Now in its third year, the festival (organized by the San Diego Music Foundation, whose president is CityBeat publisher Kevin Hellman) is the biggest local music showcase of the year, featuring two days of seminars with music-industry movers and shakers and two nights of music in bars in North Park, South Park and Normal Heights, featuring small acts, local favorites and a handful of touring bands mostly from California.
But who's worth seeing? I've come up with an epic itinerary to get you through the weekend:
8 p.m.: This one's a toss-up. Brother duo Writer (at U-31) makes unique, roughly hewn indie rock. Neon Cough (at The Office) offer up jangly pop with saccharine melodies. Street of Little Girls (at Whistle Stop) play epic gypsy-rock with biting lyrics and sugary-sweet vocals.
9 p.m.: If you've seen Jamuel Saxon (Bar Pink) more than once, you know that Keith Milgaten's solo project is never the same twice. Whether he's manning a laptop as guys covered with white sheets drum ominously on floor toms or he's playing keyboards with a full band, expect a fevered brand of pop gold with hypnotic synths, Auto-Tuned vocals and dance-y beats.
10 p.m.: One of the best jazz singers in the city, if not the best, Miss Erika Davies (Claire de Lune) has a magnificent, mature voice that flutters fragilely, soars confidently and bends smoothly across registers, augmented with her ukulele and Jon Garner's lithe guitar. It's enough to make you wonder why she'd bother playing a local-music showcase when she could be touring Europe.
11 p.m.–midnight: Kadan Club has a hip-hop showcase with plenty of quality MCs, among them the dynamic duo Parker and the Numberman (9:20 p.m.) and the freaky Lady Xplicit (10:40 p.m.). But the highlight is Deep Rooted (11:40 p.m.), local hip-hop mainstays who serve up inspired, cutting rhymes. There's also an MC battle kicking off at midnight.
12:35 a.m.: Known as much for their sharp suits as their spirited take on folk, gospel and Americana, the gentlemen of The Silent Comedy (U-31) seem to come straight from an older, weirder America. Their latest album, Common Faults, won a San Diego Music Awards nomination. But their live show is another story—one CityBeat writer compared it to a Pentecostal tent revival.
Other highlights: Tape Deck Mountain (U-31, 8:45), Jhameel (The Office, 8:45), Lights On (Whistle Stop, 9:50), Sister Crayon (AC Lounge, 10). John Meeks (Lestat's, midnight)
4 p.m.: Stop by Tin Can Ale House (1863 Fifth Ave. in Bankers Hill) for a free pre-party with performances by Chairs Missing and Vegetarian Werewolf, two great new local acts. Chairs Missing plays radiant acoustic indie rock, while Vegetarian Werewolf dissects the universe with a keyboard and a boom box.
8 p.m.: Make sure you catch up-and-coming indie rockers D/Wolves (Soda Bar). Lead songwriter Joel Williams happens to be the little brother of the dude from Wavves, but don't expect irreverent lo-fi from these accomplished young musicians. Their melodious, unpredictable songcraft is undergirded with a killer rhythm section that has the expressiveness of a jazz combo.
9:25 p.m.: If you're looking for folk music with that indescribably magical feeling, you'll find it in San Juan Capistrano's The Union Line (Sunset Temple Room, 2906 University Ave.), with their glistening guitars, rolling drums and haunting choruses. But let's not forget about the wonderful Chairs Missing (Ruby Room), for whom a clone would come in handy.
10:30 p.m.: There's nothing quite like the Beach Boys-meets- Captain Beefheart mindfuck of Heavy Hawaii (Soda Bar): disjointed lo-fi arrangements, dissonant rock riffs, ghoulish oohaah vocals that sound like a parody of Animal Collective. I can't help but feel that they're on to something.
11:30 p.m.: New Mexico (Bar Pink), the new incarnation of much-beloved rock band Apes of Wrath, has a new set of songs that're pared-down, hard-driving and so awesome that somebody at a recent show felt compelled to pick the guitarist up mid-song and carry him around the room. Seriously.
Other highlights: Hyena (U-31, 10:35), Sleep Lady (Eleven, 10:45), Sleepwalkerz (Queen Bee's, 11:15), Abe Vigoda (Soda Bar, 11:30), Lord Howler (Kadan Club, 12:30), The Screamin' Yeehaws (Ken Club, 12:50).
Lineups are subject to change. Double-check schedules at northparkmusicthing.com.