Laguna Beach Cultural Center expands offerings, becomes OC’s new stop for world-class blues musicians

By THERESA KEEGAN

Like everything else, cultural venues have changed in our post-pandemic world. Many did not survive the forced closures, while those who remained often find themselves expanding. Luckily for residents, the local cultural and arts center falls into the latter category. From thematic movie series addressing societal issues to new art shows and expanded live shows, the Laguna Beach Cultural Center is delving into many areas.

One of the most exciting is a music series focusing on “The Blues” – the iconic American musical genre that originated in the South in the 1860s, and is known for its lyrics, bass lines and instrumentation.

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Photos courtesy of Cadillac Zack

Zack Slovinsky, who goes by the name Cadillac Zack, has been promoting blues music in Southern California by developing a multi-venue arrangement for touring bands. When he decided to add a location in Orange County, the fifth venue on his multi-city shows, he opted for the Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center.

“I’ve been in love with blues since I was 12 years old,” said music promoter Zack Slovinsky, who has been affiliated with the genre for the past 32 years. Now based in Southern California, he brings in musicians from near and far – Los Angles, Chicago, Nashville, etc. and arranges four or five shows for them throughout the region, from Camarillo to Temecula.

“I know I can sell out the shows and the quality is so high the shows exceed the hype,” he said.

It all started when his own band would play a popular weekly gig in Tarzana, north of Hollywood about 20 years ago. They performed in what was one of numerous blues clubs at the time.

But in the midst of the 2007 financial crisis, many venues closed. Slovinsky, who prefers being called “Cadillac Zack” started bringing guest musicians to his weekly shows.

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Grammy-winning guitarist Andrew Synowiec and his band is one of almost a dozen shows at the cultural center that are being arranged with the help of Slovinsky

“I started adding famous blues artists, who would sit in with the band,” he said. “It turned into more of a show, rather than an informal jam.” He noticed people were driving sometimes 100 miles to see a show on a Monday night.

“I thought to myself, I have to take this on the road.” In 2012, he added a venue in Long Beach for Sunday shows, often getting more than 150 people. In 2014, Pasadena was added.

“We were doing three shows, so when a band came out I could afford it – they had a circuit,” said Cadillac Zack. He even added a fourth show. And then, of course, 2020 changed everything. Concerts were put on hold, but now that things have opened up the demand is great for shows.

“I decided to add a fifth show about four months ago,” he said. “I get a lot of requests from people in Orange County who don’t want to drive up to Long Beach on a Sunday.”

The Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center’s premiere sound system and small venue setting was an immediate draw, plus, there weren’t restaurant and bar sounds to compete with, which is the case with most of the other venues he books. The first two shows have sold out and there are nine other shows slated in the blues series. As Rick Conkey, executive director of the cultural center likes to say, “The sky and the ocean aren’t the only way to see inspiring blues in Laguna in 2024.”

The SoCal music promoter agrees, noting no other venue where they play has a tuned grand piano on stage.

“In Laguna, it’s a real listening experience…it’s like this amazing, pristine set up,” said Zack Cadillac. “It’s just pure blues and it allows the audience to be completely non-distracted.”

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Promoter Cadillac Zack is seen with electric blues guitarist Roy Gaines

When Grammy winner Andrew Synowiec takes to the stage Saturday night, April 13, he’s thrilled to be playing in Laguna.

“Any chance I get to play music to a listening audience it’s a dream come true,” said Synowiec. While he’s a musician on many award-winning movie soundtracks, he gets the greatest joy when playing for a live audience.

“I think connecting with people is kind of the gold standard,” he said. “Certainly, live is more visceral – there’s an immediate feeling.”

The guitarist will be accompanied by keyboard, bass and drums, and the show will feature songs from his most recent album, Fun, as well as a just-released extended LP, Games.

“I write and compose everything,” Synowiec said. “And I also highly improvise. The musicians I perform with can really impact the direction of the sound. I come up with the framework, and from there it’s up to the individual musicians to decide where we go.” Although he lives in Los Angeles, this will be his first time performing in Laguna.

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Guitarist Andrew Synowiec will play music from his latest album when he performs at the cultural center on Saturday, April 13

Zack Cadillac believes the musicians he promotes are a natural match for the cultural center.

“The clientele who comes there are great,” he said. “They’re not there to get drunk and wild. They’re there to appreciate the music, 100 percent.”

For more information about upcoming blues shows and the Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center, click here.

Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center is located at 235 Forest Ave., Laguna Beach.


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