Beachside Carlsbad Music Festival, now in its 16th year, presents a little bit of everything

The festival, which runs from Friday through Sunday, has lived up to its tagline: “adventurous music by the beach.” It has earned a sterling reputation among performers and audiences alike.


The Carlsbad Music Festival is like a sonic crazy quilt, accompanied by an artisan market, food court and beer garden.

Now in its 16th year, the festival, which runs from Friday through Sunday, has lived up to its tagline: “adventurous music by the beach.” It has earned a sterling reputation among performers and audiences alike.

“I’ve heard about it for years,” said acclaimed Bay Area pianist Sarah Cahill, who will perform a concert each day. “It’s a privilege to be a part of the festival. It sounds like it will have a wonderfully wide variety of music. “

For the first time, all concerts will be free, with suggested donations of $5-$10 helping to defray the cost. Those obtaining tickets online can skip the entrance lines to the festival.

From popular local bands Trouble in the Wind and Red Fox Tails to Los Angeles harpist Mary Lattimore and Brooklyn-based Matt McBane + Build, the festival runs the aural gamut.

Looking for Americana, Latinx, rock ‘n’ roll, surf, contemporary classical, experimental, tropical, jazz? You’ll find it at this event, outdoors on St. Michael by the Sea’s lawn and indoors at ANA Chapel.

The musical diversity is exemplified by Cahill, who received the 2018 Champion of New Music Award from the American Composers Forum, and by Los Angeles’ Very Be Careful, which will appear at the festival at 9 p.m. Sunday. The band plays vallenato, a percussion-and-accordion-driven style originally from Colombia.

Founded in 1997 by Arturo Guzman and his accordion-playing younger brother, Ricardo, Very Be Careful has a reputation for rambunctious dance-filled concerts. The five-member group has performed in Japan, London, New York and more, but continues to play small clubs in their hometown.

“Our fans haven’t mellowed over the years — it’s all about them,” said bassist Arturo, 50. “They get freaky on the dance floor. We like to have fun. We make it a catharsis. Plunge into life while we’ve got it.”

Guzman makes a clear distinction between the vallenato performed by Latin pop star Carlos Vives and the more rootsy Very Be Careful.

“We play vallenato’s four basic rhythms: puya, son, merengue and paseo,” Guzman explained.

“We combine those and mix them with other rhythms. We put our twist on it, but don’t go too crazy with it. We don’t want to Americanize or corrupt it. People ask us: `’Why don’t you sing in English?’ Come on!”

A sonic spectrum

While Very Be Careful takes you to Colombia, via L.A., pianist Cahill leads you on a journey around the world. Her hour-long concerts Friday and Saturday will feature pieces she chose for her “The Future is Female” project. Among the home countries the composers represent are Lithuania, Azerbaijan, Australia and the United States.

Written between 1962 and 2019, these varied works have one commonality: the composers are all women. Before this project, Cahill’s concerts featured an equal number of male- and female-written pieces.

“That’s ideal,” she said from her Berkeley home, not far from where she grew up. “But here are works all written by women, mostly pieces no one has heard. I hope people will say `I want to explore these composers.’

“It’s an important project — 2020 is the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. With the #MeToo movement and what is happening politically, hearing suppressed voices is urgent and timely.”

Cahill’s third festival concert, at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, will center on pioneering Bay Area composer Terry Riley. Cahill has played and worked with Riley over the years and released “Eighty Trips Around the Sun: Music by and for Terry Riley.” The three-CD boxset featured her playing his compositions and Riley-inspired work by other composers.

“Terry’s known as a minimalist, but he is so much more.” Cahill noted. “His later music reflects his experience with raga, jazz, honkytonk and ragtime. He puts a whole spectrum of music in one piece.”

Not coincidentally, the Carlsbad Music Festival puts a whole spectrum of music in one three-day event, offering many adventures for those with open-minded ears.

For the complete festival schedule, see

More on “The Future is Female”

One familiar composer who music pianist Sarah Cahill will play this weekend is the visionary Pauline Oliveros, who co-founded the music department at University of California at San Diego. Cahill, who worked with the late Oliveros in San Francisco, will perform what she called “a very fun piece” by Oliveros, “Quintuplets’ Play Pen.”

Another Bay Area connection is Theresa Wong, a cellist, pianist, composer and “queer person of color.”

“I wanted her as part of the project mainly because I love her music and we’re friends,” Cahill said. “Hers was an important contribution.

For all these pieces, the music comes first. It has to be musically compelling, whatever the background of the composer. “

Cahill usually introduces the works she performs, in order to put them in context and identify instruments unfamiliar to many listeners.

Wong’s “She Dances Naked Under Palm Trees” was inspired by a Nina Simone song. Irish composer Deirdre Gribbin’s “Unseen” is about the homeless population in London.

Annea Lockwood’s “Ear-Walking Woman” is an exploration of the piano’s interior that uses cedar moth balls, bubble-wrap, mallets, a Tibetan singing bowl and other instruments.

“I want to show that this is just a fraction of (the female-written compositions) out there,” Cahill said. “There is so much great music to be heard.”

16th Annual Carlsbad Music Festival

When: 5 p.m.–10 p.m. Friday; 1:30 p.m.–10 p.m. Saturday; noon–8:15 p.m., Sunday

Where: The festival’s hub is at St. Michael’s By the Sea, 2775 Carlsbad Blvd., Carlsbad

Tickets: Free with passes obtained at the gate or online (donations suggested); $209-$239 for three-day VIP packages (limited availability).


Wood is a freelance writer.