Dear Matthew Alice:
What's up with the musicians I occasionally see under the bridge over Friars Road at the end of Mission Center Road? I don't get it, are the acoustics that great there or something? It's not like anyone is gonna pull over and listen.
-- Sherry, a San Diego native
Another blast from the past. This has been a San Diego musical tradition since the 1970s. Some drummer, whose name is lost to dust and traffic, I guess, one day set up his kit under a Friars Road overpass and began to wail away. From some of our old-school musicians today, the word is, the acoustics weren't bad at all and there were many fewer complaints from the neighbors. It's never been an organized thing. Just a freebird spot to do your thing under the sky and some concrete, passed on from mentor to student. From time to time whole bands have assembled there, but it's a particular favorite of drummers. Most amazing is it's never created a nuisance, there have been few if any cop or city hassles. There's not much left in San Diego that you can say that about.
A Freeway Thrasher Checks In
In re our answer to Who are the drummers who play under the Mission Valley freeway? comes this email:
I'm among the drummers who frequented the Friars over-pass within the last few years. I heard about it long ago and discovered it for the first time to my delight and amazement. Not only are the acoustics not bad, they're INCREDIBLE!! It makes my kit, which doesn't really sound that impressive (it's a junker) come to life, turning a modest kick-drum into the explosive sound of a cannon from a navy battleship. A snare drum becomes an aggressive impersonation of a fully-automatic machine gun and all other sounds become crisp, resonant with warmth and surprising clarity. It's like mic-ing a kit, but with no microphones. It feels and sounds like John Bonham is in the house...er..I mean under the bridge.
I first played there simply because I had no other place to practice. It was the only place I could play without having the cops called. There, the cops do not get called, but they come, pull over and watch. They're the most frequent to visit and surprisingly our biggest supporters. We never aimed for people to stop to listen but as matter of fact that's just what happens.
In addition to San Diego's finest, many commuters would stop to talk or listen for varying lengths of time. One night a Cloud Nine shuttle stopped and the driver spent what must have been his entire lunch hour, watching. Another time a Krispy Kream truck stopped, listened and donated 3 full boxes of freshly baked, assorted donuts. An editor from a San Diego News station once stopped and recorded us with his handheld video camera and asked for permission to submit his footage to the station. Also to my surprise I'd hear occasionally from people all over," you're the guy that plays under Friars Road with the black-and-white cow drums huh?" Amused, "Yeah, that's me," embarrassed by my ugly, junker, cow kit.
In all the times I was there, including twilight hours as a result of my work schedule, I never received a single noise-complaint. Never an incident of any kind. Police granted their approval and blessings, even at such hours of 3:00, sometimes 4:00 in the morning. When I asked an officer one day if I could build a platform to leave under there for people to set up, on a nice level surface, he said "I don't see why not." So I built a 10' by 10' carpeted 'stage' for all to share and left it there. I wondered how many days until it would be vandalized or stolen. It never happened. People respected it and let it serve it's purpose.
When the stop-lights were put in down there at the intersections even the construction crew showed awareness and respect for our tradition. I found one day, many large piles of broken concrete and dirt every where I could see. I couldn't even see my precious stage when I pulled up. I thought it had been destroyed or removed, then I walked up and with-in the new scene of demolition, there it was. My stage had been left unmoved and untouched. The construction workers actually put all the piles AROUND but NOT ON the stage.
I live in Fayeteville, Arkansas, now and noticed there is nothing like that around here. That was something special. I miss that.
--Mark Ringius, also a San Diego native