Escondido, CA

CCAE unveils new season: eclectic blend with wide appeal

Mexican pop-rock singer songwriter Natalia Lafourcade will appear at the Center in May 2018.

The California Center for the Arts, Escondido this week released its season for 2017-2018 and it is a box of chocolates with something for just about every taste.

I talked to the Center’s executive director Jerry Van Leeuwen, who is beginning his fifth year at that job. He operates on the so far successful theory of booking a very eclectic series that—he hopes—will have three shows each year that will appeal to each prospective audience member.

“The upcoming season brings outstanding artists to the theaters. The variety of entertainment is extraordinary as well including Bill Murray, Cesar Milan and Shaping Sound. The goal of the season is to offer shows that will attract to a wide array of interests. I believe we have hit the mark,” he said.

“Our research shows that most people who attend theater will go three times a year,” said Van Leeuwen, who makes it a habit of attending almost every show the Center books, and making notes of reactions from patrons. When they tell him to bring an act back, he takes that recommendation very seriously.

When people claim they don’t see acts advertised that they want to see, Van Leeuwen challenges them to look through the season— he’s confident they will find at least three shows that intrigue them. And he hopes they will be willing to pay to see them.

“About half of the acts are ones that patrons have told us to bring back—and the other half are new to the center,” he says.

One of the acts that people emphatically enjoyed previously was Pink Martini, which will be appearing for the third time on February 27.  The group features a dozen musicians and singer China Forbes, who play crossover Latin Jazz and pop. This ensemble group of over a dozen musicians is known for reaching into the audience and sometimes bringing literally hundreds onto the stage.

The Center doesn’t have the money to bring in the very top of the list talent—the people who can fill up the Sports Arena, for example—so it looks for the talents who are on their way up, or for great established artists who like playing at a great venue—which the Center has a solid reputation of being.

“We are trying to grab some of the best artists on the way up,” says Van Leeuwen.

One of the groups fitting that description is Black Violin, a string duo from Florida that has one foot in hip hop and the other in Classical.

There will also be groups that the Center has booked, but can’t advertise more than a few weeks ahead of time due to a contractual obligation. You’ll see them advertised later in the year.

The 2017-2018 season is a mix of shows that the Center hires and takes a chance on, and “rentals,” such as the annual appearance of Shen Yun, in which a group pays the Center and the Center wins no matter how many people show up.

Van Leeuwen says he has been asked why the Center doesn’t do what the old East County Performing Arts Center in El Cajon is doing —after years of laying vacant— and rent out entirely to an organization that will run shows entirely for profit.

“We can’t perform our mission by just doing concerts,” he says, noting that the name of the facility is the “California Center for the Arts, Escondido,” which includes fine arts. In addition, the center is committed to bringing a wide spectrum of free artistic programs to enrich the lives of Escondido’s residents.

Of the programs that the Center will bring in, as opposed to renting out a venue, 42 will be free to the public and 25-30 will be paid shows. How does the Center pay for these shows? The answer is sponsorships and donations from lovers of the arts.

An example of such a program is the July 4, 54th annual Independence Day festival and fireworks program (see separate story, Page 1,) which will be free, although there will be a VIP seating for about 600 and a beer tasting area for $10.

Museum Exhibition

The first museum exhibit of the new season will be “California Connections: Selections from The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego,” a joint project of CCAE and MCASD, featuring all-California artists from MCASD’s permanent collection and running from July 7-August 27. It’s a joint effort in which Center members will be able to visit the MCASD for free. The exhibit will be curated by a MCASD staffer.

“We’re very excited about this association,” says Van Leeuwen.

Intimate Classics

The Center will be bringing back a popular series, “Intimate Classics,” a series of appearances by artists whose style lends to interacting in a personal way with the audience, sometimes talking about their lives and taking questions and coming out to meet the audience after the performance. “It’s like they are performing in your living room,” says Van Leeuwen.

One of these artists will be the classical pianist Michelle Cann, who performed here two years ago. “It was one of the few times I’ve seen an audience stand up before the performer was finished,” says Van Leeuwen. “I really encourage people to come to that.” Cann will perform February 11.

Others in the “Intimate Classics” series include the trio Simply Three, performing October 22 and Priti Gandhi, who will perform on Mother’s Day 2018. Gandhi is a member of the San Diego Opera who won the “Dancing with Our Stars,” competition earlier this year.

Lyric Court events

Another innovation for 2017-2018 will be using the outdoor Lyric Court for ticketed events, where Las Migas with Flamenco Arana will be the first such show on October 21. The flamenco style of Las Migas lends itself well to this type of venue, says Van Leeuwen.

The Lyric Court is an intimate outdoor venue that holds about 350. “We wanted to take advantage of that space,” says Van Leeuwen. One advantage is that, unlike the indoor stages, which limit bringing in refreshments, audience members can wander freely and return with drinks and food. It will be an experience like the “Belly Up Tavern,” where people don’t need to stay in their seats.

This is an experiment, he says. “If it works technically we will do others.”

A Bluegrass TOMMY

Definitely in the “eclectic” mold will be one of the most interesting concerts of the season, the bluegrass band Hillbenders, who will present a “Bluegrass Opry” version of “The Who’s TOMMY.”

Puttin’ Down Roots

A series of free concerts entitled “Puttin’ Down Roots” an American music series, will be held on Friday nights in July. Explore several genres of American roots music through artists talkbacks, live music, and dancing with Zydeco Patrol, G Burns Jug Band, Brogue Wave, and Veracruz Blues.

Lovers of cosplay and science fiction in all its forms will be disappointed to learn that Nerdcon won’t be returning to the Center this year.

The Schedule

The Center’s 2017/2018 season runs from Saturday, October 21, 2017 until Thursday, May 25, 2018. Events will take place in both the 1,523-seat Concert Hall and 404-seat Center Theater. For additional information about the Center, visit

“We are excited to not only bring quality entertainment, but also a quality experience to our guests at California Center for the Arts, Escondido, “ said Cynthia Weir, Board Chair. “From free parking, beautiful theaters, welcoming staff and incomparable acoustics we hope every attendee and performer will walk out with a ‘WOW!’”

Confirmed sponsors for the 2017/2018 season include Jay & Gale Stienon, Jean Will and WEWSTAF.

Performing Arts  2017/2018 Season Lineup

Audiences will see a different side to comic genius Bill Murray Bill Murray teams up with distinguished German cellist Jan Vogler, alongside violinist Mira Wang and pianist Vanessa Perez, to present a spirited evening of music and literature.

Shaping Sound

After the Curtain

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Concert Hall at 7:30 p.m.

Through his Emmy Award-winning work on So You Think You Can Dance; Travis Wall has established himself as one of America’s favorite choreographers. His artistic direction of SHAPING SOUND has already produced one spell-binding show in Dance Reimagined, which has captivated audiences all across North America. Now, Travis and Shaping Sound are back with their brand-new show, After the Curtain.

Las Migas with Flamenco Arana

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Lyric Court at 7:30 p.m.

Las Migas (Spanish for “the crumbs”) plays a fascinating blend of Flamenco and Mediterranean music that combines classic and contemporary rhythms with powerful melodies.

Simply Three

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Center Theater at 3 p.m.

Simply Three is an electrifying trio that has old school training but a new school sound and have been captivating audiences worldwide with high-octane performances since 2010.

Flip Fabrique

Attrape-Moi! (Catch Me!)

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Concert Hall at 3 p.m.

The astonishing, lively show will leave you smiling from ear to ear as this Quebec-based troupe of six acrobats dazzles in this fast-paced circus show.

Bill Murray, Jan Vogler & Friends

New Worlds

Friday, December 1, 2017

Concert Hall at 7:30 p.m.

Bill Murray teams up with distinguished German cellist Jan Vogler, alongside violinist Mira Wang and pianist Vanessa Perez, to present a spirited evening of music and literature. In this rare live appearance, Murray — as both singer and narrator — brings his charm and wit to songs by Foster, Gershwin, Mancini, and Bernstein, as well as readings of classic American poetry and prose in dialogue with Vogler’s singing Stradivari cello.

Jane Lynch

A Swingin’ Little Christmas featuring Kate Flannery & Tim Davis with The Tony Guerrero

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Center Theater at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Join Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winner singer, actress, and comedian Jane Lynch as she rings in the holidays with songs from her brand-new Christmas album, A Swingin’ Little Christmas!


Thursday, December 21, 2017

Center Theater at 7:30 p.m.

QUATTROSOUND is an acoustic ensemble that blends their classical and jazz training with a wide-range of musical influences. The four musicians are equally astute at playing a Bach Suite, rocking out to Led Zeppelin, or interpreting a piece by Chick Corea.

The Hillbenders: TOMMY, A Bluegrass Opry

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Center Theater at 7:30 p.m.

With the Hillbenders incredible ability to bridge the gap between common music and the bluegrass genre, they bring to you the bluegrass version of The Who’s breakthrough fourth studio album, Tommy.

Pink Martini, one of the most popular acts to have performed at the Center, will be back for a third time in February 2018.


Pink Martini

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Concert Hall at 7:30 p.m.

Pink Martini returns to the Center with their mid-tempo style, smooth vocals, romantic lyrics, a sparse trumpet solo and acoustic piano accompaniment.

Michelle Cann Pianist

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Center Theater at 3 p.m.

Classical pianist Michelle Cann is a young artist with a deep musical commitment to performing a wide range of repertoire throughout the US and to bringing the arts to local communities.

International Guitar Night

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Concert Theater at 7:30 p.m.

International Guitar Night (IGN) is North America’s premier mobile guitar festival, bringing together the world’s foremost acoustic guitarist to perform their latest original compositions.

Back by popular demand, Black Violin, a string duo from Florida combines both classical and hip-hop traditions to bring two musical worlds together.

Black Violin

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Concert Hall at 7:30 p.m.

Back by popular demand, Black Violin, a string duo from Florida combines both classical and hip-hop traditions to bring two musical worlds together.

Jesse Cook

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Concert Hall at 7:30 p.m.

Award-winning guitarist, composer and producer Jesse Cook returns to the Center bringing his “nuevo flamenco” music style while incorporating elements of flamenco, rumba, jazz and many forms of world music.

Bria Skonburg

Friday, March 9, 2018

Concert Theater at 7:30 p.m.

Bria Skonberg brings her unique sound and reimagined standards through a modern prism. Her music style is rooted in New Orleans jazz and blues, world percussion, and cabaret.

Masters of Hawaiian Music

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Concert Theater at 7:30 p.m.

Known as Hawaii’s Renaissance Man, George Kahumoku Jr. is a four-time GRAMMY & Na Hōkū Hanohano (Hawaiian Grammy) Award winner and a slack key guitar virtuoso.

Cesar Milan

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Concert Hall at 3 p.m.

Cesar Milan, original host of the Dog Whisperer series and star of the new Cesar Milan’s Dog Nation series on Nat Geo WILD, will reveal the secrets of happier, healthier relationships between humans and their beloved canines in his exciting live show.

Priti Gandhi

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Concert Theater at 3 p.m.

A Mother’s Day special with soprano sensation Priti Gandhi, whose career includes performances with the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, New York City Opera, the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, San Francisco Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Seattle Opera, the Caramoor International Music Festival, San Diego Opera, the Estates Theatre in Prague, Opera Pacific, the Utah Symphony, and Michigan Opera Theatre.

Natalia LaFourcade

Friday, May 25, 2018

Concert Hall at 7:30 p.m.

Mexican pop-rock singer songwriter Natalia Lafourcade brings her chart topping lyric soprano sound to the Center.

Museum Exhibitions 2017/2018 Season Lineup

California Connections:  Selections from the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

July 8 – August 27, 2017

This collaborative exhibition draws from the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s (MCASD) permanent collection, featuring works by beloved California artists from the 1950s to today.

Photography Expanded

September 30 – November 12, 2017

Explore how photography has changed in his exhibit that includes several different takes on the medium. Richard Slechta is a composer of chromogenic photograms that use light as a vehicle for expression. Sol Hill skillfully distorts his images to discover new narratives entitled Missightments. Also featured is a selection of portraits from the Notes to our Sons and Daughters: My Sister’s Voice exhibition, as well as works by Major Morris, local educator, photo journalist and author of “Nurture Their Dreams.”

The Tower Gallery will host a special offrenda (offering) for the Center’s annual Día de Los Muertos celebration.

Niki de Saint Phalle: Mythical California

January 13 – March 4, 2018

Internationally known mosaic artist, Niki de Saint Phalle created larger than life works of art about the myths and legends of California. This exhibition includes her Californian Diary print series and an exploration of the making of the sculpture garden Queen Califia’s Magical Circle in Kit Carson Park. This exhibit celebrates this vibrant 20th century artist and the fifteen-year anniversary of Queen Califia’s Magical Circle.

Campus Creatives: From the Classroom to the Museum

April 7 – May 13, 2018

Visual Art Department Faculty members teaching at the college level in San Diego County will showcase newer works of all media.

Annual Community Events 

First Wednesdays

Featuring Erika Davies & The Men (October 4, 2017 at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.), MiraCosta College Symphony Orchestra (December 6, 2017 at 7 p.m.), Brogue Wave (March 7, 2018 at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.) and more! Every First Wednesday of the Month, September 2017 through June 2018.

Jazz Jam Sessions

Jazz up your summer with live music in the moonlight!

Fridays in August 2017

Música en la Plaza

New this year, bring your dancing shoes to the Lyric Court and enjoy live music, tacos, tequila, and more.

Fridays in September 2017

22nd 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, 2017

Holiday Tree Lighting & Winter Wonderland Festival

Celebrate the holidays at the Center! Every December the Center brings the North Pole to the heart of Escondido with a visit from Santa, real snow, and entertainment for the whole family.

December 2, 2017

First Marine Division Band Annual Concert

Camp Pendleton’s finest musicians return to the Center for their popular annual performance.

6th Annual smART Festival

Enjoy a vibrant showcase of artwork and performances by Escondido’s students in the museum, theaters, and Great Green.

March 17, 2018

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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