Come out and Play: Live Music Is Back on June 15

A look at live music venues in San Diego County that hope to bounce back from the coronavirus pandemic once California reopens

The coronavirus is a killer, no doubt, claiming nearly 4 million lives globally and more than 3,700 in San Diego. It's upended economies and caused thousands of restaurants, bars, nightclubs and music clubs around the United States to permanently shutter as well.

Here in San Diego, clubgoers have had their last last call at Bar Pink, and their final coffee at Lestat's West, nor will never ever krush it at the Kava Lounge again.

NBC 7's Melissa Adan spoke with Lestat's West managers and musicians who are saddened the music venue is closing due to the pandemic.

Remarkably, the vast majority of live-music venues, though, have survived, despite having few lifelines thrown to them during the pandemic. For a while, some sold to-go cocktails, many, if not most, were slinging merch -- many, like the Casbah, developing new products to keep them going.

On Tuesday, if they want it, live music is back, as the state drops the vast majority of restrictions on smaller clubs enacted during the pandemic. That said, many of the bigger events will still feature some restrictions -- go here for more on that.

After 15 months of shutdowns during the pandemic, California is fully opening the economy on June 15, including mega events like concerts and sporting events— but there will be some restrictions. Here’s what you need to know.

NBC 7 checked in with the operators of three of San Diego's independent music venues to see what the scene looks like post-pandemic. The short take: Don't expect too much too soon, but, when you go, you won't have to wear a mask -- unless you're not vaccinated -- and you will only have to self-attest to being fully vaxed or had a recent COVID test. To a man, the club managers said they would be ramping up slowly. A check around the county shows that to be the case at virtually all the live-music spots. So be patient, San Diego -- the music never stopped, but you may have to wait another minute for it.

Soda Bar

Co-owner, Booker: Cory Stier
First Headliner: Mrs. Magician, with support from Black's Beach Boys and Oh, Spirit
Show Date: July 16, $15.06

"Life has been slow," Stier said, mentioning that he spent a lot of time with his dog. "For the club, it's been nonexistant."

Stier said Soda Bar weathered the pandemic with help from grants, government loans and online merch sales.

For the uninformed, it should be pointed out that Stier drums for icebreaker Mrs. Magician, and Tommy Garcia, the band's guitarist, is often running sound for the club.

"Throwing a party," Stier said. "Why not?"

The club booker said Soda would be popping off slowly, to start, waiting to see what the governmental guidance would be, and that the club was in good financial shape, with its rent paid up and a large government check (as much as 45% of its gross revenues from 2019) on the way, thanks to a $16 billion Shuttered Venue Operators Grant federal relief fund.

Stier said the summer's calendar is filling up.

"Looks great," Stier said. "We've been booking a ton of shows, and the shows we have on sale have been selling superwell, so I would say the future is bright."

The Music Box's managing partner talks to NBC 7's Catherine Garcia about making it through the pandemic and the 11 upcoming shows in June at the Little Italy club.

Music Box

Managing Partner: Joe Rinaldi
First Headliner: Pink Froyd, with support from the Monroes
Show Date: June 17, $19

Rinaldi said the Music Box will also be thawing out slowly, though it will be faster out of the gate than Soda Bar.

"We have to keep our ear to the pavement, 'cause it's dicey," Rinaldi said. "Nobody knows if what's been promised to us is going to actually happen," adding, "we haven't signed big contracts and paid big deposits because there's risk there. Stuff could get moved around, capacities could get cut."

So, Rinaldi said, the club plans to ramp up relatively slowly, with one national touring act in June, followed by three in July and five in August. He said he felt more confident about going big post-Labor Day, after which the Music Box would be hosting three to five national acts a week.

Still, it's a solid-looking summer, Rinaldi said.

"We also overlaid a very strong local and regional calendar in those first two months," Rinaldi told NBC 7. "So the framework's all there. We end up with 21 events for July, which is huge for us."

How huge? In 2019, Rinaldi said, there were 26 events booked, many hooked to San Diego tentpole events like Pride and Comic-Con.

So how do ticket sales look for that first show next week?

It's gonna sell out," Rinaldi said.

Musician Shane Hall is taking the stage on the first day of California's reopening. First, he reflects on the last 15 months and his struggle to survive without what he loves most.

The Belly Up

President: Chris Goldsmith
First Headliner: Charley Crockett, with support from Jenny Don’t and the Spurs
Show Date: July 7, sold out (tickets available for July 8), $25

For many of us, the pandemic meant working from home, Zoom meetings and a lot of dog walking (we're looking at you, Cory Stier), for the lucky few. For Goldsmith and the Belly Up, it meant a pivot to streaming shows.

"It means life begins again," Goldsmith said when asked what June 15 represents for him. "For the last 16 months, we've been nothing but a video production house, and we finally get to be back in the live-concert business. It's the difference between night and day."

Like the Soda Bar, the Belly Up won't be cracking open the doors till July. In Solana Beach, they'll be finalizing construction in June, polishing the venue for its big reopening day. And when they do open, like the Music Box, the focus will be on local, for a while.

"July and August is full of local and regioinal favorites, with some national artists mixed in," Goldsmith said.

Looking ahead, though?

"September 2021 to March 2022 looks like the best six months in the history of the club," Goldsmith said -- quite a claim for a club that's hosted the Rolling Stones, Foo Fighters, Lady Gaga and thousands of other household names.


First Headliner: Shattered Faith, with suppor from Revolt Chix
Show Date: July 17, $5

House of Blues
First Headliner: Emo Night Brooklyn
Show Date: Aug. 20, $15

Humphrey's Concerts By the Bay
First Headliner: Trampled By Turtles, with support from Mt. Joy
Show Date: Aug. 17, $55

Observatory North Park
First Headliner: Olivia O'Brien
Show Date: Aug. 31, $22

Park & Rec
First Headliner: Rock of Ages
Show Date: June 18, free

Tower Bar
First Headliner: The Schitz, Revolt Chix
Show Date: June 26, free

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