Music means everything to Watsonville native Andy Vargas. It also became his career in 2000, when he started touring as Carlos Santana’s vocalist—a dream come true.
But Vargas understands that he had help achieving his goals. His father, Javier, always supportive, was a big part of that help. So, in 2015, Vargas started the Andy Vargas Foundation in San Bernardino, with the intention of helping under-privileged kids the way he was helped.
“Music, my whole life, has kept me focused on my dreams. I’ve been very lucky,” Vargas says. “I believe you have to give it to keep it. My dad gave me that love and that inspiration. He passed it on to me. I’m passing it on to my kids.”
The foundation helps kids by giving them access to equipment and mentorship, as well as providing an education in songwriting, and teaching them how they can find work in the music industry. It also provides financial support via scholarships to continue their higher education in the arts.
In 2018, the San Bernardino program ended, but he brought on his dad and expanded operations into Watsonville. In late 2019, he opened a new program in Southern California, and during the pandemic he and his dad started working with students on Zoom.
Vargas will be bringing several students to the Rio’s stage at his benefit show on Dec. 18, and he’ll perform with his band. Javier will also perform, along with other special guests like Ozomatli. This performance will not only showcase the skills Vargas’ students have acquired, but will raise awareness for his organization and raise much-needed funds for the Andy Vargas Foundation scholarship program. Fundraising efforts were down during the pandemic, so they have a lot to make up for.
Vargas has a vision for how he wants the academy to expand. He’s hoping next year to start a mariachi academy in Watsonville, led by his father. But for now, he’s trying to make sure that the normal operations are fully funded.
“I’m very grateful to be able to have one of my favorite groups, Ozomatli, on stage with us,” Vargas says. “I hope everyone comes and supports our students and sees a great show.”
The “Love is What We Need” Andy Vargas Foundation benefit concert starts at 6pm on Saturday, Dec. 18 at the Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. $40. (831) 423-8209.