November 28th, 2023

Question:  Who Started the Long Branch Music and Arts Scene? Answer: Art Cobb

The Greater U Street Jazz Collective (Art Cobb is on the right)

Prior to 2008, there was no live music in Long Branch.  There were no live performances at El Golfo and El Gavilan restaurants.  And it hadn’t yet even occurred to anyone to bring music to Flower Avenue Urban Park. 

What catalyzed the change?

It was Art Cobb, owner of El Golfo restaurant Ada Villatoro recently explained to the Newsletter.

Things were looking pretty dark on the business side back in 2008, Ada recalled. The financial crash had just occurred, business was terrible. “I didn’t know how we were going to get out of that situation,” Ada admitted.  Then she met Art Cobb.

Art had a vision for El Golfo as a music venue, and he was dead set on sharing that vision and making it happen.  

“At that time, I was still working in the kitchen,” Ada recalled.  One night Art was having dinner and asked to speak with the owner.

“I remember coming out in my dirty apron,” Ada said, “and Art told me: ‘This is a great space to create a music venue.”  He explained that the restaurant had plenty of room for a stage, had good parking, and was located right between Silver Spring and Takoma Park —  an area with lots of artists and lots of people interested in the arts.

“I didn’t know anything at that point about Takoma Park and local musicians,” Ada confessed.

At first Ada hesitated:  “He had a vision, which I didn’t see at first; I was afraid that music might be too loud and scare away my existing customers.” The conversations between Art and Ada went on for the better part of a year.

It is fortunate, Ada now acknowledges, that Art was so insistent. Week after week he kept coming back, talking with Ada and explaining the benefits of giving it a try.  He offered to perform with his own band, the (reassembled) Greater U Street Jazz Collective.

The Jazz Collective had got its start on U Street long before that area exploded into the upscale art magnet it eventually became.  And reaching back to even earlier days, Art and other jazz musician comrades (not U Street) traveled internationally, performing throughout Europe and even the USSR.

Be that as it may, by 2009, Ada had finally warmed to the idea. She built a stage and started inviting the Greater U Street Jazz Collective to play at El Golfo.  Initially, and for a number of years subsequently, the band played every Wednesday night.  After some years they shifted to playing every second Wednesday of the month. The band’s gig at El Golfo ended up extending for some seven years, from 2009 to 2016. 

 As Ada recalled, what with all these regular performances other local musicians started noticing that this was a great opportunity.  They pleaded with Ada to let them play, and she agreed.

Today, El Golfo has jazz nights on the second Monday of every month. A wide variety of other mostly local bands are featured on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

The Spark Spreads

The spark that started at El Golfo didn’t stay confined to that single location. Soon it spread to El Gavilan, which for years has featured its own brand of live music, often with a Latin flavor.

What is more, Art Cobb had a hand in bringing music to the Flower Avenue Urban Park.

“Art is a born musician,” Ada recalled.  “It was his idea — his vision — to have pop-up live music playing in the park.” 

Art’s jazz band were the first to start playing live music in the park, and doing so for free, just for the fun of it, in the 2015–2016-time frame.  This was years before there was a stage in the park, or, indeed, any live music festivals in Long Branch.

Today’s Long Branch now features a Flower Avenue park with a permanent stage. Live music, including at the annual Long Branch festival, is now a defining part of Long Branch culture.

But were it not for Art Cobb, Long Branch would not be what it is today — nor, Ada reminisced, would El Golfo.

“After the economy had collapsed in 2008, Art was one of the brains who helped El Golfo turn the page and get back on its feet, because he had a vision, and because he was so insistent.”

Over the past year, Art Cobb has, due to health problems, incurred some major medical expenses, and the community has come together spontaneously to try to help out. 

As a result, the ‘Art for Art’s Sake’ concerts are happening at El Golfo restaurant on Tuesday, December 5th and at El Gavilan on Wednesday, December 6th – both nights at 7 p.m.  Be there!  And please help spread the word.