Santa Barbara locals turned out en masse July 27 for a giant block party in the Funk Zone, featuring local rock icon Michael McDonald headlining a concert including Ambrosia and Dylan McDonald & the Avians.

The festive daylong party was organized as a fundraiser for the Youth Interactive program, which also has found a home in the Funk Zone. The ambitious project looks to provide underprivileged youth in the local community with the training, skills and materials necessary to create viable arts based micro businesses.

According to the Youth Interactive website; “Our enrichment program of T.E.A. — Technology, Entrepreneurship and the Arts — teaches practical life skills, financial literacy and success through entrepreneurship. We partner with local high school, colleges and probation to provide a path to life success for Santa Barbara County’s most creative disadvantaged and disenfranchised youth.”

The benefit was a great success, with the special VIP dinner with the artists tickets quickly selling out and raising $40,000 from their sales alone. Many other VIP tickets without the dinner and general admission tickets were sold. Local wine and beer selections were available all throughout the event, and patrons could wander the Funk Zone for more food and beverage choices, if they chose to do so.

Dylan McDonald & the Avians played an inspiring early afternoon set. Dylan, the son of Michael McDonald, showcased his musical pedigree with selections form his debut album, Out From the Door. Together with his band the Avians, the group of youthful rockers played retro rock reminiscent of a young Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. Early concertgoers were dancing in the aisles by the end of the band’s stellar set.

Southern California progressive rock band Ambrosia took the stage in midafternoon. The group, composed of most of the original members dating back to 1970, played a crowd pleasing set that stretched nearly two hours into late afternoon, and included their string of top 40 hits penned in the 1970s.

Veteran English rocker and master producer Alan Parsons could be seen in the audience enjoying the band’s long set. The longtime local resident not only produced Ambrosia’s early albums, but the band also played on Parson’s first album with the Alan Parsons Project, Tales of Mystery And Imagination.

There was a break in the music after the band’s set, and Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider led an extended tribute to all parties involved in the successful fundraiser. The tribute included presentations of paintings to the headlining bands, created in a graffiti style by participants in the Youth Interactive program.

Then, in true community spirit, the barricades between the general admission area in the back and the VIP seats in the front were removed and everyone was invited to the front of the stage. Hundreds of smiling fans greeted Michael McDonald as he took the stage, backed by Ambrosia, who acted as his support band. McDonald bantered with the crowd throughout his set, offering extend heartfelt thanks for everyone donating to the fundraiser.

The band proceeded to play a strong 90-minute set, full of hit songs from the extensive Doobie Brothers catalog. The group also played some of McDonald’s biggest solo hits, as well as covers from some of R&B’s biggest  classic rock stars, like Stevie Wonder.

It was a great way to spend a long summer Saturday afternoon for a great cause.

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributing writer. The opinions expressed are his own.