it’s Saturday night on North Park’s Ray Street and the pavement is humming with life. A dude in zebra tights and a tank top twirls around with a hula hoop while a crowd gathers to soak up the spacious sounds of Chill Pill, a project of San Diego beatmaker Mystery Cave. Vendors line the sidewalks furnishing handmade crafts, hot food, and all manner of artwork. The vibe is akin to the energetic bustle of Ocean Beach’s farmers’ market, but it wasn’t always this way.
A year ago, Ray at Night was a dying movement marred by vacant galleries, lackluster attendance, and a near-sterile ambiance as North Park for the Arts, a nonprofit organization made up of local business owners and volunteers, struggled to keep the 14-year-old event alive. In January, Brian Beevers, owner of nearby shop Simply Local and organizer of several San Diego farmers’ markets, took the reins with his sights set on reinvigorating the monthly (second Saturdays, 6 to 10 p.m.) art walk.
“What Brian did the first month he was operating was move the live music from the west side of Ray Street to the corner of Ray and University where all of the foot traffic is, making live music a main feature,” says Katie Howard, a 26-year-old musician who Brian brought onboard to book bands after her group Citrus & Katie performed at his debut night. “That one simple gesture changed it all.”
Katie later booked local modular synth experimentalist Prettyhowtown (John Noble) and, in May, he joined the team as sound-production manager. Now, Katie calls him the “meat and potatoes” of the live-music side of the event. “He brought out equipment including stand-up speakers, front monitors, and stage lights, really increasing our sound and visual quality by 100 percent.”
In addition, eclectic VJ !ZeuqsaV! (Xavier Vasquez) frequently comes out to provide large-scale projections on the sporting-goods store behind the stage. On this night, however, IMD of San Diego collective Drumetrics is projecting multicolored static snow as buses roar by and SD/LA haunted trip-hop duo Angels Dust cast spells from the street corner.
“Our vision is for Ray at Night to be considered an important outdoor music venue in San Diego,” Katie says, “a highlight street-fair event that people look forward to visiting. Every month we gain attendance because of the growing caliber of talent that is willing to come out and perform.”
She estimates monthly attendance at around 1000 to 1500, a stark difference from the dwindling crowds in times prior. As a crowd gathers for Angels Dust, Katie scrambles to the back of the stage, where she interviews Chill Pill for the event’s nascent podcast (soundcloud.com/rayatnightraydio).
“My main vision is helping the San Diego music scene gain a stronger morale and to be a part of a movement, however big or small it may be,” Katie later tells me. “Music brings people together. This is an opportunity for exposure for both parties: the musician and the observer. It is educational to our culture. Playing on a street corner of a happening area of town is spontaneous and exhilarating. It’s an experience that no dive bar could provide. It is an opportunity for the average person to see what is going on in our community, what our generation is creating, and a chance to take a glimpse into our ever-evolving music scene.”
On Saturday, November 14, San Diego Music Thing is taking over the Ray at Night stage with a free showcase featuring Triumph of the Wild, Super Buffet, Podunk Nowhere, and Brad Perry.