Photograph by Mona Tumbler
Ben Wanicur rocks Robb Field
“I’ve decided to revive the San Diego Underground,” says bassist Benjamin Wanicur, referring to his monthly jam session that used to operate out of 3rd Space on Park Avenue. Wanicur’s revival has an important new distinction: it will be held outdoors in the afternoon with strict social-distancing and mask-wearing encouraged at Robb Field in Ocean Beach.
Wanicur debuted the idea on September 18, leading a trio featuring pianist Mikan Zlatkovich and drummer Tim McMahon over two sets that invited local players like saxophonists Ian Tordella and Nick Caldwell up onto the grass bandstand to participate.
I asked Wanicur about what prompted his return. “The gigs are just starting to emerge, very slowly — mostly do-it-yourself type situations. It’s been over six months since Covid-19 shut everything down. Now we have to provide our own venue, and the San Diego Underground was already a kind of DIY gig.”
“The virus just killed the music scene. And it seemed like it would be a good time to have a jam session just for people to hang out and play. So we were looking for a place that’s outdoors.”
So did he have any problem putting together a band, under the circumstances?
“Not really. I mean some people can’t afford to take a risk, and I completely understand that. But people haven’t been too busy, so it wasn’t hard. People want to play. I’ve been lucky because I’ve been able to do some streaming gigs, so it wasn’t like I hadn’t played in six months. It was great to be able to have some fun and have a communal type experience playing music in the sun.”
How did you make it safe?
“Well, the first line of defense is it’s outdoors in a very breezy area. People sat in small groups distanced from each other. For the musicians, everyone brought their own instruments. We also had disinfecting wipes for the piano. The rhythm section set up really far apart from each other, almost as if we’re on a huge stage. I did that so that any people who came to sit in would not be bunched up in the same area.”
Did it feel like a success to you?
“It did. This was the first one, and we had a large listening crowd of probably 40 to 50 people who were not musicians. People are starved for this. It was a lot more people than I expected — plus four or five musicians came out, so it seemed like a success.
“I want people to know this can be done, because the music industry is really suffering. It’s very hard to make a living playing music anymore. You can teach lessons on Zoom, but that’s about it. A lot of people are doing the streaming thing, but I don’t know if anybody’s making any money. We’re just relying on people’s tips. It’s kind of like going to a club and buying a ticket or paying a cover. But it’s totally free. We’re not selling tickets. But these are really skilled musicians, and people really love the music. We’re living in unprecedented times, though and a lot of people are really struggling.”
You guys are playing amplified music. How did you pull that off?
“We brought our own power. They have these batteries you can buy now—you don’t need a generator. The one I got is about 500 watts and we only used about 25 percent of it on a two hour gig. I’m telling everyone to make this a standard part of their gear.”
This event takes place once a month. It's happening today(10/16/20) from 5-7:30pm.
More info here.