It didn't take long for Sutton James to get right back into a groove when he moved back to San Diego after a stint living in Arizona. The Neighbors to the North frontman returned in late 2019 and has been gigging as a solo performer, and, when the time is right, has been backed by the musicians from Pinkeye.
Sutton was slated to perform with the full band at the North Park Festival of Arts before the pandemic scratched those plans along with others, works a day job at Hamilton Meat Provisions, which has pivoted to wholesale curbside and delivery. Needless to say, as Sutton Papanikolas, as his coworkers know him, has been very, very busy.
But music has driven Sutton for so long that he wanted to find a way to continue performing. Having a musically talented wife, Elizabeth, doesn't hurt, so the act now known as Sutton and the Beez have played four “Live From the Driveway” quarantine shows.
“The shows are going great!" Sutton shared with me on a lengthy Facebook chat. "We are getting to know our neighbors in a way I would have never imagined. Everyone has been so grateful for the live music.”
“We have a woman (in her 70s, I would guess) who lives across the street," Sutton told me. "She sits on her porch with a hand drum, and you can see her singing along to the Beatles songs and other ones she knows. When she came out to watch the first show on her porch, our next-door neighbors said that was the first time anyone had seen her in five years!”
Sutton explained that the woman is a retired teacher and artist with medical conditions that keep her homebound regardless of the stay at home order. She leaves crafts for neighborhood kids and requested some assistance with groceries. Helping her out, as well as the enjoyment of these driveway shows, has turned their corner of Rolando Village into an even tighter-knit community.
During the performances, Sutton and the Beez set up a simple speaker and mic combo with a merch case at the end of their driveway, letting their new fans pay what they can or just take what they like for free, including face masks made by Elizabeth's aunt in Michigan. Neighbors listen from afar, cars slow down while passing down the street, and some families stay an appropriate distance from one another and just listen.
Music. Community. Culture.
While there are scenarios in which live music doesn't come back anytime soon, we've also seen more people taking it to the streets adjacent to their own homes. It's beginning to look like this way of enjoying live music may be the new normal, at least for now.
The next "Live From the driveway" show will take place May 17 at 1 p.m. and you can tune in to Sutton's page on Facebook Live to catch it. You can also watch the first four performance, which are archived a videos on his FB page.
Sutton recently dropped a new single, "The World Just Shut Down," which is available on Bandcamp.