New season set at Cal Center for the Arts

The Midtown Men, including Valley Center's Christian Hoff, far left.

California Center for the Arts, Escondido this week announced its most ambitious season ever, set to hit the resurgent landmark’s stages beginning Aug. 11.

To name but a few of the stars alighting Escondido’s cultural horizons through June 2017:

Kathy Griffin, Keith Sweat, Big Head Todd And The Monsters, Montgomery Gentry, Garrison Keillor, Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn, Pink Martini, Shaping Sound, The Midtown Men, Black Violin, The TEN Tenors, Villalobos Brothers, Portland Cello Project, Flip Fabrique, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Mexrrissey, International Guitar Night, Masters of Hawaiian Music, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Pablo Villegas, Marta Lledo, The Quebe Sisters, The Mariachi Divas, Ching-Ming Cheng.

Whew. And more.

“The 2016-17 season promises to be the most engaging of any of our season offerings to date,” Jerry Van Leeuwen said. He took over a challenged center as interim executive director in 2013 with the interim tag now removed. “We have a performance for every entertainment interest.”

Kathy Griffin dishes in September.

Kathy Griffin dishes in September.

Aside from the high quality of the talent, what stood out in this year’s announcement was the heavy corporate sponsorship presence, part of the new approach to acceptance and solvency.

“Alongside other celebrated Escondido attractions and facilities such as the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, Mayo Clinic, Stone Brewing Company and many others, the Center is thrilled to continue placing Escondido on the national map as a cultural mecca of the arts and innovation,” Center publicist Jesse P. Cutler said.

“In addition to the diverse programming for their stages, the Center remains steadfast in its mission to provide standout educational and family-friendly offerings, captivating museum exhibitions, free community festivals and more,” Cutler said.

Speaking from the sponsor’s seat, Bill Ostrem, San Diego Division President for CalAtlantic Homes, said: “We are proud to support California Center for the Arts, Escondido in what is sure to be a successful season. By bringing a wide range of cultural, educational and entertaining events to the area, the Center enriches the lives of our residents at Harmony Grove Village and the greater Southern California area.”

The nonprofit $85 million center opened in 1994. It’s early years were marked by controversy amid financial losses. The center started out with an $800,00 loss its initials season, then proceeded to lose money 13 of its first 16 years.

Financial hardship engendered a new vision as the center shifted from staging its own shows to bringing in outside event promoters and bookings. Now, on better financial footing, the center mixes the outside acts with its own productions.

The city of Escondido owns the complex. However, the center is operated a non-profit foundation featuring two performance theaters for performances, with capacities of 1,500 and 400, respectively, along with an art gallery and a conference center. It has 43 full-time and 100 part-time employees along with some 27,000 patrons are on its mailing list, up from 20,000 in 2014.

The center has a $5.5 million operating budget. This accounts for theater programming, art gallery and conference center operations. It also covers educational programs, arts grants, free concerts, jazz jam sessions and annual events, like the annual open-air Fourth of July and Day of the Dead celebrations, which can draw up to 20,000 people.

The city of Escondido provides $720,000 annually to manage the center, in addition to covering utilities and related costs

What follows is the very extensive listing of events et al provided by the center, so try not to be overwhelmed.

Performing Arts 2016/2017 Season Lineup

Ain't Misbeavin'

Ain’t Misbeavin’

Ain’t Misbehavin’: The Fats Waller Musical Show

*Thursday, August 11 – Sunday August 14, 2016

Center Theater

This roof-raising musical tribute is a sassy, sultry celebration of legendary jazz great, Fats Waller. Audiences will be transported to the glory days of the Harlem Renaissance with a versatile cast that struts, strums and sings the songs that Waller made famous during his storied career.

Kathy Griffin

*Saturday, September 10, 2016

Concert Hall @ 7:30pm

Two-time Emmy and Grammy Award-winning comedian Kathy Griffin’s rapid-fire wit, outrageous musings on popular culture, and hilarious celebrity anecdotes will have audiences doubled over in laughter. A towering figure on television, on tour, and in publishing, Griffin breaks through the entertainment clutter with her universally recognized brand of pull-no-punches comedy.

Generously sponsored by Stone Brewing Co.

Big Head Blues Club Presents The Songs of Willie Dixon featuring BIG HEAD TODD AND THE MONSTERS

with Special Guests Mud Morganfield, Billy Branch, and Ronnie Baker Brooks

*Thursday, September 29, 2016

Concert Hall @ 7:30pm

Platinum-selling stars Big Head Todd and the Monsters join forces with three second-generation blues stars – Mud Morganfield, Billy Branch and Ronnie Baker Brooks – to pay tribute to one of the pillars of modern blues and most influential songwriters of early rock and roll. Willie Dixon’s street-tough lyrics and ribald riffs have permeated the works of artists such as Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley and even Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones.

Generously sponsored by Harmony Grove Village.

Keith Sweat

*Friday, September 30, 2016

Concert Hall @ 7:30pm

R&B legend Keith Sweat has sold over 25 million records and received the 2013 Soul Train Lifetime Achievement Award. Sweat shot to stardom in the golden era of R&B music in the ’90s and continues to reign supreme with a scintillating repertoire that includes popular hits such as “Gonna Make You Sweat,” “Twisted,” and “Nobody.”

The Quebe Sisters

*Sunday, October 2, 2016

Center Theater @ 7:30pm

Prepare to be blown away when triple threat fiddle champions Grace, Sophia, and Hulda Quebe raise their fiddles and blend their voices in an intricately layered three-part harmony reminiscent of the Andrews Sisters. The Quebe’s unique brand of music has taken the Americana scene by storm with a refreshing blend of swing, vintage country, bluegrass, jazz and swing standards, and Texas-style fiddling.

Flip Fabrique.

Flip Fabrique.

Flip Fabrique

*Thursday, October 20, 2016

Concert Hall @ 7:30pm

Come one, come all to the spellbinding cirque sensation that will entertain adults and children alike! Flip Fabrique is a Quebec-based troupe of six acrobats whose fast-paced circus show, Attrape-Moi (Catch Me!), features swirling hula hoops, masterful juggling, gravity-defying aerialist techniques, and more.


*Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Center Theater @ 7:30pm

Delving into Mexico’s unlikely obsession for all things Morrissey, Mexrrissey has translated Morrissey’s most venerable songs into Spanish and laced them with Latin beats. Led by Camilo Lara, the DJ Behind the respected electronica outfit, the Mexican Institute of Sound, the band uses brass accordion, and other Mexican elements to bring its seriously remixed Morrissey to our Center Theater.

The Midtown Men

*Friday, November 4, 2016

Concert Hall @ 7:30pm

After sharing the Broadway stage for over one thousand performances as the original cast of the mega-successful Jersey Boys, Tony® Award winner Christian Hoff, Michael Longoria, Daniel Reichard, and Tony® Award nominee J. Robert Spencer decided to take their signature sound and chemistry to audiences everywhere. This high-octane musical tour de force celebrates the best music of the ’60s and will leave audiences singing, “Oh, what a night!”

Generously sponsored by Harmony Grove Village.

Marta Lledo

*Sunday, November 6, 2016

Center Theater @ 3:00pm

Internationally renowned Argentinian piano sensation Marta Lledo is known for her passionate tango interpretations as well as her classical repertoire. Hailed as the world’s #1 Latina pianist, Lledo has received global recognition for her unstoppable talent including the Wagner Association Award for most talented young person in Argentina.

Montgomery Gentry

*Sunday, November 6, 2016

Concert Hall @ 7:30pm

From “Hillbilly Shoes” to “Headlights,” the ACM and CMA award-winning Montgomery Gentry has become one of the most identifiable duos in the history of country music. Their outlaw-meets-gentleman sensibilities, yin and yang personalities, and intensely energetic live performances have drawn door-busting crowds for the past 15 years.

Pink Martini

*Saturday, December 3, 2016

Concert Hall @ 7:30pm

Pink Martini, the American band with an international flair, returns to the Center for a holiday spectacular! Join over a dozen musicians and lead vocalist China Forbes as they perform unique seasonal selections of traditional holiday classics as well as their globally-inspired repertoire, which crosses genres of classical, Latin, jazz, and old-fashioned pop.

Generously sponsored by Newland Communities.

Portland Cello Project

*Sunday, January 22, 2017

Center Theater @ 7:30pm

The Portland Cello Project has captivated audiences all over the country with extravagant performances in venues ranging from symphony halls to punk rock clubs. The genre-bending group infuses the classical cello with an unforgettable modern twist, covering Radiohead, Taylor Swift, Kanye West, and more.

American icon Garrison Keillor rings in the new year at Cal Center for the Arts, Escondido.

American icon Garrison Keillor rings in the new year at Cal Center for the Arts, Escondido.

Garrison Keillor

*Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Center Hall @ 7:30pm

True to his award-winning radio form, legendary humorist and author Garrison Keillor delivers hilarious anecdotes with his signature “down comforter voice,” dry sense of humor, charisma, and wisdom. Don’t miss the chance to see him on his final tour!

Generously sponsored by Stone Brewing Co.

Black Violin

*Thursday, February 2, 2017

Center Hall @ 7:30pm

Virtuoso violinists Wil B. and Kev Marcus meld highbrow and pop culture through a fusion of classical, jazz, hip-hop, blues, and R&B. Joining the classically-trained violinists is turntable wiz DJ TK; together the trio smashes musical stereotypes and enthrall fans of Bach and Beyoncé alike.

Generously sponsored by Stone Brewing Co.

Pablo Villegas

*Saturday, February 4, 2017

Center Theater @ 7:30pm

The soul of the Spanish guitar runs in Pablo Villegas’ blood. A native of La Roja, Spain, Villegas is distinguished by his passionate performances, charismatic stage presence, and stunning technical abilities that embody the playfulness and drama of his homeland’s rich musical heritage.

Complexions Contemporary Ballet.

Complexions Contemporary Ballet.

Complexions Contemporary Ballet

*Thursday, February 9, 2017

Concert Hall @ 7:30pm

Combining technical precision, power, and passion, Complexions Contemporary Ballet delivers an exciting performance that transcends tradition in a groundbreaking mix of styles ranging from ballet to hip hop. The group, who has been featured on So You Think You Can Dance, will perform Innervisions, an upbeat, contemporary dance tribute to the music of Stevie Wonder, along with other selections from their esteemed repertoire.

International Guitar Night

*Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Center Theater @ 7:30pm

Master performer Brain Gore returns to the Center for another critically acclaimed performance celebrating the world’s finest guitarists! This brilliant acoustic extravaganza features Gore along with a new cast of celebrated guitar luminaries including Luca Stricagnoli, Chrystian Dozza, and Debashis Bhattacharya.

Villalobos Brothers

*Thursday, February 23, 2017

Center Theater @ 7:30pm

Hailing from Veracruz, Mexico, the Villalobos Brothers are acclaimed as one of today’s leading contemporary Mexican ensembles. The violin trio draws on many genres including San Jarocho, jazz, rock, and blues. These classically trained virtuosos deliver a signature style known as “Fast-Chatting Violin,” for a mesmerizing brew of brilliance, cadence and virtuosity.

The TEN Tenors

*Sunday, February 26, 2017

Concert Hall @ 7:30pm

Center favorites The TEN Tenors are back, celebrating their 20th Anniversary with an all-new rock-opera show, The Power of TEN! Taking on the most dynamic songs in the world, the “Vocal Wonders from Down Under” will soar through classical arias and give rock anthems an exhilarating and unique sound for an electrifying night of world-class entertainment.

Masters of Hawaiian Music

*Friday, March 3, 2017

Concert Theater @ 7:30pm

Four-time Grammy Award winner and slack key guitar virtuoso George Kahumoko Jr. is known as Hawaii’s Renaissance Man. Kahumoko will take the stage with slack key guitarist Kawika Kahiapo and instrumentalist Nathan Aweau to perform a distinctly Hawaiian style of open tunings, along with stories and light-hearted entertainment.

Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn.

Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn.

Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn

*Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Center Theater @ 7:30pm

Grammy Award winning husband and wife duo Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn take the stage together to perform music from their debut album. The celebrated banjo players demonstrate seemingly unlimited rhythmic, tonal, and melodic capabilities showcasing the banjo’s versatility for a one-of-a-kind pairing with one-of-a-kind possibilities.

Ching-Ming Cheng

*Sunday, April 9, 2017

Center Theater @ 3:00pm

A classically trained, award-winning piano virtuoso, CSUSM music professor Ching-Ming Cheng has an enthusiastic heart for sharing her profession with others. Dr. Cheng has been featured in solo and collaborative performances around the world. Don’t miss this inspirational celebration of the classical piano!

The Mariachi Divas

*Sunday, May 14, 2017

Concert Hall @ 7:30pm

A two-time Grammy Award winner with a total of six Grammy nominations and two Latin Grammy nominations, The Mariachi Divas are a multicultural, all-female ensemble imbued with the unique musical flavor of Los Angeles. Since 2003, the Mariachi Divas have performed at Disneyland Resort, melding styles from Mexico, Colombia, Cuba, Venezuela, Germany, Spain, and other parts of the world.

Shaping Sound

*Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Concert Hall @ 7:30pm

Shaping Sound returns to the Center for another electrifying mash-up of dance styles and musical genres. The contemporary dancers who rose to fame on So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With The Stars will thrill audiences of all ages with their exhilarating collaboration of explosive choreography, dynamic rhythm, speed, and physical strength, all coming together to give shape and form to sound.

Museum Exhibitions 2016/2017 Season Lineup

My Hero & Unlocking Wonderland

*May 21 – August 14, 2016

Superheroes come to life this summer! These parallel exhibitions examine heroic comic book icons and celebrate 150 years of Alice. Go down the rabbit hole into the whimsical world of Wonderland, then summon your powers and soar through the exhibits. Over 60 world-renowned artists look at our beloved heroes in the thought-provoking new ways.

Heated Exchange: Contemporary Encaustics

*September 24 – November 13, 2016

No longer entombed with the mummies, the ancient art of encaustic (hot wax) resonates in contemporary culture. The multi-dimensional surface, luminous color, and ethereal image layering unique to this once obsolete medium is now recognized both for it’s exquisite beauty and incredible versatility.

Cowboys & Vaqueros: Legends of the American West

*January 14 – February 26, 2017

Take a trip to the Wild West in this collection of grand paintings of nostalgic vistas of the American West and ornately decorated equestrian bits, spurs, and bridles. This journey through our region’s history explores the culture of the West and honors Cowboy, Native American, and Mexican traditions.

Second Time Around: The Hubcap as Art

*April 8 – May 28, 2017

With a powerful message of environmental awareness, this exhibition highlights a creative alternative to mindless consumption and focuses on the importance of repurposing. Artists from around the world transform discarded hubcaps into fine art in a unique collaboration with Landfillart, Inc., a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit.

Annual Community Events

53rd Annual Independence Day Festival & Fireworks.

53rd Annual Independence Day Festival & Fireworks.

53rd Annual Independence Day Festival & Fireworks Join 20,000 patriotic festival-goers for a day of rockin’ live music, tasty treats, and Fourth of July fun and games for all. After dark, turn your gaze to the sky for a dazzling fireworks display!

*July 4, 2016

First Wednesdays featuring A Penny A Kiss (September 7, 2016 @ 4pm & 7pm), Todo Mundo (October 5, 2016 @ 4pm & 7pm), G Burns Jug Band (November 2, 2016 @ 4pm & 7pm), The Cherries Jubilee (December 7, 2016 @ 7pm), and more!

*Every First Wednesday of the Month, September 2016 through June 2017

Jazz Jam Sessions Jazz up your summer with live music in the moonlight! Whether you sit back and enjoy a glass of wine or pick up your sax and play with the band, the musical talent at our jam sessions will blow you away.

*Fridays in August 2016

Música en la Plaza New this year, bring your dancing shoes to our Lyric Court and enjoy live music, tacos, tequila, and more. From Cumbia and Bachata, to Salsa and Norteña, these rhythms will move you to get up and dance under the stars!

*Fridays in September 2016

21st Annual Día de los Muertos Festival Create altars and sugar skulls to celebrate and honor deceased loved ones on this traditional Mexican holiday. Afterward, explore the country’s rich cultural heritage through art, music, and dance.

*November 1, 2016

Holiday Tree Lighting & Winter Wonderland Festival Celebrate the holidays at the Center! Every December we bring the North Pole to the heart of Escondido with a visit from Santa, real snow, and entertainment for the whole family to enjoy.

*December 3, 2016

First Marine Division Band Annual Concert Don’t miss Camp Pendleton’s finest musicians as they return to the Center for their popular annual performance. Each spring, the band presents a new and engaging concert that keeps audiences coming back year after year!

*Spring 2017

smART Festival Enjoy a vibrant showcase of artwork and performances by Escondido’s students. This celebration of aspiring artists is held in our museum, theaters, and Great Green.

*March 25, 2017

The Center is located at 340 N. Escondido Blvd. in Escondido. The Ticket Office can be reached at (800) 988-4253. Tickets can also be purchased online. To learn more, including performance dates, times and ticket information, visit

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