Live music continued on Saturday, August 29th, in Ventura, California, at the Concerts In Your Car, drive-in concert series. CBF Productions brought Fitz and the Tantrums with opening act ZZ Ward to the outdoor venue for a nearly sold out performance. Drive-in concerts have become one of the only ways for a band to perform live in front of an audience since COVID-19 changed life as we all knew it before. Locally, Concerts In Your Car has been producing shows at the Ventura Fairgrounds since June. The CBF shows were the first live social distancing events organized in the country, back in June and are scheduled to continue for the rest of the year.
The outdoor venue features a unique stage setup with four giant video screens facing in every direction. The configuration allows for cars to encircle the stage, creating a 360-degree audience. The CBF shows price their tickets per carload, allowing families to affordably bring their children or small groups to carpool, creating a festive atmosphere while upholding social distancing guidelines.
Blue-eyed soul singer ZZ Ward opened the show, just before a spectacular sunset descended into the Pacific Ocean behind her. A brisk sea breeze off the ocean kept things cool on an otherwise balmy summer night. The young singer was bundled in a long coat and remarked on the pleasantly cool weather. Ward played a stirring nine-song acoustic set, accompanied by a blues-infused guitarist. The pair paid homage to American blues with a set that included seven original tunes and two appropriate covers. Those heartfelt renditions included Etta James, “Waiting for Charlie to Come Home,” and the legendary Son House masterpiece “Grinnin’ in Your Face.” Ward displayed her exquisite vocal talents, always with a nod to classic R & B, featuring her modern interpretation. The singer mostly played acoustic rhythm on her guitar, but during the Son Volt cover broke into a stormy harmonica solo. That brought the crowd to life, honking their horns, dancing in place in front of their cars, and cheering on the emotive solo. Ward repeatedly thanked Fitz for inviting her to open the show. The smiling singer mentioned that they had recorded a single together, “Domino.” Unfortunately, probably due to COVID restrictions, the pair did not collaborate at the Ventura concert.
Fitz and the Tantrums took the stage at twilight, greeted by a honking frenzy from the audience. Lead singer Michael Fitzpatrick greeted the crowd with a beaming smile and emoted that the band was happy to have the chance to be playing live again. “We were supposed to play here in Ventura right before the pandemic shut everything down. But we are sure glad to be here with you now,” Fitz quipped. The Los Angeles six-member group has toured the past 12 years relentlessly, infecting audiences with their dance-inducing neo-soul sound. Lead singer Fitzpatrick and frontwoman Noelle Scaggs offered up symbiotic vocals while dancing and prancing about the stage. They were some of the first performers to take full advantage of the 360 stage, singing to all four corners of the crowd separately. Occasionally the two singers would bounce off each other and then race to opposite sides of the stage, exciting the crowd in all directions. Fans danced in front of their cars, shouted from their lounge chairs, or honked their car horns. The band tore through a 90-minute set featuring their older Motown inspired tunes like “Moneygrabber” and newer pop-oriented songs like “I Just Wanna Shine” from their latest album, “All The Feels.” The band's talented horn player James King kept the energy level to a fever pitch with a plethora of solos on various brass instruments. Bassist Joseph Karnes and drummer John Wicks kept a soulful rhythm throughout the show. Keyboardist Jeremy Ruzumna anchored the band, creating a masterfully moody backdrop. A contemporary moment came towards the end of the show when the band played “Handclap," and many in the packed car crowd “clapped” along by honking their horns and flashing their headlights in unison. It may be a new world for live music, but the fans and the band shared the same spirit this night, happy to be together again, all be it at a safe distance.
The Concerts In Your Car series continues with shows being planned through December. For more information visit: https://www.concertsinyourcar.com