Interview: Grab your Fancy Hat for The Santa Barbara Polo & Wine Fest

Say the word “polo” to most any Californian and the associations will mostly likely start with Ralph Lauren and end with the Royal Family.

Unlike other areas of the US and the world, sporting events with dress codes and signature cocktails aren’t really a thing in California. But the people behind the SB Polo and Wine fest are here to change that, and not just for the sake of getting fancy for a night. The spirit of the game is not as frivolous as the cultural conceptions surrounding it — yes, the dress code is encouraged, but the SB Polo and Wine Fest offers people the chance to attend their first polo match in a setting that is totally unique to the sport. From the musical lineup to the vendors, the fest is introducing polo to a generation who crave experiences rather than things, and this one definitely stands out against a festival culture that grows more generic every year.

Held at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club on October 7th, the all day event combines two polo matches, local wine tastings, and a lineup that includes Macy Gray, Nick Waterhouse, LP and more. Leading up to the fest, we caught up with organizers Joey Massa and Josh Elion to discuss how it all came together, and what foodies and wine lovers should expect. Buy your tickets today. 

(Note: this interview took place before the passing of Charles Bradley).

Collide: What do you two do when you’re not organizing fancy polo fests?
Joey: I have worked in the music industry for a number of years. I used to work at the Hollywood Bowl. I’ve worked at Williams Forrest Agency. But, I do represent a small handful of bands that I build on the side in addition to this event. There’s a jazz festival we are looking to be involved with as well in Santa Barbara. So, we’ve got a few things going on in the Santa Barbara area.

Josh: Myself, I’m actually just wrapping up a master’s program and I’ve got a little bit of a career in the aerospace industry, but my passion has always been music. I came from a small business background; we used to make digital midi guitars, so I’ve been familiar with the industry and been in the industry and got sucked out a couple years ago, and I’ve been trying to get back into it.

So, how did this come about? How did you two connect and decide to do this?
Joey: Josh and I have actually been friends since middle school, so we’ve known each other for a long time and have been part of a couple different business ventures together through the years. But, last year I was actually recommending an artist who played at a polo match out in Portland and Josh and I flew up for it because we had never been to a polo match before and absolutely loved the sport — everything about it. We thought to ourselves, “Where can we put an event like this closer on the west coast or closer to LA?” So we thought of a number of areas and I actually have a bit of involvement in Santa Barbara; I used to have a band that played out there all through college, so I was usually out there 2 or 3 times a week. So, I’m familiar with the area and I’ve been familiar with the polo field and so we thought about it for a second. We thought Santa Barbara was the perfect place. You’ve got all the wineries right there, you’ve got a beautiful polo field, a great music scene. And so all the pieces kind of fell together.

Is there any other connection that you have with the area?
Joey: Everyone in my band actually went to University of Santa Barbara except for me. So that’s why it was kind of obvious for me to come up there. So during college I partly made Santa Barbara my second home through all of that.

Josh: Living in LA, Southern California, my folks would drive up to Santa Barbara once a week and so when I was younger Santa Barbara was kind of part of the life. We would go all the way up to SLO [San Luis Obispo] but for the most part it’s been a journey. So, we’ve become pretty familiar with the area.

So for most people in our generation, we don’t really know what it is to go to an event like this. What can people expect? What’s the vibe? This doesn’t seem like your average polo event.
Joey: That was part of our thinking behind this thing: really getting people who maybe aren’t familiar with the polo aspect to come out and enjoy the sport. It’s something different and niche, and really creates a community event. 

With the music that you booked, were you trying to find a vibe in that as well to match the venue?
Joey: Yeah, I mean for us, it was trying to find something contemporary, hip, and cool. Between Charles Bradley, LP, Nick Waterhouse — they’re all kind of contemporary, hip artists that really appeal to an older crowd and younger crowd. We want to make something open for everyone. 

Do you see it becoming a recurring, yearly thing?
Joey: That is the plan.

Josh: We want to build this event as a part of the Santa Barbara calendar. We’ve talked with the venue and the county and our partners and kind of tried to put this package together to be something that can go on year after year.

So at the event, are there any stand out vendors or specialty food items that people should definitely make sure that they hit up?
Joey: Yeah so food wise, two that are absolutely confirmed to be there are that we are both very excited about are Barbareno, as well as Buena Onda. They’re both absolutely incredible and some of my favorite restaurants within Santa Barbara, Buena Onda being more geared towards empanadas. Barbareno, which opened up a number of years ago in Santa Barbara, is a top of the line restaurant out there with incredible dishes and incredible meats and we’re excited about the menu that they’re going to be presenting there.

Josh: And as far as wines are concerned, Happy Canyon Vineyard, Summerland Wine, and Sanford Winery. We’ve got a number that we’re working with that are all stellar. We tried, when we were putting this whole thing together, to pick out some of our favorite wine vendors and try to get some of our favorites on first.

Joey: Also Santa Barbara Life & Style is going be hosting a luxury lounge with four boutique vendors in it. So, right now we have Whiskey & Leather who is an incredible local boutique. And then we are going to have two polo-inspired fashion brands there including Stick & Ball

It seems like there is a range of things you can do depending on what you pay for.  Starting from general admission, if someone was on a limited budget, is there a particular wine that they should absolutely taste if they were going to just pick one or two?
Joey: It’s tough for me to play favorites in this. But I will say Happy Canyon Vineyard will have a booth in the vip area as well as a booth in the GA marketplace and is incredible wine. Summerland Winery also. Both are incredible. Ultimately, you can’t go wrong with any of the wineries that we are gonna have on site. And I’m sure if you asked me or Josh we each would have our own favorites.

Josh: Very different opinions [laughs].

Do I sense that someone is a secret Chardonnay lover?
Josh: That’s me [laughs].

The Santa Barbara Polo & Wine Fest Guide to SB

Fancy brunch:
Joey: That’s a good question, I don’t think we’ve ever done a fancy brunch in town. The one that we’ve done was at the Fess Parker Hotel, which is a beautiful breakfast. 

Favorite local boutiques: 
Joey: Whiskey &  Leather is an incredible boutique, we’re excited to have them on board. We’re also going have a company called Parasols in Paradise who will be there, who does very high-end, very cool looking parasols to be used for shade and different things at the event. So, they are definitely one of my favorites in town in terms of cool and unique different things.

The scenic route:
Joey: All through Montecito is beautiful. 

Josh: If you don’t take the 101 while you’re passing through Montecito, some of the side routes are pretty incredible. We were lucky enough when we were traveling to have so much traffic on the 101 that Waze sent us on a route that we’ve never been before and the properties there and the scenery was spectacular. Going north is nice as well. Do you recall that winery that we went to Joe?

Joey: I do. The route is the 154. It goes from Solvang all the way to Santa Barbara. That route is absolutely incredible. And if you head up into Solvang, it cuts into a couple different areas in terms of wine routes. So, in terms of cruising, I don’t know if someone cruising around our festival would be around that area, but it’s absolutely beautiful.

Best place for a picnic and your rosé of choice:
Joey: I’d bring Happy Canyon’s rosé. Although, I think they’re almost sold out at this point. But they released it earlier this year and their wine club is pretty incredible. And as far as the place, if we’re talking grass or beach, I think the answer is a little bit different. For grass, there’s some really nice parks out in front of the Fess Parker area, and West Beach is pretty nice as well.

Josh: Also, in terms of beach, if you look on the other side of the 101, it’s all beach along there. And so, if you go through Summerland, kind of directly across, there are a few inlets to get out to the beach on that side. That’s a beautiful area as well.

Joey: Some of them aren’t published. You gotta cross the train tracks but there are some nice spots out there.

Upscale cocktails and a meal:
Joey: Just because we have them involved with the festival and I love the food, I’m going to support Barbareno on this one. But, there are a number of places. The Lark is great. That whole little area right there has some good options.