County Skies Light Up

County skies will light up for the 4th
From Simi Valley to Ventura, our skies will be aglow with fireworks

Simi Valley

July Fourth Celebration, 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. outside the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, 40 Presidential Drive. The library’s annual event will offer games, crafts, music by the Tune Bandits and Los Angeles Police Department band, George Washington and Abe Lincoln impersonators, historical storytelling and more. Outdoor activities are free; the museum will offer $4 off regular admission rates to visit the indoor exhibits. 800-410-8354 or

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Dancing In The Courtyard

Dancing in the Courtyard open to all
By Alicia Doyle
Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Spanish-style architecture surrounded by lush landscaping will set the scene for live outdoor performances by the Ventura Jazz Orchestra, Men on the Moon and The Tune Bandits at a free summer concert series at Aegis Living of Ventura.

The second annual event called Dancing in the Courtyard “is an evening for families and local residents of Ventura to get together and enjoy live music and dancing and complimentary wine and hors d’oeuvres,” said Diane Savard, executive director at Aegis Living of Ventura, an assisted living and memory care community on Telegraph Road.

Open to the public, Dancing in the Courtyard is a favorite event that many different Aegis communities host each year. Last year, the Ventura site hosted three summer concerts with more than 150 in attendance each time, said Lindsay Mehl, marketing director.

“All ages attended our last year’s event from young children to seniors,” Mehl said. “These concerts benefit the Ventura County community, including our residents, as it is a time to spend quality time with family and friends.”

The lineup — with each concert from 6 to 8 p.m. — will kick off Thursday with the Ventura Jazz Orchestra, an 18-piece group dedicated to the re-creation of big band music from the swing era. On Thursday, July 16, cover band Men on the Moon will focus on the classic dance hits from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.

The summer dance series offers a wholesome way for folks throughout the community to connect, said Steve Axtell of Ventura, a keyboardist and vocalist with Men on the Moon.

“Many of us don’t even know our neighbors, so having community events gives us a chance to socialize outside our homes away from the TV news and the Internet,” he said. “Not only do community events bring us together, but dancing and listening to great live music raises the fun factor by 10,000.”

On Aug. 20, The Tune Bandits will perform a little bit of everything, from country to pop.

A community gathering of this kind is especially important in today’s times, said Michael Hester of the Ventura due formed with his wife, Vanessa.

“It is a special time with friends and family, people of all ages, and backgrounds to just get together and enjoy themselves,” Hester said, “to let go of the troubled times and enjoy something we all have in common, and that’s the love of music.”

Aegis residents love to get dressed up and go out into the relaxing courtyard to enjoy the evening together, Savard said.

Additionally, “the entire Ventura community benefits as this brings the local community together and it is free to the public. ...

“Join us in our beautiful courtyard,” she said, “for an evening of live music and dancing, and expect a fun evening of good music, food and friends.”

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Stealing The Show

Stealing The Show
Tune Bandits duo has been drawing crowds at the V.C. Fair for seven years
By Bill Locey
Thursday, August 2, 2007

More or less the official musical greeters at the Ventura County Fair, Mike and Vanessa Hester, aka the Tune Bandits, will stand around and perform with real religious fervor every day of the event's 12-day run. It will be their seventh year of serenading ticket takers and passers-by.

It's always nice to talk to people who enjoy their jobs, and this happy duo is positively beaming.

The Hesters didn't become small-market local rock stars until after the kids were grown. Now it's the kids' mission to turn their parents on to new music and wear Tune Bandits' T-shirts.

The Tune Bandits also can be found every Sunday at Christy's Deli in the Ventura Harbor, where there is no Christy, but lots of good food and fine music. The duo is proof that you never know who might be in the audience at the show, but more on that later.

The Hesters discussed the latest during a recent phoner.

How's the Tune Bandits biz?

Mike Hester: It's good. We play at Christy's in the Ventura Harbor from 10 in the morning to 1 in the afternoon — we've been playing there every Sunday for nine years. People come for breakfast and sit in the courtyard and listen to us sing. We won't play there when we're at the fair, but we're there every Sunday, weather permitting.

How did you two get started in all this?

Mike: We started at Christy's and it's just progressed. One time, it was rainy and the CEO from the fair, Roger Gibbs, was there. He heard us sing and said, "Hey, how 'bout you guys singing for us at the fair?"

I said, "Well, we tried, but they said they were all booked."

He said, "I think you'd be great. I want you every single day of the fair. I want you to be the first thing everybody sees when they come through the gate because you do a wide range of music and you're always smiling and you're cheerful." That was seven years ago.

Vanessa Hester: We started so late in life, it's hilarious. We started singing in church up in the choir loft. I was real nervous and shy. I wouldn't go down below; I'd only sing in the choir loft. The choir director formed a Christian band, and we ended up singing in that, so I got a little bit bolder. We were going out to senior citizens homes and entertaining for fun. I never thought anyone would've hired us to sing. As far as Christy's went, we didn't expect it. We went to help a friend out — she was having a grand opening and asked if we'd play, and we've been there ever since.

So, Mike, you're a singing accountant?

Mike: Yes, I am an accountant and work for a lot of small businesses in Ojai, Ventura and Santa Barbara. We keep our day jobs and sing on the weekends. I'm basically the roadie and backup singer, and I do percussion. Vanessa's the lead. She's incredible; she really has a great voice.

Vanessa: Now you know why I've been married to him all these years.

Mike: She's the star of the act.

How many zillion songs are there in your repertoire?

Mike: We're getting ready for the fair right now and we're doing 120 songs for the first three days. We try not to duplicate any songs, so we'll do five sets of eight for three days, then rotate 'em and do songs by request. Usually we try not to repeat 'em because we don't want everyone that works at the fair to have to hear the same songs over and over.

You're always in the same place? Never by the livestock or the racing pigs?

Mike: Right up front — right by the gate where you come in. Five sets a day for all 12 days of the fair. We start at 11 in the morning and start our last set at 3, so that's about 40 songs a day. When we first started doing the fair, they never told us about break time, and we were used to playing parties, so we figured we should only take a five- or 10-minute break.

Vanessa: We had no idea we were allowed to take a break.

Mike: About the third year at the fair, they said, "We want to up you to five hours from the four." I told them it was going to be really rough on my wife's voice because that's a lot of singing.

And they said, "Well, you get a half-hour break every hour."

I said, "That's why Vanessa sounds like Barry White at the end of the day."

That's funny. Do you and Vanessa ever get stumped when it comes to requests?

Mike: We try to have a little bit of everything, but sometimes people ask for things we don't have.

Vanessa: Like "Brickhouse."

Mike: And it's hard for us to do the Commodores when there's only two of us.

You're not there at night, so no drunks insisting on "Free Bird"?

Mike: We start in the morning and appeal to family groups and seniors, so that's probably why they keep us early in the morning. We do a little bit of everything: Fleetwood Mac, Carly Simon, Carole King, Reba McEntire, Patsy Cline, Wynonna.

Vanessa: And we do some newer stuff. The kids get a kick out of the Pussycat Dolls, Fergie, Gwen Stefani and Nelly Furtado — I like that kind of music and we like to see their reactions.

Do your kids still turn you on to music?

Mike: It's neat. They'll say, "Why don't you try this?" We don't want to look like idiots and try to be something we're not, but if we feel we can pull it off, we'll give it our best.

No Slayer covers then?

Vanessa: Probably not. But when the kids at the fair are dancing, then we're doing OK.

People come in, stop by for a few songs, then move on?

Mike: That's usually it, and on their way out they stop and listen before they go home. A lot of times they think Vanessa's lip-synching. It becomes really frustrating because we try hard to make it sound exactly like the original artist.

Any weird fair experiences?

Vanessa: One time Mike sang "Mellow Yellow" and this distinguished man came up and said, "I really enjoyed your song. You brought such joy to me, so I'm going to bring joy to you." He pulls out this leaf — like a tree leaf — and starts playing it like an instrument. It sounded like a horn — it was unbelievable. When he was done, he said, "How do you do? My name is Chad Everett."

You're probably too young to know who Chad Everett was, but he was a famous movie star on a TV show called "Medical Center." As a teenager I had a big crush on Chad Everett, so Mike ran him down and he took a picture with us. We told our grandkids, "He was like the George Clooney of our day."

So this is all just for the fun of it? No MTV dreams?

Mike: I'll tell you what our big dream is: We want to make a Christian CD; we're working on it right now. Plus, some other contemporary Christians have put a CD together, and we want to have a concert to help out children in India and Rwanda. We've worked with kids for a long time — with group homes and foster kids, so that's our main goal.

Vanessa: No "American Idol" thing — we live in the real world.

Most requested tunes?

Vanessa: I'd say "Landslide," definitely. "Angel Baby" for the older crowd. "Redneck Woman." Then "Crazy," of course, by Patsy Cline.

Can you describe that special power that music seems to have?

Vanessa: I think it's what we see when we go to the retirement homes. You'll see some people there and you're singing and it seems as if they don't hear a word you say. But then you do a song like "Que Sera, Sera" and they'll start singing it. The staff will say, "They never say anything," but they know the words to a song. To me, it's amazing. It's just the power of music.

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