“It was a really great gig. I made, on average, between $300 and $600 a month performing at the wineries in Ramona,” singer-songwriter Michael Jay Dwyer tells the Reader. Dwyer says he played “regularly at Eagle’s Nest and the Ramona Ranch Winery.” But those gigs ran dry for Dwyer and anybody else on the North County winery circuit when the law stepped in.
“At first, the sheriff said no amplified music. So the owner of Ramona Ranch, Teri Kearns, asked me if I could play unamplified.” Dwyer is a mild-mannered acoustic guitar-and-harmonica act. He also sings. “So, I did it unplugged. After that we were told no music — period.”
"All Along the Watchtower"
Michael Dwyer performs the rock classic live
“We were contacted by the sheriff’s licensing division based on a complaint filed by a competitor that we were having live music,” says Micole Moore, vice president of the Ramona Ranch Winery and president of the Ramona Valley Vineyards Association. “The sheriff told us that if we had live music more than six times a year that we’d need to have an entertainer’s permit.” Moore says that’s the backcountry equivalent of a cabaret license. In order to secure an entertainer’s license, any winery offering live music would be required to fill out an application and pay a fee of $375, he says.
Up on the main drag in Ramona is the Mainstage, a classic-rock concert venue owned and operated by developer Orrin Day. He’d like to see the winery entertainment issue resolved. He thinks they have been good for business overall. “The wineries are a great asset to the town of Ramona. They are changing the fabric of what this town is by turning it into a destination, not a drive-through to Julian.”
“We’re looking into it,” Moore says. “There’s some confusion. We talked to county officials, and they say we’re not zoned for entertainment. Period. But the Boutique Winery Ordinance was written to allow us to have entertainment, just not amplified music outdoors.”
Until all of that gets sorted out, Michael Jay Dwyer is out a paycheck. “The struggle is real,” he almost laughs. “For a musician trying to make a living in San Diego, the struggle is real.”