Crowd sourcing

San Diego music festivals past and present

Sue Palmer and Carmen Getit at the 2014 Gator by the Bay
  • Sue Palmer and Carmen Getit at the 2014 Gator by the Bay
  • Image by Jon Naugle

What makes a music fest work in San Diego? Ten-thousand pounds of crayfish.

That, plus accordions, those metal washboard things you wear on your chest, and Mardi Gras beads.

Many San Diego music fests have come and gone, but the Gator by the Bay fest has flourished. This year’s Cajun music and food show (at Spanish Landing Park near the airport, May 7–10) is expected to draw 15,000 to see 85 bands. “We expanded to four days last year,” says promoter Peter Oliver. He says his 14-year-old festival grows each year because kids get in free and Latin music has been added to the zydeco gumbo.

The San Diego Street Scene, which insiders say collapsed partly because it lost focus and because it committed to too many six-figure talent fees, went away after 25 years in 2009. Other events in the local music-fest graveyard include the jazz festival at La Costa (2014), the Little Italy–based Street Beat (2012), the U-T–sponsored Night & Day Street Fest (2012), and the eclectic Festival Del Mar Music Festival (2006) at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

At press time, little was known about KAABOO, a new three-day, 100-artist music/comedy fest at the Del Mar Fairgrounds September 18–20. One of its seven stages will be dedicated to local bands, but a KAABOO spokeswoman says that stage’s namesake charity is selecting the lineup.

With that in mind, what follows are several opportunities for local artists to step up to the mic.

Consider the upstart Quartyard, a “pop-up” brew/food/music happening on a vacant 30,000-square-foot space in East Village launching March 7. Promoter Alex Collins says a permanent stage and P.A. system is being set up to handle a series of free-admission Thursday “semi-amplified” acoustic and blues artists as well as a Sunday “bluegrass brunch” series. Collins says he has gotten in touch with local promoters to help him install a weekly summertime concert series that can hold up to 1500 (

“We are talking to two different Coachella bands to come down and play during the dates between the two weekends [April 12–16]. We don’t want to be part of the Gaslamp/DM vibe; we want to be more North Park, East Village,” Collins tells the Reader.

And then there is the most accessible (to both artists and audiences) twin fests, Adams Avenue Unplugged (April 25 and 26) and the Adams Avenue Street Fair (September 26 and 27), which are expected to draw 20,000 and 100,000, respectively. Both events are free. The Street Fair will book locals starting in March (contact [email protected]).

For those not afraid to play to a fast-moving audience at 6 in the a.m., there is the 18th Annual San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon on May 31. There are 26 stages (some with two bands) with fully equipped P.A.s along the Balboa Park–to–Petco Park run. The race stages are being booked by a Scottsdale Arizona promoter. The San Diego Gay Pride Festival (July 17–19), likewise, is looking for locals to entertain on six stages (

The 36th annual free party-by-the-sea, Fiesta Del Sol (booked by the Belly Up), returns May 30 and 31. And after drawing its best-ever 7000 attendees last year, the seventh annual San Diego Blues Festival returns September 26 and 27 to the Embarcadero Park North.

At opposite ends of the spectrum, radio station KSON brings its annual country show back to the Lakeside Rodeo Grounds June 6 with headliner Montgomery Gentry, while CRSSD, an EDM festival headlined by Chromeo and Classixx, makes its debut March 14 and 15 at Waterfront Park downtown.

The city of Oceanside reports that radio station FM 94/9 has yet to book a date for its Indie Jam series at the beachfont stadium near the pier.

Did you know this year’s Del Mar Fair, which runs June 5 through July 5, needs to fill 3606 30-minute slots on nine stages? Well, now you do. So if you would like to play on the O’Brien, Flower & Garden Show, Coors Light Rock On, Paddock, Funville, Fiesta, Plaza, San Diego Showcase, or Opening Showcase stages, mix down that demo and connect with them through

Finally, for you mollusk munchers, the sixth annual Oysterfest, returning to the Marina Embarcadero North on June 13, has booked local bands such as Pepper, 22 Kings, Oliver Trolley, and Barbarian. Bivalves and bands, baby! If you’re into it, booker Mikey Beats would love to hear from you.

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I was just told that the main talent buyer of Oysterfest is now Joe Rinaldi (The Merrow). He can be reached at [email protected]

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