Return to Normal? Yes! Summer Concert Hot Tips 2021

Yes, it appears that with a healthy dollop of optimism (and a bit of trepidation) we are moving toward a summer concert season. The venues are starting to fill out their calendars, and here we take our annual look at what looks best. And when I say ‘annual’ I exclude 2020, a year no one wants to repeat.

These are my favorite SoCal venues. A new venue is opening, with quite a debut on offer.


  • Trampled by Turtles and Mt. Joy (Aug 17)
  • Mt. Joy and Trampled by Turtles (Aug 18) – yes, they will be trading headline status. The first time I saw that scenario was at Coachella, were the promoters caused quite a stir when they flipped Stone Roses and The Verve on the second weekend. “It was all planned,” claimed Goldenvoice. Same here, with this clever pairing. Trampled by Turtles head out from hometown Duluth and head mostly west and north, before wending their way to the lower left corner of the Lower 48. They will be on the road deep into the autumn, undoubtedly looking for saunas along the way. Across their eight albums they have carved out a clever strain of bluegrass for a widening audience. Mt. Joy decamped from Philadelphia for Los Angeles, and slowly expanded their band size and fan base. This will be a great evening, regardless of who goes on first.
  • Rodrigo y Gabriela (Sep 12) – The duo just released an ambitious and satisfying EP called Jazz, in which they assay an eclectic range of compositions from that eponymous genre. Kamasi Washington (who will be featured at the Hollywood Bowl this summer), Snarky Puppy and Astor Piazolla have unlikely appeared in the same sentence prior to the guitar duo’s first sketches for the EP, but each have a track on the new collection.
  • Chris Isaak (Sep 26) – rarely does between-song patter and the musicianship get this good. Isaak is about as close to a live concert ‘sure thing’ as you can get. He has been honing his chops for many decades. Isaak can get that high lonesome guitar sound as well as a refined rockabilly twang in equal measure. By the way, someone is really missing a solid bet not making his semi-autobiographical Showtime series available again. His charming self-deprecation in front of the camera or onstage is fully engaging.
  • Dwight Yoakam (Nov 7) – bring a sweatshirt for underneath your jean jacket, as this show is later in the calendar than usual. Yoakam (like Isaak) is a fan of the Baksersfield sound. Yoakam (like Isaak) has also had success in front of the camera. Most recently, Yoakam penned the foreword to the excellent Chris Hillman autobiography, name-checking both David Hockney and James Ellroy. Clearly, Yoakam is not your typical wide-brimmed hillbilly.


  • Kool and The Gang (July 3,4) – after a couple commendable free shows for frontline and essential workers, the Bowl kicks off its summer season with fireworks and some funk. The band, through various iterations and lineups, has garnered a couple Grammy Awards and consistently solid air time, whether on the radio or the dance floor. Y’all can rely on extended workouts of hits like “Get Down On It,” “Celebration” and “Ladies’ Night.” And when all the folks down in the front rows start to move back, watch the grand fireworks start.
  • Yo-Yo Ma (Sept 14) – the virtuoso will be performing each of Bach’s six cello suites, solo. Dating from 1717, the suites were composed soon after Antonio Stradivari built the modern cello. The dexterity and nuance required for these suites are ably handled by very few, and Ma is among that small number.
  • Brittany Howard (Sept 18) – stepping out from her familiar leadership role in Alabama Shakes, Howard is making waves as a solo artist while the band is on indefinite hiatus. Her talent was recognized early; by the time of the band’s second album she was invited by Macca at Lollapalooza 2015 to duet on his “Get Back.” Her solo album Jaime was released in 2019, and expanded the scope of her musical stylings. In the early stages of the pandemic last year she released a song that I hope she has on her setlist: a cover of Funkadelic’s “You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks.”
  • Mozart Under the Stars with Dudamel (Sept 28) – Gustavo Dudamel will lead the Los Angeles Philharmonic through three lovely Mozart compositions. Aided by the expertise of soloists Martin Chalifour (violin) and Teng Li (viola), expect a transcendent evening.
  • Andrea Bocelli (Oct 24) – his voice has captured the appreciation of music lovers around the globe, even those who otherwise eschew classical music. Bocelli’s 75 million records sold certifies him as a true crossover artist.


  • Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real (Sept 4,5) – The venue which is the gem of North County San Diego has been the site of many a fine musical evening. The band that Lukas Nelson has assembled has been acclaimed by fans and stars alike (lucky fans saw the band in fine form backing up Neil Young at Oldchella). These two evenings are at the front end of a long nationwide tour promoting the new album A Few Stars Apart. You may recall that Nelson co-produced the music for 2018’s A Star Is Born film (he and the band were also seen in the film, shot between sets at Coachella). This is an incredible opportunity to see this red hot band in an intimate setting.
  • Buddy Guy (Sept 7) – Guy’s blues chops are uncompromising, and by the time he hits the stage, a great documentary will have brought him to an even wider audience. The son of Louisiana sharecroppers, Guy is one of the few living musicians connecting us to the wealth of American bluesmen that formed the bedrock of rock and roll. Beck, Clapton, Page, Richards owe plenty to Guy, as do more recent fretboard wizards like John Mayer and Gary Clark, Jr. It will be a scorching evening.
  • John Hiatt and The Jerry Douglas Band (Oct 11,12) – What do you get when you pair one of the consummate songwriters of the last few decades with one of the most prolific sidemen and producers? An evening not to be missed. Hiatt has released nearly two dozen albums, with the majority of good ones being the most recent. Douglas has played on 1600 albums with a list of artists that would rival the best FM DJ’s playlist: Paul Simon, Mumford & Sons, Keb’ Mo’, Ricky Skaggs, Elvis Costello, Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, Phish, Dolly Parton, James Taylor and Johnny Mathis. As a critical part of Alison Krauss and Union Station, Douglas also found time to contribute to the brilliant O Brother, Where Art Thou? Need I say more?


  • King Crimson and Zappa Band (Aug 6) – the second half of the King Crimson tour is on the east coast, with the Zappa Band. But fortunately, the latter will be joining a few gigs on the left coast, making this a necessary evening at the lovely Greek Theatre. King Crimson has undergone a resurgence over the last several years, enjoying an audience made up of couples. (Perhaps that prompted the recent “A Romantic’s Guide To King Crimson” by KC drummer Pat Mastelotto and his wife). The seven piece KC will perform material never performed live, as well as compositions from their 1969 album described by Pete Townshend as an “uncanny masterpiece.”
  • Mt. Joy and Trampled by Turtles (Aug 15) – see above.
  • Los Lobos and The Mavericks (Aug 21) – this double bill stands for itself. Both bands for decades have seamlessly blended American and Latin musical threads, doing much to bridge a gap that should not exist. But the bill also includes performances from with Ozomatli, Trish Toledo, Thee Lakesiders, Thee Sinseers. Expect a delightful musical stew, with flavors for all tastes.

THE RADY SHELL AT JACOBS PARK for its debut season, this new venue (surrounded on three sides by the water of the San Diego Bay) has an impressive calendar of events, starting after its gala August 6th opening.

  • Troupe Vertigo (Aug 13) – accompanied by the San Diego Symphony Orchestra, a bevy of acrobats, aerial artists and ballet dancers will deliver a jaw-dropping evening. With the shocking news that Cirque du Soleil filed bankruptcy, I look for every chance to support this type of performance art.
  • Beethoven by the Bay (Aug 20) – hearing the urgency of the 5th Symphony with the Bay on all sides will be remarkable. Aram Demirjian, 2020 recipient of The Sir Georg Solti Conducting Award, will be manning the baton.
  • Jason Mraz (Sept 26) – local lad Mraz seemed to go missing (or was more likely woodshedding), but he will be joined by the San Diego Symphony in a program of his hits and a clutch of world premiere compositions.
  • Pat Metheny: Side-Eye with James Francies & Joe Dyson (Sept 30) – since his 1974 debut album, the prolific and eclectic guitarist has won Grammy Awards in a staggering ten categories, with 20 wins overall. Metheny has explored myriad permutations of jazz, and here his latest project is a trio.



  • Todd Rundgren (Nov 12-14) – admittedly a long ways out, this looks to be an intriguing run of shows in a fascinating venue. The Belasco has been brought back to its glory from the 1920s, in the heart of LA’s Theatre District. When Rundgren treads the boards, he will be assaying his epic “A Wizard, A True Star” album. He will play various sides of the double disc collection, as well as a handful of his many other classic songs. No word if he will plunge into the Utopia era, but this promises to be a delightful evening, whether you attend once or more.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.