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San Diego Music Scene

Lauren Wells | April 28, 2014

The History

San Diego’s eclectic music scene has introduced a wide variety of talented performers over the years.  From psychedelic rock band Iron Butterfly’s 1968 hit “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” to Augustana’s 2005 hit “Boston,” strong songs have come from the Southern California city.  During the 1960s, Gary Puckett & The Union Gap’s pop rock sound emerged as they released songs such as “Woman, Woman,” “Young Girl,” and “Lady Willpower.”  The 1970s introduced talented musicians like heartland rock performer Ron Blair, widely known for his bass playing with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.  San Diego natives Stone Temple Pilots rose in popularity during the mid 1980s, bringing an edge to the alternative hard rock scene.  The 1990s saw the likes of alternative metal band P.O.D., musician/actor Adam Brody (of Gilmore Girls and The O.C. fame), and Grammy Award winners Switchfoot.  Also emerging during the mid to late 1990s was psychedelic rock act Slightly Stoopid, who have worked with Dave Matthews Band, Damian Marley, Sublime, the Roots, Snoop Dogg, G. Love and Special Sauce, and Pennywise, among others.  Grammy nominated R&B/Latin singer-songwriter Frankie J and rapper, comedian, and TV host Nick Cannon also saw early successes as their careers kicked of in the late 1990s. Mike and Vic Fuentes, born and raised in San Diego, went on to become members of the post-hardcore band Pierce the Veil during the late 1990s.  Spawned from the 1990s punk rock band Blink-182, Angels & Airwaves also hail from San Diego, churning out hits like “The Adventure.”  Known for his hit cover of the Tears for Fears song “Mad World,” Gary Jules gained recognition for his musical contribution to the 2001 cult classic movie Donnie Darko.  Grammy nominated metalcore band As I Lay Dying also got their start during the millenium, making appearances at Warped Tour, Wacken Open Air, and Soundwave Festival, among other events.

The Venues

San Diego’s House of Blues hosts performers such as Flagship, Little Daylight, Daley, Ghost, Eric Hutchinson, George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, Manchester Orchestra, Tom Jones, and Riff Raff, among many others.  The intimate venue has a menu designed by celebrity chef Aaron Sanchez, so bring your appetite and love of music.  The small stage setting allows you to get up close and personal with the evening’s talent, but if you’re looking to avoid the crowd, the Elwood balcony is another convenient option (plus it has its own bar and restroom).

The San Diego Civic Theatre, a 2,967-seat space, features a range of seating options: from the orchestra seating and dress circle area to the mezzanine, balcony, and lower/upper loge levels, there isn’t a bad seat in the house.  San Diego’s largest and most attended performing arts venue, the Civic hosts opera, classical music, dance, comedy, contemporary music, and Broadway shows.  Having opened in 1965, the theatre also hosts community events, governmental functions, religious services, lectures, educational programs, and corporate seminars.  In any given year, the Civic typically sees over 280,000 patrons for approximately 144 performances.

Also managed by San Diego Theatres, the Balboa Theatre is located in the Gaslamp Quarter of the city.  Built in 1924, the theatre was originally a vaudeville and movie theatre before becoming a Mexican film house and an office space for the US Navy.  After World War II, the venue was remodeled into a housing space before eventually becoming a performing arts venue that hosts over 73,000 patrons per year viewing over 78 performances.

The San Diego State Open Air Theatre hosts acts like Tribal Seeds, Collie Buddz, The Fray, Michael Franti and Spearhead, Soja, Brett Dennen, Death Cab for Cutie, She and Him, Trevor Hall, Arctic Monkeys, Panic! at the Disco, and Enrique Bunbury. The amphitheatre’s open air architecture and crisp acoustics allow Californians to enjoy a casual, quality show under the stars.  Bring your patience, though, as there tend to be long lines for beer!

Hosting acts like Augustana, Lion I am, Milestone, Outlands, We Rise the Tides, I Assailant, and Brave Coast, Soma is an alternative punk rock venue in the Midway neighborhood. Opened in the 1990s by Len Paul, the venue is located in an old warehouse, booking shows for bands like Blink-182, Smashing Pumpkins, The Ramones, Weezer, Stone Temple Pilots, Switchfoot, and Dave Matthews Band.  The 2,700-capacity main hall offers great viewpoints of the stage and the side stage can accommodate about 500 people as well.  The venue’s basement space, also known as “The Dungeon,” hosts local acts for crowds of about 100 people.  So whether you’re catching a nationally touring act on the main stage or a local band in “The Dungeon,” Soma has plenty of entertainment options for you.

Humphreys Concerts by the Bay books acts like Ingrid Michaelson, Lindsey Stirling, Christina Perri, and Ringo Starr, among others.  The 1,400-seat outdoor venue is located between Humphreys Restaurant and Humphreys Half Moon Inn on the San Diego Bay, where it hosts comedy shows and rock, jazz, blues, folk, and international music.

Hosting acts like We Are Sirens, 9 Theory, Swambi, Okapi Sun, Night Beats, Cosmonauts, Chinchilla, The Rosalyns, White Magic, and Cryptobebelem, The Casbah opened in 1989 by Tim Mays, Bob Bennett, and Peter English.  A former Irish pub, The Casbah has also hosted bands like Rocket from the Crypt, Lucy’s Fur Coat, Nirvana, Blink-182, The Breeders, The Cult, and The Smashing Pumpkins.  The 200-capacity venue hosts live music almost every night of the week.

Viejas Arena, formerly Cox Arena, is a 12,845-capacity sporting and entertainment venue at San Diego State University.  Home to the university’s basketball team, the arena has hosted acts like Foo Fighters, A Day to Remember, Linkin Park, Metallica, Van Halen, Green Day, Rise Against, Lady Gaga, One Direction, Tool, and Drake.

Rimac Arena at UC San Diego is home to the UC San Diego Tritons basketball team and Nederlander Concerts, who book concerts, trade shows, conventions, and sporting events.  The 5,000-seat venue hosts a variety of entertaining programming throughout the year.

The Valley View Casino Center hosts acts like Armin Van Buuren, Romeo Santos, and Cher.  Opened in 1966, the arena is an 11,682-capacity venue that also accommodates various sporting events and even hosted Elvis Presley back in the day!

The Festivals

In May, UC San Diego hosts the Sun God Festival, where acts like Juicy J, Young the Giant, Diplo, New Politics, Torro Torro, Joey Bada$$, Audien, and Miner perform for students.  If you’re not a UC San Diego student, there are plenty of other festival options for you.  San Diego Indiefest celebrates and encourages independent music, film, art, business, and ideas. The three day festival allows for musicians, filmmakers, artists, and entrepreneurs to network and bask in each other’s talent while checking out shows from performers such as Best Coast, Betsy & Beau, CAKE, Circle 7, Danielle Lopresti and the Masses, Ghost of the Robot, Kellee Maize, Sierra West, Talib Kweli, and Whitton.  The San Diego Music Thing, held in September, is a two-day music and media festival that features artists such as Tori Rogg, Midnight Rivals, Colin Clyne, Natural Child, Versus the World, Nite Jewel, Nicky Venus, Dead Feather Moon, Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr, 8mm, Ra Ra Riot, and So Many Wizards.  The festival hosts panels, workshops, mentoring sessions, pop up shops, and networking events in addition to the music programming portion of the event.  Amp Music Festival hosts acts like Crew Love, EVMB, Amy Monzon, Katriz Trinidad, Terry Matsuoka, Nylon Pink, and the Plastic Revolution.  Presented by the Pacific Arts Movement, the festival takes place at Market Creek Plaza and offers music from many different genres and offers a variety of unique merchandise from music and lifestyle vendors.  If you’re feeling up for a drive, the Joshua Tree Music Festival takes place two hours from San Diego.  Held in May, the festival hosts acts such as Nahko & Medicine for the People, Future Rock, The Revivalists, 33 Bowls, Colin Curtin, Hannah, Liesl, Ian Winters, Gene Jr. and the Family, and Scott Pemberton Trio.  Complete with a Family Camp, yoga and healing classes, world market of artisans and vendors, art installation area, and astronomy theater, the festival has something for everyone!