Before we get too far into the new year, this might be a good time to acknowledge the 1994 local country music scene highlights:
The Acousticats. This talented progressive bluegrass group is a favorite headliner at Santa Barbara's annual Live Oak Folk Music Festival and its second CD release, "Cat's Meow," has received frequent airplay on KPFK 90.7 FM.
Darlene O'Connell & the Dixie Flyers. This charismatic country-show band opened for Jerry Jeff Walker and Radney Foster. Darlene remained the area's most popular female vocalist, Tom Ricardo continued his show-stopping fiddle tunes and the band added male vocalist John Styles. Other high-profile events included the Ventura Police Block Party and K-HAY's annual Toys for Tots benefit.
Fender Benders. This new band brought together some talented musicians from the Desert Rose Band, Sky King, Sarah Pierce and the Healers, and Caught Red Handed. Until recently they played mostly in Santa Barbara. But now they're starting to perform at the Crazy Bull and Cousin's.
Larry Dean and the Shooters. This San Fernando Valley-based act recently released a very enjoyable CD. Currently, his only local stop is at Cousin's; otherwise catch them at the Cowboy Palace in Chatsworth.
Rhythm Rangers. Their 1994 highlight reel included opening for the Temptations, headlining "Conejo Valley Days" and " A Country-Western Christmas," Ventura Harbor's Parade of Lights. Fans love their rock 'n' roll edge. Their new CD will be released Jan. 26 with a party at Maxie's in Oak View.
Shiloh. Known for their harmony vocals, they were the Country Lovers Western Dance Club's main band choice for dances in '94. And they opened for Restless Heat at the annual Gold Dust Gala. The band lost drummer Jon Cowsill, formerly of the '70s hit group, the Cowsills. And Paul Mathew, the Dixie Flyer's original drummer, is filling the chair.
Honorable Mention: Acadiana, Cactus County, Jimmy Dale and the Desperados, Raywood and the Unseen, Sibling Rivalry, Steve Hill, Sweet Country.
Bands worth a drive to Santa Barbara County: Art Green Band, Cache Valley Drifters, John James Band, Spaghetti Western, Steve Woods and Too Much Fun.