"This is party central," says 20-year-old Jim Portinga of Ramona. "Everyone you talk to says, 'Where's the party?' There is a big drug epidemic up here. I would say 70 to 80 percent of the kids do drugs."
Portinga is in two bands, goes to Palomar College, and has a job. He sings and plays guitar in Dueling Dragons, one of five bands playing this Saturday in a rare all-age show in Ramona. It's the first of a series of outdoor concerts to be held in the roped-off parking lot of Blue Horse Music, Ramona's only music store. Portinga maintains that authorities in this unincorporated rural town of 15,000 do what they can to prevent bands from playing in public. Jon Hasz, manager of Blue Horse Music, agrees.
"It's terrible," says Hasz. "I grew up in this town, and kids don't have healthy places to hang out. There's a tiny theater with two screens. There's no bowling alley, no arcades.... There used to be an annual event called Ramonapalooza. The last one in 2001 had, like, 13 bands. It was at the middle-school auditorium, but it got shut down. There used to be a youth center called Sozo that had concerts once a month; that's gone. Then, last year, these guys tried to put on Ramonastock at the Ramona Rodeo grounds. They got all these permits, then found out at the last minute they needed one more permit that takes six months to get. That killed Ramonastock."
Elaine Ruff, who owns Blue Horse Music, acquired a special-event permit for the Saturday show from the County of San Diego. She would have preferred to hold it at a larger venue.
"The Ramona Rodeo grounds are perfect, but they don't want live bands; that land is owned by the Ramona Water District," says Ruff. "They are afraid kids will cause problems. They told us we could do karaoke. The reason I was given that we could not have bands is they had gang problems at the Ramona Fair. But you have gangs everywhere. That's why you have security."
The Drapes, Buckley's Ghost, Coldfire, Fuzz Huzzi, and Dueling Dragons play from 4 to 10 p.m. at Blue Horse Music (1045 Main Street, in Ramona); $5 admission.