Focus on Film

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s fall fundraiser features the United States premiere of “Stranger than Fiction,” the new film by Marc Forster, the director of “Finding Neverland” and “Monster’s Ball.” Just as in the two previous autumnal galas, the event will bring in nearly all of the principals involved, from Forster to stars Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman, for an extravaganza that includes a red-carpet screening at the Lobero and a lavish reception afterwards.

The film has received favorable reviews following its world premiere at Toronto in September. Reviewers have compared the movie to works by Charlie Kaufman in that the comedy examines the gray area between fantasy and reality via a character from a fiction novel series who turns out to be real and who is able to hear what the author is thinking. The night gets underway at 6:30 pm on Sunday, November 5. For tickets and details, call 963-0023 or visit

Meanwhile SBIFF has also announced Will Smith as the recipient of the Modern Master Award, slated for Saturday, January 27, during the upcoming festival. (The dailies neglected to mention the exact date, which was available on the Ticketmaster website the day before SBIFF made the official announcement.)

Smith is something of a curious choice. Undeniably a major star, the actor-producer (and former rap star) has shown his versatility in fairly wide-ranging roles from romantic comedy (“Hitch”) to action (“Independence Day” and “The Men In Black” series) to drama (an Oscar-nominated title role in “Ali”), but really doesn’t seem to carry the same sort of pedigree as such previous honorees as Sean Penn, Peter Jackson and Anthony Hopkins. They might excommunicate me for bringing up the subject, but has the lure of Hollywood stars proved too much for SBIFF to resist? Of course we haven’t yet seen Smith’s new film, “The Pursuit of Happyness;” maybe his work is so profound we’ll have to re-evaluate our perspective.

Passes are already on sale for the festival, which takes place January 25-February 4.

In the meantime, Woody Allen makes his Santa Barbara debut with his jazz band in a Lobero date on December 17. The auteur, a real master who is still making intriguing films 30 years after his first Academy Awards for “Annie,” plays clarinet in the jazz combo weekly at a club in New York. He’s finally taking the show on the road domestically. Maybe SBIFF could slip him an award in the green room.

Around town

Those darn schedule stuffers are at it again, forcing a choice among four superlative shows on the same Saturday night, October 28. From acoustic folk to rockabilly to Nashville-bred country to rock ‘n’ roll, singer-songwriter John Prine plies his ditties with references both the intellectual set and the common man can enjoy. His tried-and-true formula has worked just fine since 1971, along the way spawning such minor hits as “Hello in There” (covered by both Bette Midler and Joan Baez) and “Angel from Montgomery” (long a staple for Bonnie Raitt) and culminating in brilliantly reflective album “The Missing Years.” So now that he turned 60 in October, well, he’ll just keep doing the same thing – it’s still a “Big Ol’ Goofy World,” ain’t it? Opening act alert for this rare Santa Barbara date on October 28 is Jim Jackson, the singer-songwriter-guitarist-creative force behind My Morning Jacket…

Meanwhile, the Trinity Backstage singer-songwriter series soars to the sublime with a booking of veteran song-man John Stewart. Best known for composing the Monkees’ smash hit “Daydream Believer,” Stewart’s career harkens back nearly half a century, to his days with the seminal folk group The Kingston Trio. Fast-forward 20 years to the 1979, when his hit single “Gold” was produced by Lindsey Buckingham, who with Stevie Nicks guested on Stewart’s biggest seller, “Bombs Away Dream Babies.” Fast-forward another two decades and here’s Stewart, still making compelling new music (“The Day the River Sang”) and performing concerts that leave fans both riveted and moved…

Saxophone veteran Gerald Albright, soul singer-keyboardist Brenda Russell and local guitarist and in-demand session musician Tariqh Akoni & Band are the special guests for the sixth annual Night of Jazz benefit concert supporting the Endowment for Youth Committee educational and cultural programs at the Lobero Theatre…

Finally, the Santa Barbara Bowl will finally shut down for the season, but not before one final salvo in a season some are calling the amphitheater’s best ever: an acoustic two-night stand from Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds.

On all other nights…

It seems impossible, but the November 1 concert with Lou Reed at UCSB’s Campbell Hall is the first local appearance by the downtown NYC musical renegade. Reed’s influence spans from Andy Warhol’s seminal Factory scene with the Velvet Underground to David Bowie to Sonic Youth and includes one of the greatest album ever dedicated to a single city, “New York.” This concert is truly a walk on the wild side for Reed, who will perform solo in a show entitled “Songs & Noise.”

Although you may not have heard of Jacqueline Schwab, you’ve surely heard her. The pianist has played on the soundtracks for 11 of Ken Burns’s PBS documentaries, including the Grammy-winning “Civil War” and the Emmy-winning “Baseball.” Credited with deftly blending the improvisational spirit of Keith Jarrett with the touch of George Winston, she’s also performed music from Burns’s “Lewis & Clark” series for President Clinton at the White House.

A solo concert of vintage American and Celtic music at First Methodist Church on November 3 marks Schwab’s Santa Barbara debut, which also includes performing for a participatory English country dance at the First Presbyterian Church on November 2…

Santa Barbara violin virtuoso Gilles Apap joins renowned Irish fiddler Kevin Burke plus fellow folk fiddlers Christian LeMaitre and André Brunet, accompanied by guitarist Ged Foley, at the Marjorie Luke on November 2, in a tour stop of the popular Celtic Fiddle Festival that began as a one-off way back in 1992.

The November 4 Lobero show featuring the return of urbane guitarist Leo Kottke this time comes with a slice of Cheese: Honkeytonk Homeslice, fronted by Bill Nershi, guitarist/singer/songwriter of the popular jam band String Cheese Incident. And in truly gonzo style, the band – which also features Nershi’s singer-guitarist wife, Jilian, and singer/songwriter/guitarist/mandolin-player Scott Law – is doing double duty that night, as they’ll hightail it over to Legends Bar & Grill on Milpas for a 9 pm club set just one hour after they hit the Lobero stage.

Veteran folksinger Tom Rush has made Montecito his permanent home, but his next “local” gig is up in Santa Ynez on November 5. Considering that it’s part of the Tales From the Tavern series – which puts an emphasis on unimpeded communication between the performer and his audience in an intimate setting – the show is well worth the drive.