encourage more focused listening.
This year’s headliners reflect the festival’s eclectic nature. Friday’s closing act is the nationally acclaimed Julianna Barwick, known for her beautiful — and electronically looped — voice. Saturday will feature the music of “composer-in-residence,” Donnacha Dennehy. The Dublin-born, Princeton University professor has had his works performed by everyone from the Kronos Quartet to London’s Royal Opera and New York’s Bang on a Can.
The final concert Sunday will be a unique 2½-hour solo concert by Russian-born, Brooklyn-based violinist Johnny Gandelsman. A member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble and cofounder of Brooklyn Rider, a boundary-expanding string quartet, Gandelsman will perform all six of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas.
“Johnny has such a fresh take on this traditional classical music,” McBane said. “It’s an amazing undertaking — he performs it from memory. He has played fiddle music and brings this perspective to the dance movements. His is the liveliest version of these pieces I’ve heard.”
Another ticketed concert will feature the Stephanie Richards + Andrew Munsey Quintet. Trumpeter Richards, an assistant music professor at UC San Diego, has been featured on three new albums this year, including her self-described “out-there” release, “Fullmoon.” In Carlsbad, she’ll be co-leading the quintet with her husband, drummer Andrew B. Munsey, playing their own compositions in a more familiar realm.
“This project is coming down the jazz pike,” Richards said. “But there’s nothing traditional about it. We both have compositions from our different projects that are fresh and ready to be performed, so it was easy to put together. The musicians playing with us are our most favorite people on the West Coast.”
Those include Brian Walsh on bass clarinet, Dave Tranchina on bass — both from Los Angeles — and San Diego treasure Joshua White on piano. Munsey had several musical endeavors on the East Coast before moving here a few years ago.
“This is my first time leading or co-leading in San Diego,” Munsey said. “We’ve never presented my music here. And we’ll be doing it with old friends and colleagues, which is great.
“Oftentimes, my music is in the jazz vein — in that form, people are allowed to improvise and solo. I think of it as launching points, really, a group effort to realize our compositions.”
The festival’s free outdoor concerts run the gamut. The band Trouble in the Wind won Artist of the Year and Best Country or Americana Album honors at this year’s San Diego Music Awards. Nimble guitarist Peter Sprague, who also won a 2018 SDMA for Best Jazz Album, will team up with multi-style vocalist Leonard Patton. Son de San Diego returns to the festival, playing traditional son jarocho from Veracruz, Mexico.
Another returnee, the versatile Nathan Hubbard, will perform twice. In one set, the percussionist/vibraphonist will lead his trio interpreting his own compositions.
“All the music is modular,” he said. “Each of us is playing different pieces simultaneously. I play a different piece over what they’re playing. It’s kind of far-reaching.”
He will also appear on stage in the genre-stretching hip-hop band The Parker Meridien. Instead of using a record-spinning DJ, the beats are created by bassist John Rieder and Hubbard on drums and electronic samples. Jack King, also known as Parker Edison, is the trio’s front-man and MC.
Hubbard has played at the Carlsbad Music Festival several times in the past five years. Does the prospect of two performances in one day seem daunting?
“No, I’m usually running around at the festival,” Hubbard explained. “I’ll play a set, listen to another performer and then go back and play another set. Almost all — no, all — my experiences at this festival have been really good.”
Not your grandma’s — or anyone else’s — festival
We asked Carlsbad Music Festival musicians why they’re eager to return this summer.
Nathan Hubbard, percussionist, composer, leader of Nathan Hubbard Trio and member of Parker Meridien: “There are very few festivals that feature a bunch of different musical styles simultaneously. Especially for the listener, it gives a really wide view of music-making — and it’s all within walking distance. In just a couple of blocks, you can hear edgy rock music to something avant-garde.”
Stephanie Richards, trumpeter, composer, co-leader of the Stephanie Richards + Andrew Munsey Quintet: “What I love is the programming, the diversity of aesthetic approach that Matt (McBane) takes. It’s really special. (A festival presenter) wants to feature brilliant musicians, artists challenging the norm. But you also have to figure out how to bring people in the door. What’s so beautiful about Carlsbad Music Festival is that Matt is bringing people he’s excited about, regardless of aesthetic. That makes it stand out.”
Andrew Munsey, drummer, composer, co-leader of the Stephanie Richards + Andrew Munsey Quintet: “It’s an anchor point in San Diego’s music community. It’s a space for all sorts of music. Matt thinks about how the offerings fit together. It’s a great opportunity for San Diegans to hear a diverse program that includes both local and out-of-town performers.”
Matthew McBane, Carlsbad Music Festival founder and artistic director, composer, violinist, co-bandleader, Matt McBane & Build (which will perform this weekend): “You can visit with people, listen to music, eat and then go for a swim. It’s pretty nice.”
For performance times and venues, see carlsbadmusicfestival.org
15th Annual Carlsbad Music Festival
When: 5 p.m.-midnight, Friday. Noon-10 p.m., Saturday. Noon-8:30 p.m., Sunday
Where: The festival’s hub is at St. Michael’s By the Sea, 2775 Carlsbad Blvd., Carlsbad
Tickets: Free for outdoor concerts; $49, general admission, single-day ticketed concerts; $109, general admission, three-day packages; $299-$349, VIP three-day packages.