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MUSIC: Ventura County | LOCAL ANGLE

Reggae 'Round the Pool

Urban Dread draws a hip, loyal crowd every Friday to Westlake Hyatt's patio.


Hundreds of well-dressed yupsters have for several weeks been congregating around the pool for a Friday-evening shindig at the Hyatt Westlake Plaza. It's where urban bread meets Urban Dread.

You can hear the band from the parking lot. Also, plenty of signs in the lot direct party-goers to the pool area. One giant banner gives it all away: "Reggae Fest '98 by the Pool, June 19-Aug. 28."

Because the Hyatt doesn't want a bunch of people traipsing through the lobby, a row of Andy Gumps is strategically placed by the entrance.

While $7 seems to be a serious cover, people pay it and the attendance has risen every week since the gig began, according to Dave Hewitt of DMH Enterprises, which is to blame for all this.

"There were about 300 people the first time, and now there's over 500. The thing starts about 5:30, but people are starting to come out later. The band stops around 9:15, but people hang around outside until about 10 p.m. It's a patio party--the biggest suburban rock barbecue in the Conejo Valley," Hewitt said.

The patio of the Hyatt is spacious and surrounded by a lush backdrop of pine trees, giant oleanders and a few philodendrons, all of which screen the parking lot. There's a large pool across the courtyard, which on this particular night isn't getting much use, and a nifty waterfall near the stage. The concrete slab that serves as a dance floor is in the shade, but no one seems interested in using it, at least at first.

More than half the people wear shades and sit in plastic lawn chairs scattered across the large lawn in front of the stage, slurping drinks and chatting it up.

Perhaps inspired by the DMV, the Hyatt has arranged it so patrons stand in line twice. There's a kiosk where you pay for tickets that can be exchanged elsewhere for food and beverages.

Beer is the basic: Bud, Bud Lite and Heineken. For two lines, one would expect a better selection, but no one seems to mind. It is Happy Hour, and everyone is getting progressively happier as time passes. Part of that has to do with the band.

Urban Dread is one of the top-drawing bands in the Conejo Valley. It's been around for 10 years and its first gig was in Westlake in April 1988.

The band has a vast repertoire of countless covers encompassing all styles of reggae, plus more than 30 originals.

"Urban Dread is the band," said Hewitt. "All the Conejo Valley locals know them. They're the top cover dance reggae band around."

The Hyatt gig has been going on for a couple of years, with Urban Dread providing the soundtrack. A few years ago it was an all-ages gig, but that led to some fights, which, in turn, led to an end to the music. The locals started asking for the gig to resume, and so far it's running smoothly, according to Hewitt.

"I had them hire some big gorillas for security, and there haven't been any problems. Also, I think people realize that if they cause problems, this gig will go away and it won't come back. People don't want to screw up a gig in their own backyard.

"This place is close to the Promenade [at Westlake]. Just try to find a parking place there on Friday night--not. This is the place to be on Friday night--suburban yuppieville."

Thus, the Hyatt on Fridays has become one of those certifiable successes for Conejo folks, joining Yucatan Cantina in Westlake on Tuesdays and Saturday nights, Kokomo's on Thursdays and Sagebrush Cantina, both in Calabasas, on Sunday afternoons.

"By the time the third set starts, everyone is drunk enough to dance, usually a couple hundred people," said keyboard player Jason Bourne.

The sun begins to set, the dance floor begins to fill up, and no one seems to care one whit that Dodger baseball is on the air.


Reggae Fest '98 by the pool at the Hyatt Westlake Plaza, 880 S. Westlake Blvd., Westlake. Hours: 5:30-9 p.m., Fridays through Aug. 28. $7 cover. (805) 497-9991.

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