WATSONVILLE — When singer Andy Vargas heard that the City of Watsonville would be celebrating its 150th birthday in 2018, he knew he had to somehow be part of it.
“I’ve always had a dream of someday performing just for Watsonville,” Vargas said. “This was perfect timing.”
Vargas, who visited last week to speak with community leaders about the upcoming celebrations planned throughout the year, was born and raised in Watsonville. He attended Moreland Notre Dame School and graduated in 1995 from Watsonville High, where he was part of the football team and the Video Academy. He deejayed at local schools, Cilantros restaurant and performed at local talent shows.
And since 2000, he has toured the world with guitar legend Carlos Santana.
Vargas says music has always been a part of his life. His father, Javier Vargas, often practiced with his band Mariachi California de Javier Vargas in their garage. Everything from mariachi and cumbia to hip-hop and R&B — it was embedded Andy’s life growing up in Watsonville.
When Vargas was just a teenager, his mother introduced him to record producer Terry Melcher, who would eventually help launch his career. He found himself auditioning for Carlos Santana’s band in 1999, not long after the release of the group’s Grammy award-winning album “Supernatural.”
Vargas describes the experiences he’s had with the band as “magical” and that he’s learned from Santana about what is most important as a performer.
“Carlos always says, the goal of a concert is to have people leave the show feeling good,” Vargas said. “They need to feel liberated. They need to be happy.”
Vargas hopes that’s what he can accomplish this year in Watsonville. In early October, he will bring a band to the city for a weekend of musical events. So far, the plan is to have a fundraising gala at the Henry J. Mello Center on Saturday, Oct. 6 and then a free public festival the following day, Sunday, Oct. 7.
“This is going to be a homecoming of sorts for Andy,” said Rodney Alejandro, friend and longtime collaborator with Vargas. “And hopefully it’ll also inspire the youth of Watsonville to say ‘Hey, we could do that too!’”
The fundraising gala is planned to support The Andy Vargas Foundation. Started in 2015, the nonprofit organization aims to educate youth through music.
According to Vargas, the foundation has already seen success in other parts of California, and he’s eager to bring its influence to his hometown.
“All my inspiration originally came from Watsonville,” he said.
He credits his early exposure to music as what kept him on the right track growing up, and he hopes both the fundraiser and the free concert will inspire others in the same way.
Vargas is asking the community for their support to make the event a success, and says they are still looking for more sponsors. When asked what to expect in October, he and Alejandro both grinned.
“Oh, just be prepared to dance a lot,” Alejandro laughed. “It’s going to be lots of fun.”
When Vargas told Carlos Santana of his plans to play for Watsonville, the guitarist was very supportive. Santana himself held a benefit show for the city not long after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake on Watsonville High School’s football field. More recently, he donated a signed guitar that was auctioned off for charity at the Pajaro Valley Chamber of Commerce & Agriculture’s annual dinner.
Vargas has a lot more planned for 2018 than just the October event. His latin-soul side project with Alejandro, dubbed Souleros, will be putting out their long-awaited first album. And he wants to work with the City of Watsonville on other events; a local talent show at the annual Strawberry Festival is now in the works.
All in all, it’s shaping up to be a busy year for Vargas. But he believes that hard work is what eventually pays off.
“We have to be proactive in our lives to make things happen,” he said. “I believe the luckier you are the harder you’re working.”
For information on Watsonville’s 150th celebration, visit watsonville150.org. To learn more about Andy Vargas and his projects, visit andyvargas.com.