The 2006 Gainey Concerts in the Vineyard series gets underway this weekend, and, as usual, our only complaint is that the schedule is so limited. Yeah, we understand that it’s a small working winery, and there’s no permanent facility for this sort of thing, so it’s quite an undertaking to get the staging, lights and sound together for even two weekends a year. But truly, four dates – this year featuring up-and-coming country singer Brian McComas (July 7) and blues harp veteran Charlie Musselwhite (July 8), and multiple Grammy-winner and the on-screen star of the “Good Night, and Good Luck,” soundtrack jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves (August 25), and conga master/Latin jazz band leader Poncho Sanchez (August 26) – just isn’t enough.

That’s because, our own nearby Bowl notwithstanding, there’s no lovelier venue for music in the county than the charming courtyard at Gainey. Vistas in all directions let you see gliders and small planes landing at the adjacent Santa Ynez airport, the sun dipping low the vineyards, the shimmering glow of the gentle hills and the rising of the moon in the mountains beyond. The gates open two hours before the 7:30 pm starting time to allow for picnicking, and for those who don’t like to wait but still want the best of everything, Gainey last year introduced new priority seating, which was so successful they’re bringing it back.

“People told us they didn’t want to wait in line to get a good seat, and they were willing to pay more not to have to,” explains Diane Connor, Gainey’s special events coordinator. “So now we have six tables in the front set aside for reserved seating, and you also get barrel tasting with the winemaker or owner, and a coffee-and-dessert reception following the performance.”

Reserved nearby parking is another perk for the special tickets, which cost $100 more than general admission. They’re still available for every show this summer save for the Dianne Reeves, although regular tickets are not sold out.

Meanwhile, even with the limited schedule, Gainey is feeling the heat from the Chumash Casino, just a few blocks away on Route 246. The facility has a much less friendly atmosphere – unless you actually enjoy traipsing through a smoke-filled gaming floor clattering with 2,000 slot machines – but a healthy schedule. Former Commodores singer and hitmaker of the 1980s Lionel Richie appears opposite McComas on July 7 (he’s also there July 6). Though it’s been 20 years since the end of his amazing run of 13 consecutive Top Ten hits, including five that reached Number 1, Richie remains a strong attraction, another of those artists touring the casino circuit packing golden oldies, including in Richie’s case, “Three Times a Lady,” “Truly,” All Night Long” and “Say You, Say Me.”

And for added competitive measure, Richie’s opening night goes up against a Lobero concert from Preservation Hall Jazz Band, which has played at Gainey more than any other act, including nearly annual visits in the 1990s.

All’s fair in love and music.

Montecito Moments

We ran into Kenny Edwards backstage at the Live Oak Music Festival, where he’d just finished playing bass and singing background vocals for Aussie transplant singer-songwriter Audrey Auld Mezera and wunderkind guitarist Nina Gerber. That was a role he held down for many years with Linda Ronstadt, whom he hooked up with fresh out of her stint in the Stone Ponies and stayed with through her long string of pop hits in the ‘70s and ‘80s. These days, when Edwards isn’t playing out on his own or freelancing with other locals (Nicola Gordon is another frequent collaborator), he’s on the road sharing the stage with Karla Bonoff, the singer-songwriter whose Valley Road guesthouse he rents and, of course, who contributed several early songs to the Ronstadt catalog (remember “Losing You” and “Home”?).

So now that Ronstadt is making her first local appearance in a gazillion years, you think she might want to hook-up with her old mates, at least as perhaps the opening act for her show at the Santa Barbara Bowl on July 14. Did Edwards get a phone call?

“Are you kidding? Nope,” Edwards answered. “I haven’t talked to Linda since the last time I played with her back in 1990. I don’t think she even likes to think about the music she played back then.”

Well, I’d be forgetful too if I’d run around in a cheerleader outfit on one tour (as Ronstadt did in the early ‘80s) – gigs Edwards remembers with a shake of the head and a chuckle. But at least an invitation to the show would have been nice.

UCSB’s New Season

We’ll have a lot more to talk about as the fall approaches, but take note that subscriptions to the 2006-07 Arts & Lecture season are already available. There are four thematic packages that offer a full 20% discount, or you can create your own series by purchasing tickets to five or more events for a 10% savings off the single ticket prices. Benefits include better (and consistent) seating, free ticket exchange and early notice about added events. The diverse and provocative lineup encompasses – count ‘em – 47 events, ranging from jazz, classical and pop music to theater, dance, spoken word and world music events. Highlights include Lou Reed’s Santa Barbara solo concert debut, classical pianist Murray Perahia’s Santa Barbara recital debut and a rare appearance by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Garry Trudeau (of “Doonesbury” fame). Personally, I can’t wait for New York Times crossword puzzle editor Will Shortz to unravel a few etymological mysteries for me.

Anyway, single tickets don’t go on sale until August 12, with online individual ticket sales starting in September, but you can get the full schedule, details and order forms online at right now. Or call 893-3535.

Miraflores Fortnight

The Summer Festival at the Music Academy of the West is in full swing. Here’s a more detailed look at some special events slated for the next two weeks.

July 6: The first Community Concert takes place at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, featuring academy young artists in various ensembles, a sort of mini-picnic concert (2 pm; free).

July 7: Picnic Concert time. Just the second in the series. Be sure to come a half-hour early to hear selected student artists discuss the works they will be playing (Abravanel 7:30 pm $16).

July 8: The Concerto Competition Finals, one of the great all-day bargain-priced events at the Music Academy. The young artists compete for a coveted spot as a soloist with the Festival Symphony two weeks hence, on July 22. Come and go as you like. (Abravanel,10 am to 4 pm; $15).

July 11: Tuesdays @ 8 gets deep into the repertoire, balancing favorites such as Schubert and Beethoven with rarer works by Jan Koetsier, Leone Sinigaglia, Madeleine Dring and Erno Dohnanyi. Featured guest: maverick cellist Matt Haimovitz, famous for his “Living Room” tour that has shown up at SOhO twice (8 pm at the Lobero; $35).

July 12: Special masterclass with David Halen, the concertmaster of the St. Louis Symphony, who leads a workshop on “The Role of a Principal Player,” a first at MAW (Lehmann, 7:30 pm; $12).

July 13: Community Welcome Day on campus! Everything is free all day long, from the regular 1 pm piano chamber masterclass with Jerome Lowenthal and the 3:15 pm viola masterclass with Donald McInnes to a Young Artist Chamber Music Sampler (another mini-picnic concert) at Lehmann Hall at 7:30 pm.

July 14: The third Picnic Concert of the season (Abravanel 7:30 pm; $16).

July 15: Stage director Lotfi Mansouri and musical director Warren Jones team up to direct the academy young singers in this popular best-of sampler tour of the world of opera, with scenes drawn from “Carmen,” “The Barber of Seville,” “Don Giovanni,” “The Marriage of Figaro,” “La Rondine,” “La Traviata” and “Don Pasquale.” (Abravanel, 2 pm; $26; repeats 7:30 pm July 17). Also, the Academy Festival Orchestra’s second concert of the summer, with Michael Stern at the podium and David Halen soloing on violin in a Mozart concerto and serving as concertmaster for Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 (8 pm at the Lobero; $35).

July 16: Merit Community Concert, the final event of the Academy’s two-week mentoring program for local young musicians, with MAW artists serving alongside (Lehmann, 2 pm; free).

July 18: A strong and varied Tuesdays @ 8 program starts off with contrasting Mozart‘s “Bie Mannern welche Liebe fuhlen“ from “The Magic Flute” with Beethoven’s seven variations on the same piece. A Schumann piano trio, Janacek violin sonata and Thuille’s sextet for piano and winds rounds out the night (8 pm Lobero, $35).

July 19: Tonight’s masterclass sampler lets you get a flavor of three instruments (or vocals) and teachers in one short session, followed by a reception with the artists (Lehmann, 7:30 pm; $16).