Bowlful of Blues to feature great Ojai food, beer and wine on Saturday, Sept. 22 in Libbey Bowl

The 25th anniversary of the Bowlful of Blues on September 22 from 4:00 to 9:30 p.m. in Libbey Bowl would not be complete without great food and beverages to accompany the world-class blues music. To that end, the locally produced, nonprofit festival is featuring Ojai’s own Rondia’s Kitchen, Ojai Valley Brewery and Ojai Vineyard. The menu includes fried and roasted chicken, barbecued ribs, black bean burgers, sweet potato fries, handcrafted beers and award-winning wines.

Rondia Kaufer grew up in Chicago’s infamous Cabrini-Green housing project where her very survival came to depend on her ability to turn out great backyard barbecue as well as play some funky guitar. Here’s how it worked. Her stepfather, like her father, was an original member of the famous doo-wop group, the Flamingos (“I Only Have Eyes for You”). Not surprisingly, Rondia’s home life centered around music as she and her brothers formed their own band. Her stepfather liked to throw big parties in the common backyard of their apartment building, one of several 8-story structures that together housed a mind-boggling 15,000 people.

Rondia was the designated chef who swapped her apron for a red electric guitar when the chicken and ribs came off the grill.  While the band played the latest Curtis Mayfield tune, her culinary and musical reputation was spreading through the neighborhood, granting her a kind of immunity from the gang violence that made Cabrini-Green the national symbol of all that was wrong with inner city housing projects and eventually led to its demolition. On September 22 at Libbey Bowl, Rondia’s Kitchen will be serving a limited number of dinners — first come, first served — between 5:00 and 8:00 p.m. from the kitchen to the left of the box office.

Rondia Kaufer backyard barbecuing on a return visit to her hometown of Chicago

Ojai Valley Brewery, rather than creating a line-up of I.P.A.s and stouts, of which there are many local examples, specializes in styles largely neglected by craft beer. Their focus is on dry, malt-forward lagers and light-bodied ales incorporating local flora. These beers utilize ingredients uniquely native to the Ojai Valley Region. Local chaparral herbs in concert with and at times in place of hops provide flavoring and bittering. Jeremy Haffner, brewer and co-owner with his wife Elizabeth Haffner and mother-in-law Laurel Moore of Azu Restaurant, uses special herbs, flowers, fruits, and spices sourced from local Ojai farms to create, in his words, “subtle flavors that blend together to create a unity of flavor: a whole greater than the sum of its parts.” 

Haffner and his team aspire to “honor the Ojai community with new styles and flavors that can only be found here.” The selection of beers to be served at the Bowlful of Blues will be chosen just a few days before the event as the brewery is constantly revolving its seasonal offerings. Visit ojaivalleybrewery.com to learn more.

Adam and Helen Tolmach’s Ojai Vineyard began in 1983 with the dream of producing distinctive California wines using traditional wine making practices learned in Burgundy. Thirty-five years later vintner Adam Tolmach continues to pursue the craft at their artisanal winery in Ojai. As he puts it, his “quest to combine European sensibilities of balance and finesse with the exuberant fruit from coastal California vineyards” is expressed in the wines he makes today. “By definition, great vineyards have something unique to say, and we take it as our job to capture those characteristics in a clear and unadorned way.”

Tolmach is known for producing excellent chardonnays as well as some whites based on Rhône varieties, but Ojai Vineyard’s strength is in their award-winning syrahs and pinot noirs, sourced from some of the top vineyards around the Central Coast. They are listed in The Daily Meal’s 101 Best Wineries in America. Visit ojaivineyard.com/reviews-press/ for a taste of the countless awards and top ratings bestowed on Ojai’s premier winery.

Advance tickets for the Bowlful of Blues are $40 online at BowlfulOfBlues.org or at ticket outlets in Ojai, Ventura, Santa Barbara and Thousand Oaks. The price is $45 at the box office on the day of the show. A $100 VIP package includes secure, reserved parking within one block of the Bowl, a reserved seating section in the front of the seating area, VIP lounge with provide complimentary snacks and special beers and premium wines not available at the beverage tent on the lawn.

Headlining the gala affair of world-class blues is Alligator Records’ rising stars, the Selwyn Birchwood Band. Nationally known artists, Teresa James & The Rhythm Tramps, will appear with their down-home blend of Texas blues and New Orleans R&B. Rod Piazza, international touring harmonica virtuoso, will take the stage with special guest, boogie-woogie pianist Carl Sonny Leyland.

Also appearing are the West Coast group Hot Roux with their infectious mix of Louisiana blues & swamp rock ’n’ roll and the blazing guitar blues of the Kwan Telifaro Project. Multi-talented performer Gill Sotu, familiar to those of you who have attended the Juneteenth celebration in recent years, will handle the MC duties.

For tickets and information, visit BowlfulOfBlues.org or call 805-836-4665.


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