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Ventura County

Hillside Preservation Strikes a Chord

Music festival to benefit Ventura's open space draws nearly 4,000. Some of the proceeds may be used to buy land.

September 14, 2003|Holly J. Wolcott | Times Staff Writer

Nearly 4,000 people descended on picturesque Arroyo Verde Park on Saturday for the Ventura Hillsides Music Festival, the first major fund-raiser for a local nonprofit group dedicated to preserving the city's open space.

Sitting on beach chairs and sprawled atop colorful blankets, concertgoers filled the park's natural amphitheater and swayed to the songs of four musical acts, including surprise guest Keb' Mo,' folksy Jack Johnson and headliner Jackson Browne.

At $40 a ticket, the Ventura Hillside Conservancy can expect proceeds exceeding $150,000.

The money, said conservancy spokesman Steve Svete, could be used to hire a foundation director and possibly purchase some of the rolling hills above the city that the group seeks to protect.

"I'm ready to save the hills," Ventura native Vanessa Stephenson said between songs by country rockers Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen.

Stephenson's friend, Siobhan Schlapper of Ventura, emerged from a line where she had just been blessed by a Chumash Indian. She also came to support the cause, she said, but was equally drawn by singer-songwriter Johnson of Santa Barbara.

Under occasionally cloudy skies, Johnson, a surfer-turned-balladeer, captivated the crowd with songs that included "Rodeo Clowns" from his newest album and "Bubble Toes," an ode to his wife.

"It's a beautiful place that we all get to share here," Johnson told the crowd toward the end of his set. Johnson made himself available for interviews, even agreeing to a question-and-answer session with a local high school reporter.

Browne declined to talk to the media.

Music lovers sipped red wine and snacked on chocolate-covered strawberries during the four-hour concert, one of the first major musical engagements to be staged at a local park in more than a decade.

"I can see those hills from my house and I want to keep being able to do that," said Drew Brackley, a local resident who spent part of the day playing in the grass with his 4-year-old son, Jamen.

The Ventura Hillside Conservancy was formed in April following the defeat of Measure A, a November 2002 ballot initiative that proposed 1,390 homes on the 6,000 acres of hills that form the backdrop to the city.

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