Musician with local ties killed in head-on car crash

ContributedVanessa Bley is seen performing in 2014.

Near and far, people are mourning the loss of Cherry Valley-bred artist Vanessa Bley, who was killed in a car crash in Santa Barbara, California, on Friday, Oct. 25.

“Vanessa is well-loved by many in this area,” Angelica Palmer, Bley’s sister said in an email to The Daily Star. “A great many people have come forward with their ‘lovegrief’ and memories and offers of any kind of support needed.  The same has come from people she has touched all over the world. I personally am grateful for the support of my dear friends and my partner who are buoying me with their love.”

Bley was driving on Highway 154 when, according to the Santa Barbara Independent, “for unknown reasons” another car slammed head-first into her sedan, killing her and the two children in her backseat. Bley had two children, 2-year-old Lucienne and 4-month-old Desmond, according to her obituary. 

“She is my other half,” Palmer said. “Every memory I have made I have shared with her. She has been my constant source of love and support through every bend in the road: loves, heartbreaks, childbirths, raising our children and the passing of our father. I can’t yet fully comprehend her physical absence and that of her vibrant children, but I will continue to carry them with me and share my life with them.”

The daughter of late jazz pianist Paul Bley and pioneer video artist Carol Goss, Bley was best known as front woman for haze-pop band Beast Patrol, a noted “Band to Watch” by Rolling Stone, and the band Twin Danger, according to her website, NPR described Twin Danger’s debut album as “Frank Sinatra Meets The Clash” in a 2015 article.  

Bley grew up in Cherry Valley and was known for her musical aptitude as a child, performing live dances with video images created by her mother at the Experimental Television Center and in the Not Still Art Festival in New York City and Boston, according to her obituary. At 11, she performed as a Furie in the Glimmerglass Opera production of “Iphigénie en Tauride.”

She graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology in 2006 after which she began playing music in downtown Manhattan clubs. After becoming interested in environmental activism, she did multiple performances for environmental activist, film director and playwright Josh Fox’s anti-fracking movement. The organic, zero-waste, toxin-free skincare company Becky Boo, which Bley founded in 2016, stemmed from her love of the environment. 

Bley co-wrote and produced Twin Danger’s self-titled debut album, which went to No. 1 on the iTunes Jazz Chart, according to Bley’s website. 

Bley married painter and video artist Max Gleason in 2013, and they collaborated on a number of music videos. The couple last year did a joint live painting event at a pop-up gallery in Santa Barbara, according to the obituary. In 2015, Bley and Beast Patrol performed at the Star Theater in Cherry Valley.

Palmer said to honor her sister’s memory, people can donate to Cherry Valley Artworks, as she performed there several times. Palmer said the artist community of Cherry Valley had always been very important to Bley, supporting her throughout her life. 

“Vanessa was extremely talented,” said Jane Sapinsky, Cherry Valley Artworks executive director, who said she’s known Bley for about a decade. “There was a real star quality about her. She was just someone lovely to be around. It’s devastating, it really is. It has hit a lot of people in the community very hard.”

Palmer said the family will hold a celebration of the lives of Bley and her children, date to be determined, in Cherry Valley. Check Cherry Valley Artworks’ Facebook page for updates. 

“Vanessa was a true star, a bright shining source of love, vitality and generosity,” Palmer said. “She gave of herself so effortlessly, both as a performer and a friend. She felt everything to her core and turned it into works of art. She was a phenomenal mother, sister, aunt, wife, daughter and friend.”

Shweta Karikehalli, staff writer, can be reached at or 607-441-7221. Follow her @DS_ShwetaK on Twitter.

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