Depot Springs, the brewery, restaurant, live music venue being built in La Mesa, seems to be nearing the finish line. After two years of development — and delays — founder Aaron Dean anticipates the ambitious project will bring beer and bands to the northeast corner of the community in the new year, hoping for late January as a new target date.
In the meantime, La Mesa's existing breweries have developed a small music scene of their own in the city's industrial center. Helix Brewing Co. and Bolt Brewery have each been featuring live music on Friday and Saturday nights since they opened a year and two years ago, respectively. Though neither feature the dedicated stage nor pro sound system Depot Springs has planned, their makeshift outdoor venues have steadily brought a variety of performers to the area around Center Street, just off the 8 freeway at Spring Street.
"Things are rocking at Helix," says owner and brewer Cameron Ball. "We have some great musicians lined up." He cites recurring acts such as local reggae songwriter Casey Turner and Ocean Beach surf-rock tribute band the Surf Birdz as popular draws. Since bands play in the corner of Helix's intimate beer garden, most acts stick to chill and/or classic-rock tunes, much like recent first-time Helix performers, Americana duo Setting Sons.
Two blocks over, Bolt Brewery sets up its own outdoor stage in between its beer garden bar and Quonset hut brewhouse, where things tend to amp up a little more. Longtime local band FuseBox plays there often. "We have a reoccurring gig," says vocalist and bass player Jason Thomas. "We've been playing here since last year, and it's been pretty fun."
Thomas, who lives in La Mesa, says he often drops by the brewery to see other musicians play and also performs at Bolt with another band, Manganista. While each band also plays traditional venues such as the Casbah and Belly Up, they've found a regular draw among friends and fans at Bolt, to the point Manganista scheduled its November 12 record release party at the brewery.
"Plus, we like craft beer," Thomas adds. "Even when we first started back in '92, we would have keg parties." He points out that those early high school kegs were typically brewed by future World Beer Cup champ, Tom Nickel.
One brewery regular I spoke to at Bolt said he routinely stops in at both breweries to check out the music, usually sticking around for the band he likes best. He also drops by the recently opened Wine Works, which sits between the beer companies on Center Street.
Wine Works is a cooperative tasting room of local urban wineries Wyatt Oaks and San Pasqual. Like San Pasqual's La Mesa Village venue, Wine Works also features live music. "At our other tasting room, it was mainly jazz, standards, a lot of singer songwriters," says assistant manager Ryan Alexander, "but we've kind of branched out a little here." Between the adjacent freeway and industrial neighboring businesses that close at night, he points out there's nobody to be bothered by louder volume in this small music scene. "It's a bit more energetic," he adds, "especially with the breweries on either side of us. You never know when people are going to start rolling in."