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Jeff Moehlis: Michael McDonald Is Takin’ It to the Streets

The five-time Grammy winner will perform at the Funk Zone Block Party next Sunday in a benefit for Youth Interactive

If you like your music smooth and soulful, you can't do much better than listening to Michael McDonald, a five-time Grammy winner who sang for a time with Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers, and also has had a notable solo career. Some highlights of his catalog: "I Keep Forgettin' (Every Time You're Near)," "You Belong to Me," "It Keeps You Runnin'," "Minute By Minute," "What a Fool Believes," "Takin' It to the Streets," "Yah Mo B There," "Sweet Freedom" and his cover of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough."

McDonald, who lives in the Santa Barbara area, and other artists including Ambrosia ("Biggest Part of Me" and "How Much I Feel") will be performing at a Funk Zone Block Party on Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. at a benefit event for Youth Interactive.

More information and tickets, including VIP options, are available by clicking here.

McDonald talked to Noozhawk about Youth Interactive and what we can look forward to at the block party. The full interview, in which he talks about his time with Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers, plus his upcoming new album, is available by clicking here.

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Jeff Moehlis: You're performing at a benefit for the organization Youth Interactive. Could you tell us a bit about how you got involved with that organization?

Michael McDonald: In a nutshell, my daughter Scarlett is an intern volunteer for the organization. She told me about it, and I was so impressed with the idea of the program. It's an entrepreneurial academy, free of charge, nonprofit, after school. It's available to all the kids in this area, Santa Barbara especially.

It's an opportunity for kids who have an artistic talent or an idea for a small business. It teaches them the rudimentary steps to starting a small business, and how to network with local businesses that might help them, that might carry the products or things like that. And what's unique about it is that the local businesses do a lot to participate in the program.

For instance, an untypical scenario, just taking one of the kids' stories. He was a street artist, a tagger, looking at about two years of jail time. The courts approached the program, because they do interact, and a lot of the kids come to the program through a recommendation by the juvenile courts or the courts. They made a contract with him that he would not tag anymore illegally, and they gave him the opportunity to start developing his skills a little further, and his brand, which he had already done a good job of developing.

So he applied that to a clothing line, sneakers and T-shirt design, and some of the stores locally are carrying those. He also had a lot to do with some of the new murals down in the Funk Zone. You know, the Funk Zone itself is kind of largely becoming an outdoor gallery for socially conscious young artists and mural artists. At one time they would've been hard-pressed to find a place where they can express themselves legally, and not be looking at getting in trouble and having problems with the courts.

So here this kid goes from looking at two years of jail time to being a mentor in the program himself for younger artists coming in, having developed his own line and making a livelihood from his art and his brand. He has a young baby himself, him and his girlfriend. He has a job outside of his art, but his art does a lot to help him with the financial burden of raising a child. And instead of languishing in jail for a couple of years, this is what his life has turned the corner for. It's a wonderful thing.

One of the girls in the program is a teen. She was pregnant, dropped out of school. She has started a line of food items, one of them being organic biscotti that's being carried by stores in the area, coffee shops and stuff. She's actually in a situation now where she's hoping to develop that idea, and employ other kids — you know, her friends and family — to help her develop the small business into something that could be a good livelihood for her here locally.

It's a great program, and the entrepreneurial component, I think, makes it more interesting than a normal arts outreach program where you're just teaching kids about art and developing artistic skills. This actually takes it a step further, and they really connect with this stuff, and in many cases many of them already have. It brings them into an arena where they can actually do something with it in ways that aren't always obvious to young people at that age.

One thing that's great about the program is it's open to all kids of all economic strata in our community, and in all walks of life. But I think it's most profound as an experience for the low income kids, because for them the opportunity, let's face it, is much greater than for the kids that grew up in Montecito. It really serves our community well on every level. And I think it's a win-win for businesses because it's obviously developing the Funk Zone as an artistic center. It's a wonderful thing culturally for our community. It's great for the city. It's great for the kids.

It's great for us residents to become an area where there's opportunity, and more and more of our young people learning that there's opportunity right under their nose if they're given a little bit of guidance to look for it.

JM: Sounds amazing! What can we look forward to at your performance?

MM: Myself and Ambrosia are going to play. It's a pretty impromptu kind of show, it's kind of a big jam session if you will. Yassou Benedict from San Francisco is going to play. A group from Nashville, Dylan McDonald & The Avians are going to play. They're a rock band, but they're from Nashville, Tenn. [Dylan is Michael's son.]

We'll just do all the stuff that I've done over the years with the Doobies and my solo act. A lot of the stuff that the Ambrosia guys have had hits with during the '70s and the '80s.

JM: Your music and your voice in particular have been used for various pop culture references, you know, the Yacht Rock video series and The 40-Year-Old Virgin and so on. Does this sort of attention crack you up?

MM: Oh yeah, it's great stuff. I love it. And, of course, you know my kids were kind of little when all that stuff started, so they just got the biggest kick out of it. Whenever they did something on Family Guy or whatever, the kids would tape it and make sure I saw it. Yeah, it's just great fun. I get as big of a kick out of it as anybody, I would guess.

— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.

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