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MUSIC: JOSEPPI'S WEDDING BAND : Excuse for Fun : The bar's weeknight party is something of a tradition. The music is all covers--no originals.

November 08, 1990|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Now we've all seen concerts at The Excuse Me Bar & Grill & Happening Concert Venue. That's the place where they tell you, "Excuse me, you can't sit there. Excuse me, you can't stand there. Excuse me, you can't drink here. Excuse me, no dancing allowed. Excuse me, but would you please sit down? Excuse me, but there's an 87-drink minimum. Excuse me, no fun allowed."

"Fun" is never in danger of becoming a four-letter word at Joseppi's, site of the best Tuesday night party in Santa Barbara and also home to Joseppi's Wedding Band, which serves as the soundtrack for the party. When it's not very crowded, patrons can breathe as well as dance. Usually, Joseppi's is so crowded that one can scarcely raise an arm to down a brew.

Joseppi's is a basic State Street hole-in-the-wall bar, not a whole lot bigger than your living room, but a lot more fun. The weeknight party is something of a tradition. Joseppi's Wedding Band has been there nearly every Tuesday since 1984 or before anyone knew how to spell Roseanne. The band is an octet at this point, including Spencer Barnitz, who also sings for his own band, Spencer the Gardener.

"The Wedding Band has been an off-and-on thing--mostly on--since 1984 or so," Barnitz said during a recent Tuesday night interview. "We take a week off now and then, but we're here basically every Tuesday night."

It was Spencer who got it all going, said club owner and accordion player Joseppi Scozzaro. "He came over here one night and did an acoustic set, and things just sort of took off from there. I had just opened this place, and was just learning the accordion to do some Italian songs."

How many songs does the Wedding Band know? How many songs does the Grateful Dead know? The band does all covers, no originals. They start off with the ever-appropriate "Wedding March," which is, of course, just "The Funeral March" with a better beat. After that, it gets really strange. The band does a little bit of everything: rock 'n' roll, reggae, waltzes, blues, folk rock, country, whatever else you can think of, even the dreaded polka. A typical set includes songs by Johnny Rivers, Jimmy Buffett, Madness, Doris Day, Wilson Pickett, Roger Miller, the Champs, Harry Belafonte, Jimi Hendrix, Judy Garland--even a Romanian folk song. Get the idea?

Sometimes the band takes requests from the crowd. They don't do Oingo Boingo, but who does? They don't know any Flamin' Groovies, but who does? If you can think of a classic oldie, chances are good that the Wedding Band knows it. "Oh yeah, we get stumped sometimes, but usually, you request it, and we'll try it," Scozzaro said. "Between Spencer, Gary (Sangenitto) or Howard Miller, our guitarist, we know a lot of songs."

The crowd is varied--party animals and beer fans one and all, usually twice as many females as males. On the night of this interview, the women outnumbered the men 4 to 1.

"After Spencer came back from England, it just kept getting bigger and bigger," Scozzaro said. "I have music here on the weekends too, mostly jazz, but Tuesday night is the one. People come because they like the mix of music."

"Nah, we're a frat band," said bass player Gary Sangenitto. "Nobody comes here but frats--just look at them all out there."

Other band members include Ed Tibbs on drums, George Goyer on congas, Nate Birkey on trumpet and John Schnackenberg on sax, plus whoever happens to show up on any given night. It's democracy with a beat. There's usually a line of people waiting to get in, so fashionably late doesn't work at Joseppi's. The band starts at 9:30 p.m. or so, with various local bands opening at 8 p.m. or so.

WHERE AND WHEN

Joseppi's Wedding Band at Joseppi's, 434 State St., Santa Barbara, Tuesdays, 9:30 p.m., $5. For more information call 962-5516.

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