We're Missing the Belly Up

Chuck Lapinsky

The Belly Up has been a music institution in North County since it opened its doors back in 1974. The stage has been graced by acts large and small, offering up local lineups as well as big-name acts -- the Rolling Stones, for god's sake! -- consistently throughout its history.

The venue, like all the other in San Diego, has taken a big hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, going out with a bang with a sold-out night with the Hot Snakes on March 12 before the state brought down the hammer on gatherings.

The result was a slew of postponed, rescheduled or canceled concerts. The calendar's first activity is in June at the moment, but that could change depending on state guidelines for gatherings being extended.

So how is the Belly Up keeping the magic alive while fans wait out the pandemic?

In early March, they announced the relaunch of their digital store, Belly Up Live, which has been rolling out performances from their vault that are available for purchase. They started out with some key performances by the English Beat, Toots & Maytals, the Blind Boys of Alabama, ALO, and Yonder Mountain String Band, but continue to add others from the 90-plus recordings they have archived they started storing them in the vault in 2014. Talent buyer Pete McDevitt explained that some bands who may have not signed off before due to licensing or other issues are “now seeing the light of day because of a genuine interest of wanting to support us.”

“With so many people reaching out to see what they could do to support us while the venue is closed, we felt this was a great time to re-open the download store because each download generates money immediately for the club and artist,” said Chris Goldsmith, president of Belly Up Entertainment and multiple Grammy award-winning producer.

"It's a great way for people to support the venue and the artists they love, while actually getting to own a piece of Belly Up history in return,” venue officials said in a press release.

The Belly Up has some other tricks up its sleeve, too. Atomic Groove, who specialize in “energetic dance songs from today to yesterday” have been playing near-capacity happy hours on Fridays off-and-on for years. The band members recorded performances as a self-monitoring tool — what worked, what didn't — and now found themselves with recordings that they wanted to share. They've edited those videos to share what they're calling “Virtual Home Happy Hours.” Two episodes have already been released, but you can click in on Friday at 5:30 p.m. “to give it a 'live' feel that will draw the community (virtually) together at the same time.” Fans are encouraged to share or tag photos and videos of themselves dancing to the music on the band's' social media pages.

When can we expect to get back to a live show at the Belly Up? Nobody really knows. California Gov. Gavin Newsom has discussed a series of steps that need to be accomplished prior to reopening, but gatherings are going to take some time to ease into.

“Belly Up looks forward to being back soon -- who knows when, but hopefully sooner rather than later,” McDevitt said.

With that, let's all crack a beer from our respective homes on Friday at the Belly Up's Virtual Happy Hour and drift into thoughts of that rich-sounding venue we hold so dear.

The brand-new SoundDiego Podcast hits different -- guests featured in this music-focused-but-not-music-obsessed series include Slightly Stoopid's Miles Doughty, CC from Little Hurricane, IB Mayor Serge Dedina and Sonny Sandoval from P.O.D., among others -- listen up wherever you get your podcasts.

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