San Diego Summer Concert Preview 2012

San Diego Summer Concert Preview 2012

If Los Angeles is your home base for concerts, you will be pleased at the range and accessibility of great concerts in San Diego.  There are a variety of venues, and the prices are generally more digestible than in the larger metropolis to the north.  Here are some of the shows that folks will be talking about when we get to the other side of summer.

Humphrey’s By The Bay


One of the best venues south of the Santa Barbara Bowl, Humphrey’s is loved by performers and fans in equal measure.  Nestled on the water, the sunsets and sailboats make for a lovely setting.  Punters will float up in dinghies for a free show, as the sound spills over the reserved seats into the bay. You can do a dinner and show package, which is a great value.  The food in the adjoining restaurant is top notch, and you will be assured of front of the house seats for the concert.

June 20 – k.d. lang: This chanteuse built her early success channeling Patsy Cline, and then explored a range of song stylings. Her explorations of fellow Canadian songwriters shed new light on familiar tracks by Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and others. I saw her first show in Nashville in the mid 90s, which was a delight as she had been rejected by the country music business for her flamboyance.

August 2 – Chris Isaak: Zooming in for his 23rd appearance at Humphrey’s, you can count on incredibly tight musicianship and unparalleled between song patter.  He will certainly joke about the folks in the boats (“ladies, if this is your first date, watch out…he will take you to a Denny’s parking lot and you can watch the people eating inside!  Naw, if I wasn’t up here, I’d be out there with you”). Isaak has dabbled in film, created a criminally unavailable comedy TV series from the 90s and recorded a superb library of albums.  His most recent release is an homage to the music that helped form his persona, tracks from Sun Studios. As with each of the dozen times I have seen him (stretching back to his LA debut at the tiny Roxy), Isaak will put on a superbly satisfying show.

August 6 – Seal + Macy Gray: This double bill will be a treat.  Seal has released 8 albums, shifting more than 20 million copies. His suave and assured demeanor provide a smooth R&B groove.  Gray has also won Grammy Awards and sold nearly as many albums.  Her sound is a bit friskier than Seal’s, but the pairing will make for a great evening.

August 21 – Esperanza Spalding: This year was the first time that a jazz artist won the Grammy for Best New Artist (never mind that like other such winners, Spalding has already released a few albums). In a manner somewhat parallel to Norah Jones, Spalding has moved beyond the strict confines of jazz.  She moves with ease across genres; Spalding is at home with hip-hop, pop fusion, blues, funk, Brazilian and Afro-Cuban styles. Her latest release “Radio Society Music” shows the bassist in fine form.  Expect an eclectic evening.

August 23 – Steve Martin & Steep Canyon Rangers: If you missed him last time around, don’t miss him this time. Martin is incredibly talented across a range of media.  He is obviously a superb actor, his stand-up work as a comedian was innovative.  As an author, he has penned tremendous novellas and plays.  He has been a musician since his live performance days, and most recently parlayed his banjo skills into a fully credible bluegrass band. Like Isaak, expect some great chatter from the stage. Although Martin’s performance is well scripted (as was his now-dormant stand-up comedian career), he has fans from the White House to the sticks.

September 25 – Bonnie Raitt: I recall fondly my first music interview, it seems a hundred years ago that Raitt came to my tiny college on tour.  She built a fervent fanbase during her Warner Brothers years, but was nonetheless dropped by the label. Picked up by Captiol, she enjoyed massive record sales and broad critical acclaim.  Now coming off a sabbatical (occasioned by the death of her brother and father), she has launched her own record label.  Always a fine sleuth for shining a light on little known songwriters, she continues to sing the praises and songs of Paul Brady, among others.


Belly Up

Another great San Diego venue is in Solana Beach.  Purported once to be a roller rink, the Belly Up has become a favorite of locals for several great reasons: wonderful sight lines, intimate setting and excellent sound.

May 3 – Lyndsey Buckingham: the key creative engine during Fleetwood Mac’s apogee, Buckingham has toured solo on various occasions. He will have a set list with a healthy dollop from his latest album “Seeds We Sow” as well as a clutch of Mac classics.  This is the opening gig on his tour.

June 13 – Mayer Hawthorne: The Michigan native draws heavily on the music of his Detroit roots, displaying obvious homage to Isaac Hayes, Barry White, Smokey Robinson and Curtis Mayfield. But with his own sound, Hawthorne is far from a copycat.  Some rich R&B and fine falsetto will be prevalent.

September 5 – John Hiatt: His evocative songs have been covered by others, but his versions are definitive. Hiatt has always followed the directive ‘write what you know’ and as a result his songs about family and fatherhood ring true.



An elegant venue usually hosting opera and orchestras.

June 15 – Kris Kristofferson: Back from service in Vietnam, the former Rhodes Scholar was happy sweeping up the floors in Nashville studios while trying to make it in the music business.  He finally grew frustrated, and landed a helicopter in Johnny Cash’s backyard to get some attention.  That seemed to do the trick.  Decades later, his gruff voice still delivers the best versions of his oft-covered songs.



A very classy nightclub in Little Italy.

May 1 – Rita Wilson: better known for her film work, Mrs Tom Hanks is a music fan much like her husband.  Her new album pays homage to the classic sounds of the 60s and 70s.

May 12 – BoDeans: one of the early progenitors of the Americana scene before the genre was named, this band from the heartland always delivers a solid set.  After a handful of glorious albums on Warner Bros, the band bounced around from label to label.  With great performances from an unrelenting number of nights on the road, the BoDeans are not to be missed.

June 14 – James McMurtry: This Texan songwriter has storytelling in his roots. It is not the ideal music to play in the background, as his lyrics deserve attention.


Harrah’s Rincon

A casino and resort in north San Diego, with a growing and impressive concert schedule.

May 26 – Dwight Yaokam: from his early days channeling the sounds of Bakersfield in venues such as the now defunct Palomino in North Hollywood (where I first saw him in the 80s), to his swelling catalog of albums, Yoakam has managed to keep his roots pure.

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.