Carlsbad Music Festival starts to play new tune following founder Matt McBane’s exit

Chunky Hustle Brass Band will perform at the 18th annual Carlsbad Music Festival on Saturday.
Chunky Hustle Brass Band will perform at the 18th annual Carlsbad Music Festival on Saturday.
(Courtesy of Julia Hall McMahon)

Monophonics, Whitney Shay, Chunky Hustle Brass Band, Sabrosas Latin Orquesta and others set to perform at revamped one-day event


For avid San Diego music fans who thought something was missing this summer, the three-day Carlsbad Music Festival was delayed from its usual August time slot to the fall.

Also missing, when it returns on Saturday as a slimmed-down, one-day event, will be festival founder and artistic director Matt McBane. It will be up to the attendees of the 18th edition — on the lawn of St. Michael’s Chapel in Carlsbad —– to decide if anything else is missing.

The six-act lineup of local favorites includes chart-topping blues singer Whitney Shay, New Orleans-style Chunky Hustle Brass Band and the all-female Sabrosas Latin Orquesta. San Francisco psychedelic-soul group Monophonics will close out the evening.

The San Francisco band Monophonics will headline the 18th annual Carlsbad Music Festival on Saturday.
The San Francisco band Monophonics will headline the 18th annual Carlsbad Music Festival on Saturday.
(Courtesy of Carlsbad Music Festival)

“We want to try to keep the festival what it’s always been — and that’s having regional and local artists,” said Ahmed Dents, the event’s new managing director. “We want to keep in it in the same vein, but always keep the festival primarily at a local or regional level.”

Carlsbad Music Festival Board President Bryan Meathe agreed, saying: “That’s in line with what I’m thinking.”

McBane founded the festival in 2003 to showcase what he termed at the time as “adventurous music by the beach.” Past festivals have featured such intrepid musicians as: Pakistani singer/composer Arooj Aftab (2021); Iranian kamancheh player Niloufar Shiri (2019); Irish classical composer Donnacha Dennehy and classical violinist Johnny Gandelsman (both in 2018); and electronic wizard/singer Julia Holter (2017).

Is the festival still committed to presenting adventurous music by the beach?

“We all love that mantra,” Meathe said. “We all want to continue that tradition and become a little bit more stable, a little bit larger and more involved with Carlsbad.”

The festival’s website states that it promotes and supports: “Emerging musicians, established masters and obscure innovators.”

Carlsbad Music Festival president Bryan Meathe.
(Courtesy of Jay Reilly)

Will that be continued in the future?

“You know, I can’t completely answer that question.” Meathe responded. “I don’t know where we’ll end up in that spectrum. There’s nothing on this year’s lineup that’s classical. But we have intentions of bringing that back. And we’re very open to artists who are more on the fringe.”

Veteran Adams Avenue Street Fair talent buyer Steve Kader was hired to book this year’s Carlsbad Music Festival acts.

“We’re definitely not plain-old rock ‘n’ roll,” Meathe said. “We have a New Orleans brass band, blues, Afro-Beat, salsa and psychedelic-soul.

Expanding in all directions

Dents is a former KIFM Smooth Jazz 98.1 radio DJ and a longtime staff member of the recently closed San Diego Repertory Theatre. He hopes next year’s Carlsbad festival returns as a three-day August event.

The organization’s occasional Eclectic Lawn concerts will be reinstated. Both Meathe and Dents said they plan to present other small concerts throughout Carlsbad Village, in partnership with nonprofits and retail establishments.

Changing the date and length of this year’s festival was due to institutional issues and scheduling difficulties, Dents noted.

Ahmed Dents is the new managing director of the Carlsbad Music Festival.
(Courtesy of Jay Reilly)

“The main thing was we had dates in mind that conflicted with other Carlsbad events,” the San Diego native said. “We made the neighborly decision to avoid interfering with other events.

“Because we’re doing just one day this year, we want to expand the vibe, to pick up the musical tone,” Dents said. “Despite the lack of (multiple) days, we can provide a great experience for people. We also want to draw some new guests from surrounding communities. It’s a Carlsbad event, but we want to make it a regional event as well.”

After working part time at a few Carlsbad festivals, Dents this spring accepted an independent-contract position while still employed full-time at San Diego Rep. Shortly after the theater closed, he became the administrator of the fellowship program at Carlsbad’s newly renamed Dea Hurston New Village Arts Center.

“We hired Ahmed not to replace Matt but to fill the managing director position. It’s not the same role.” Meathe explained. “I can’t (discuss) Matt, aside from that he decided to go in a different direction.”

“I’m hoping that a lot of Ahmed’s contributions will be his connections with arts organizations and important arts people in San Diego, and also here in the village.”

Meathe has lived in Carlsbad since 2004, much of it in the village.

“We’ve enjoyed seeing it grow and prosper over the years,” he said. “I see the footprint of what I would call the village expanding in all directions – except west.”

Saturday’s 18th annual Carlsbad Music Festival will have food trucks, rather than food booths. It won’t have the artisan market or multiple stages of past years.

“I don’t think we purposely went in a different direction,” Meathe maintained. “It’s a result of circumstances. This year’s festival will look and feel different. Next year will look and feel more similar to years past.”

Sabrosas Latin Orquesta will perform at the 18th annual Carlsbad Music Festival on Nov. 5.
(Courtesy of Sabrosas Latin Orquesta)

Festival founder McBane on his exit

Violinist/composer Matt McBane founded the Carlsbad Music Festival in 2003. Now based on the East Coast, he will release his new album, “Bathymetry,” on Nov. 4.

On Oct. 6, McBane addressed his departure from the festival on social media, writing: “Earlier this year, I resigned from my position as Founder and Artistic Director of the Carlsbad Music Festival and have no affiliation with the organization in its new incarnation ...

“The new Carlsbad Music Festival has nothing to do with me or my legacy and I have nothing to do with it. My legacy is the 18 years of the Carlsbad Music Festival under my Artistic Direction: memories of the fest that people have been sharing with me since I made my resignation public; the collaborations that emerged between festival artists; the musical discoveries audiences made; and the community fostered by the festival.”

18th annual Carlsbad Music Festival

When: 1 p.m. – 9 p.m. Saturday

Where: St. Michael’s by the Sea, 2775 Carlsbad Blvd., Carlsbad (all concerts outdoors)

Tickets: $35, Kids 12 and under free but must be ticketed. VIP tickets available


Wood is a freelance writer.