Ojai Music and Wine Festivals

By Misty Hall

The second weekend in June might just be the best Ojai has to offer. It’s all about culture and community in some of the valley’s best venues: the Ojai Music Festival at Libbey Bowl, and the Ojai Wine Festival at Lake Casitas. Sure, you’ll have a blast at both; but you’ll also be contributing to organizations that directly benefit residents throughout the year with programs for kids (and adults, too). So open your ears, and a bottle or two, and soak up these late spring events. We promise the traffic will be worth it.

Ojai Music Festival


June 6 to 9; tickets at ojaifestival.org

Music Festival – Australian Chamber Orchestra 2011. Libbey Bowl is a magical place to be on a late spring evening — especially with a group like the Australian Chamber Orchestra performing, as they did here in 2011. (By Tim Norris)

I grew up listening to music that was about as far from the Ojai Music Festival as you can get. From The Beatles to (gulp) big hair bands, I never spent much time with classical music outside of nap time at my grandma’s house.

But here’s the thing: at the Ojai Music Festival, that doesn’t matter. You don’t have to know names like Igor Stravinsky or Pierre Boulez to have a transformative experience — and a seriously good time. You just have to come in with an open mind. See, the folks at the OMF know that not everyone knows classical music like they do. So they’ve created an awesome website and lots of pre-concert events to give you context for what you’re about to see and hear.

Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned vet, the 73rd Ojai Music Festival promises to be a particularly memorable one, with Barbara Hannigan as music director and Thomas W. Morris serving — for the last time — as artistic director.

Morris has spent the last 16 years working to push the boundaries of classical music by finding music directors dedicated to doing the same. Hannigan certainly fits the job description. She’s a Grammy award-winning conductor, singer, and musician as well as a mentor to up-and-coming musicians through her Equilibrium Young Artists program.

Of Hannigan, Morris said, “Barbara, a dear friend and a great artist, is a beacon of extraordinary creativity through her incredible artistry and ceaseless curiosity and commitment to the future. She represents everything an artist of the future must be.”

As Hannigan said, “The Ojai Festival is a more than a playground: it is a circus tent, a jungle gym, an obstacle course, a field of dreams. There are risks being taken, and we open ourselves with curiosity, to possibilities of sound, of flying and falling, of being overwhelmed.”
Hannigan and members of her Equilibrium group will perform The Rake’s Progress on the first night of the OMF, June 6. It’s a fully staged opera, one the group has performed across Europe over the last six months. Other weekend highlights include Hannigan’s collaborations with the JACK Quartet, LUDWIG, and Stephen Gosling. Check out the Ojai Music Festival website for lots of great information on these guys and gals.

“Barbara Hannigan is serving as this year’s music director.” Part singer, part conductor, Hannigan is among the top names in the contemporary classical music scene. (Courtesy Musacchio Ianniello Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia)

Also on the schedule are a number of free events and community concerts; they’re a great way to test the Music Festival waters.

One of the greatest things to come out of all these decades of Ojai Music Festivals — besides the music itself — is that proceeds go back into the community through music education. The OMF’s BRAVO Music Program brings musical instruments into schools for kids to explore, and also hosts the annual Imagine Concert. This year, they invited all the fourth, fifth and sixth-graders in the valley to a concert by the UCSB Middle East Ensemble.

Ojai Wine Festival


June 9, noon to 4 pm; tickets at ojaiwinefestival.com

Libations, views, and tunes — that’s the Ojai Wine Festival. What began as a small tasting event in 1987 has now turned into one of the region’s most-beloved celebrations of wine. This year’s event includes 60 wineries pouring more than 250 wines. They hail from Sonoma (Valley of the Moon) to Paso Robles (Tooth & Nail), Santa Ynez (Buttonwood) to Ojai itself (Old Creek Ranch, Majestic Oak, Boccali’s). There are even a few international wineries, like Bodegas Puente de Rus of Spain, and Santa Carolina Reserva of Chile.

The Ojai Wine Festival offers good drinks and great views at Lake Casitas. (Wine Festival photos courtesy of Consortium media)

Not a wine fan? No worries, beer buddies! Also on-hand will be several breweries offering tastes of more than 30 beers, from international giants like Guinness and Tecate to regional favorites like SLO Brew (San Luis Obispo), Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co. (Buellton) and Institution Ale (Camarillo).

Get your groove on to live music all day at the Ojai Wine Festival.

The VIP tent also includes some spirits, like Insolente Tequila, Dinastia Tequila, and a variety of Cutler’s Artisan Spirits. Speaking of the VIP tent, the extra ticket price will get you in 30 minutes early and give you access to other VIP-only tastings, and exclusive hors d’oeuvres from Sakura Ojai, the Deer Lodge, Westridge, BJ’s, Stonefire, and others.

Whether you’re in the VIP tent or general admission, there are discounted tickets available for non-drinkers and designated drivers (thank you!).

Toast your pals (and maybe get a little toasted yourself) at the Ojai Wine Festival. Added bonus: you’ll be supporting the many youth and health initiatives of the Rotary Club of Ojai West.

For Ojai lifers like me, the Ojai Wine Festival is like an Ojai Valley reunion, an annual gathering of neighbors who are basically family by now. Folks I went to high school with (Tara Coble, of Majestic Oak) are now even pouring their own wines, and selling their own wares at the many vendor booths. But hey, after a few healthy pours, it’s easy to make new friends. Take them over to the dance floor to groove to tunes from Area 51, and to the Rotary Boat for a cruise around the lake.

The Wine Festival’s VIP tent offers lots of perks, like exclusive tastings and hors d’oeuvres.

And with all the rain we’ve had this winter, the lake views — whether on or off the boat — are better than they’ve been in years.
Major bonus: all of this fun is for a good cause! The Ojai Wine Festival is the main fundraising event for the Rotary Club of Ojai West. Well over $1 million has been raised for myriad causes. The Rotary Boat invites students from around the region for free tours of Lake Casitas, giving them up-close and hands-on opportunities to study science. Rotary West also gives scholarships and grants, organizes community concerts, donates dictionaries, and also does work internationally.

So no matter what your poison, make sure you’re in town the second weekend in June. We’ll all be better for it. (Just make sure you have a designated driver!)