Entertainment: it's what makes our capitalistically enabled middle class go "round. And this summer-whether you're an Arizona part-timer getting hazed by locals or a native who (not surprisingly) has no clue what's going on in town-San Diego has a lot to offer. For sanity's sake, we've divided an undividable arts culture into four neat, little compartments, and we hereby point you to the best in each.
Unlike Seattle, our burgh doesn't have a precipitation problem that drives music lovers inside. Local promoters feel confident about booking outdoor concert series because we live in the coastal Mojave. Here are the best bets for summer tuneage.
Our self-conscious "art center" is Balboa Park, and its summer "Jazz in the Park" series is a winner, kicking off with the L.A. All-Star Jazz Sextet, which brings Los Angeles' best jazz musicians south for a day, led by pianist Bill Cunliffe. They'll be joined by San Diego's premiere trumpeter, Gilbert Castellanos. In August, it's Kevin Mahogany, a jazz vocalist from Kansas City who'll be paying tribute to vocal jazz legend, Johnny Hartman.
Alternative radio station 91X will bring some of the best outdoor fare for alt.kids. Their annual "91X-Fest," though oddly headlined by ballad metallers Staind, is fascinating for the new-bands-old-faces factor. In Special Goodness, Weezer's drummer Pat Wilson takes over vocal and guitar duties while ex-RFTC guy Adam Willard handles the skins. The Accident Experiment is the new band by ex-P.O.D. guitarist Marcos Curiel with members of Sprung Monkey. The Transplants mix Rancid with the musical side of blink-182. The event also brings Canada's phenomenal post-new wavers Hot Hot Heat and a rare West Coast appearance by Brit-poppers Blur.
At the Del Mar racetrack, 91X puts on the free, post-race concert series, "4 O'Clock Fridays," which so far has booked Ziggy Marley, The Wailers and Super Diamond. It's also rumored that local wunderkind Jason Mraz might also fill a spot.
The San Diego County Fair-our local trailer park-meets-high society extravaganza-will also put on shows at its grandstand, including Weird Al Yankovic (whose Eminem parody is rejuvenating interest in his shtick), funksoul legend (and apparent immortal) James Brown, rocker-cum-bad-actor Meatloaf and Mr. Bo Diddley.
If hanging with tattooed teens isn't your bag, the best "adult date" shows are at the idyllic bayside amphitheater of Humphrey's by the Bay. Though many of its acts passed their prime when Jimmy Carter was prez, a few shows standout, including The Moody Blues, acoustic bleeding-heart Tracy Chapman, blues maven Shemekia Copeland, neo-soulstress India.Arie, jazz hipsters Medeski, Martin & Wood with John Scofield and rat pack-era legend Tony Bennett.
For you straw-toothed shit-kickers, San Diego is having quite the roots music renaissance as of late. One of the coolest events is August's Summergrass San Diego, which features a whole entourage of bluegrass and roots bands (Bluegrass Etc., 7th Day Buskers) assembled at the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum in Vista.
And, of course, summer 'tis the season that our mega-complex, Coors Amphitheater, comes to life. Way out in Otay Mesa near the border, Coors will be home to the nostalgic Alternative Nation return of Lollapalooza, which will bring Audioslave, Incubus, Jane's Addiction, Jurassic 5, Queens of the Stone Age and The Donnas. It will also be home to the now-infamous Ozzfest, ever-hip jazz rockers Steely Dan, over-the-top star tours like the KISS/Aerosmith bill, neo-hippie kings Phish, the yearly punk convention of The Vans Warped Tour, born-again star Santana with world-music songbird Angelique Kidjo and venue regular Dave Matthews Band with hip-hop luminaries The Roots.
A smaller, more intimate outdoor amphitheater is the Open Air Theatre, a bowl-shaped venue in the heart of San Diego State's campus that will bring Beck with acoustic tearjerker Dashboard Confessional, classy lady-of-the-day Norah Jones and sweet-voiced European sad sack David Gray.
Lest we forget that even summer nights can be rather brisk, there are also marquee shows that are surrounded by five slabs o' structure. The cool-because-it's-so-'70s San Diego Sports Arena brings both Pearl Jam and Iron Maiden. 4th and B can brag about heroin-sheik NYC legend Lou Reed, as well as "The Lost Songs of Lennon and McCartney," which is produced by Jim Sampas (who was behind the stellar compilation album, Badlands: A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska) with a full band that includes jazz clarinet giant, Don Byron, among others, to reinterpret L&McC rarities. Punks, keep your eyes on The Old Krikorian Theatre, a classic venue that's started bookings punk shows again. For gamblers, Harrah's Rincon is bringing Randy Travis, Ray Charles and Engelbert Humperdinck. Electronica lovers have a few spots: Electroluxe, the tragically hip Thursday night gathering at Rich's; Tantra Sutra, which is bringing Grayarea and Cirrus; and On Broadway, which occasionally books international DJs like Paul Oakenfold and Donald Glaude.
UCSD's RIMAC Arena has Ben Harper with Jack Johnson; Cox Arena has the most hated beauties of the moment, The Dixie Chicks; and our beloved dive bar The Casbah continues to reign the underground rock world with planned shows by The Jungle Brothers, The Raveonettes, Electric Six, The Breeders, Trail of Dead and Kid 606. Indie kids should also be on the watch for shows at Scolari's Office (gotta go by and look at the flyers on their door to know who's playing), Cherry Bomb, SOMA and The Scene. And finally, The Belly Up Tavern's new owners seem to be keeping things the same, booking acts like Jay Farrar, Meshell N'Degeocello, The Disco Biscuits, Cody Chestnutt and Suzanne Vega.
In the "esoteria" department, some of this summer's best bets are "Africa Fete 2003"-an African music festival at City Heights Weingart Library & Performance Annex; Lyric Opera San Diego's "Together Again for the Very First Time," where a trio performs every left-field composition from Cole Porter to Mozart; and the U.S. Grant Hotel Series, which brings low-key cool instrumental bands like The Jacques Thibaud Trio.
Aw, screw the "theater and summertime" obligatory treatise-here are the best bets for voyeuring on thespianism in the coming months:
The 10th Annual Fritz Blitz of New Plays by California Playwrights (Lyceum Theatre). This yearly event is awesome-short plays by the best new playwrights California has to offer. It runs over a few weekends and topics include peaches and cheese, side dishes and love, coming of age, Christmas office parties, poetry professors, affection for vegetables, the rhythm of the rat race and gay porn.
Sight Unseen (North Coast Rep). This Obie Award-winning play focuses on an artist who, while massively successful, is just, well, missing something. He's trying to make sense of his incompleteness, and the high falutin' art world gets a probing in the process.
Falsettos (Diversionary Theatre). Not all families are created equal. This one examines the dynamics between a son, mother, divorced father, the father's gay lover and the family psychologist who makes house calls and eventually ties the knot with mom.
The Old Globe Theatre (yes, everything). Let's face it: great amounts of money equal great talent and great productions. So, most everything the Globe produces is stellar. But one to really keep on your radar is Dirty Blonde-part Mae West docu-drama, part love story and part vaudeville centered around a struggling actress.
AIDA (Civic Theatre). Along the same lines of "big money equals better productions," Disney brings yet another stage production to town. This musical has been hailed by everyone from New Yorker to TIME as the next big thing in theatre and was written by the dream combo of Elton John and Tim Rice, who based it on Verdi's opera. An Egyptian princess and a Nubian princess become entangled in a love triangle with the soldier they both love. If you saw the Disney production of Beauty and the Beast, you know how awe-inspiring their sets and performances can be.
Mamma Mia (Civic Theatre). Until the Hives broke out this year, the 1970s dance band known as ABBA rivaled Volvo as Sweden's greatest export. Mamma Mia weaves ABBA's greatest hits into three separate love stories. You may never be able to listen to "Dancing Queen" the same way again.
The Burning Deck (La Jolla Playhouse). Set in 1950s New York during the advent of television advertising, this audience-participation play features "Bette," whose immaculate little life is bulldozed by circumstance. She utilizes various means of persuasion to get back what is rightfully hers.
Cotton Patch Gospel (Lamb's Players Theatre). Local band 7th Day Buskers serve as the onstage roots ensemble that ramble through this musical written by Harry Chapin. Chapin wrote the bluegrass songs to recast Gospel stories and was just about to debut the production when he died in an auto accident in 1981.
Charley's Aunt (North Coast Rep). Occasionally you just gotta see a standard, and Charley's Aunt is a well-worn comedy that rightfully should be worn some more. The sort of play that inspired Tootsie and Ms. Doubtfire, Lord Babberly is forced to impersonate Charley's aunt when she goes MIA.
Trolls (6th@Penn). When a good buddy dies, it's better not to slander him until the wake is over. Six characters are assembled here at a party to commemorate the passing of a Baby Boomer pal. As they swap stories, the ghost of the deceased is the undetected historian of the proceedings.
SPECIAL EVENTS and ATTRACTIONS
San Diego doesn't mess around when it comes to cultural diversity, so don't expect us to wallow in the milquetoast of conformity either. The Lipinsky Family San Diego Jewish Arts Festival at the San Diego Rep's Lyceum space and stage and the North Coast Repertory Theatre is one of the most interesting, unique mish-mashing of cultures you're bound to find in town this summer. Picture Yiddish and Chicano culture meeting on the dance floor. The infamous, hilarious Jewish wedding-meets-Harlem bebop scene in the Charlie Parker film biopic, Bird, is probably the best description of what's going to take place here. But officially, it's the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity celebrating 10 years of Jewish arts and institutions in San Diego by hosting a complex variety of performances.
Speaking of mish-mashing cultures, the entire Pacific Rim should be represented at The 11th Annual City Heights International Village Celebration. This street fair includes food, booths and live music performances by everyone from local neo-soul songbird LaTanya Lockett to blues boys Len Rainey & the Midnight Players. This is an alcohol and tobacco-free event. It's also free to the public.
Not to be outdone by that meshing of seemingly disparate cultures, how about some funky, down-home Afro-American representation? The Juneteenth Extravaganza at Stockton Recreation Center is presented by the Stockton Community Council and The Effect, who host the city's first-ever Juneteenth Community celebration of the nationwide African American Emancipation Day, the oldest known celebration of the ending of slavery. The fair offers free music, food, fellowship and attractions for all ages.
And lest you think we've totally fallen off the deep end of identity politics, a couple of all-inclusive, All-American, un-hyphenated (yes, we see the irony in those phrases) events...
The 2003 San Diego County Fair at Del Mar Fairgrounds boasts "Commotion by the Ocean" as the theme for the region's largest fair, which includes food, rides, exhibits and a live entertainment lineup including John Kay & Steppenwolf, Carrot Top, Los Tucanes de Tijuana, Grand Funk Railroad, Chris LeDoux, Steel Pulse, David Cassidy and B2K among them.
Plus, check out a perennial grass-roots (more irony in the phrase, we know) favorite: the O.B. Street Fair and Chili Cook-Off on Newport Avenue in Ocean Beach is always a pleasant, crowded-yet-stress-free event. This year, the Ocean Beach Street Fair, Chili Cook-Off & Fireworks Festival promises a family-oriented shindig filling three blocks with vendors selling arts, crafts, merchandise and food. Two stages provide music and entertainment all day, mostly of the roots and jam-band sort like locals Psyde-car and the Joey Bowen Band.
For the more cerebral albeit Paxil-ated set, perhaps the above outdoorsy-type events don't jibe with your xenophobic tastes. No problem. Book signings at DuckyWaddles Emporium in Encinitas offer less crowds but just as much gray matter stimuli. The book store/art gallery run by Jerry Waddle has already hosted signings by such subcultural stars as Shepard Fairey and local surfers Chris Arehns, Garth Murphy and Jamie Brisick. This summer should continue that niche-filling trend with Justin Hampton and Scott Saw stopping in.
San Diego is admittedly not a cultural mecca for art and museums, but our proximity to the border, surprisingly fertile beach culture and local political conservativism serve (or, conspire-you choose) to feed a simmering visual and performance art cauldron-even as we bask in the brain-frying U-Vs of summer.
As proof, exhibit A: The monthly "TNT" at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Downtown. The "Thursday Night Thing" happens the first Thursday of every month-when MoCA becomes the nexus of the city's über-hip arts community, hosting multimedia performances and unique, often interactive exhibitions. MoCA's Bryan Spevak says this summer's upcoming TNTs promise to be a "rollicking good time."
But this publication also has it from reliable sources that not only are the upcoming events at TNT "rollicking"-like June's interface with photographer Yvonne Venegase, whose works will be paired with local Chicano politico-firestarters from the Voz Alta Performance Space and Art Gallery. But they're also downright summery (they plan to expand the multimedia events to the trolley plaza outside to host live music) and, well, kinda fucked-up at the same time.
One of the coming TNT attractions is Dario Robleto's Not All Dead Rather Be Living, in which the artist casts melted vinyl records by Bob Marley, Kurt Cobain and John Lennon-all killed by gun shot-into Civil War-era "pain bullets" used by soldiers to bite down on during surgery. All we can say is: Can we get some of those before suffering through Courtney Love's next makeover?
Or, take it down a notch with Family Science Days at Reuben H. Fleet Science Center on the third Saturday of every month, where kids can make science experiments to take home. Science experiments are free with paid admission. Also at the museum are probably the most exciting movies you'll see in town this summer. In the IMAX Dome Theatre, Kilimanjaro: To the Roof of Africa, screens throughout the summer, while Dolphins, an Academy Award-nominated plunge with said friendly sea-mammals in locales from the Bahamas to Patagonia, keeps the summer theme flowing. Coral Reef Adventure also plays, featuring divers-turned-filmmakers Howard and Michele Hall.
And while they're not in a traditional museum or even what most would recognize as an art gallery, we still have to include the poetry and spoken word evenings at Voz Alta Performance Space and Art Gallery in Downtown. Open mic poetry is the last Wednesday of each month, hosted by Teatro Con Safos. Regular open mic poetry nights are the first and third Wednesdays, plus the last Friday of each month. Native Tongues is the monthly music and poetry series hosted by Adrian Arancibia of the Taco Shop Poets, and regularly features guests and open mic nights. Voz Alta usually requests a $5 donation.
For those who favor active subject matter to go with the usually passive, meditative environs of museums, check out the California Surf Museum in Oceanside. The museum's ongoing flagship exhibition honors surfing's first serious documentarian, Dr. John Heath "Doc" Ball, by using Doc's groundbreaking book, California Surfriders (1946), as a guide, telling the stories of a number of the California pioneer boardriders and of the spots they frequented.
And while museums in Europe and mainstream American culture usually neglect it, the Casa del Rey Moro Museum in Old Town, or "The House of the Moorish King," invites you to experience 6,000 years of African World History this summer. The museum's unique multimedia exhibits highlight ancient, colonial and contemporary periods of African History, both on the African continent and throughout the African Diaspora. A special focus of the museum is the African-Spanish, African-Mexican and African-American heritage in Old Town, San Diego and California. ©