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Reader writers try music not to their taste

Spike Steffenhagen to Tio Leo's, Jake Peterson to First Presbyterian, Dryw Keltz to Humphries, Gabe Garcia to Loews Coronado

Louis Valenzuela (guitar) and Julian Esparza (bass) harnessing the sound at Tio Leo’s.
Louis Valenzuela (guitar) and Julian Esparza (bass) harnessing the sound at Tio Leo’s.

All this jazz at Tio Leo’s

“I see a lot of familiar faces here, and I see three or four new ones. I want to let you know that, when the music is playing, we are quiet.” That’s my introduction to Holly Hofmann at Tio Leo’s Napa street location, which hosts a jazz brunch most Sundays. I find out later that she’s an accomplished flautist and musical director of several events in San Diego. Being among the fresh faces, I don’t want to find out what she’ll do if I talk. Besides, I’m not here to disrupt anything. My best-case scenario is to blend in with the other patrons to observe and experience the event.


Alas, it seems that’s not going to happen here, where the age ranges from slightly over the drinking age required to gain access to the lounge to quadruple that. The other attendees wear clothing that is foreign to me unless my wife dresses me for an event. I’m not sure if it’s just their style, or if they got gussied up for the show. One thing is for sure, no one else is wearing a sleeveless shirt with Paul Stanley of KISS’ solo album art on it.

Happily, I’m in the very first booth, a hard left from the entrance in a corner, so the shadows serve as social camouflage. I start to wonder if I’ll get some complimentary chips, and just like that, a staffer materializes from thin air and offers me some. I nod my head in aceptance and gratitude, not wanting to attract Ms. Hofmann’s attention, and whisper when a server comes over to take my order. A man in an orange shirt enters and looks around for a place to sit, so I offer him a spot in my otherwise vacant booth. He attempts conversation; I avoid eye contact and nod, still not wanting to find out what Hofmann will do if she hears the guy with the KISS shirt talking.

Place

Tio Leo's

5302 Napa Street, San Diego

Between songs, Hofmann is rattling off the names of upcoming performers, pausing for the applause and collective gasps, and punctuating a few with, “If you don’t know who this is, you should.” That statement sums up my relationship with jazz, a style I never got into, even though I appreciate the talent involved and the influence of the genre. Music teachers were always willing to share their knowledge with me, pointing out the jazz flavoring of Black Sabbath’s “Symptom of the Universe” and the bass approach to “Electric Funeral.” But then there were the gatekeepers, the “fans” who used the accomplishments of other musicians to paint my own favorite music as shit. (One of the most cited “real guitarists” is Pat Metheny, whose music will be performed here tonight by Louis Valenzuela.) It’s not as if I hate jazz, or have never attended a jazz show: two of the thousand or show performances I’ve seen featured jazz. One was a friend, and the other was drummer Louie Bellson, who was performing at the Horton Grand hotel in the early ’90s.

When Valenzuela and the other three musicians walk onto the stage, there’s polite applause, a far cry from the usual screaming, jostling for position, and the rarely-seen but always-heard guy yelling “Whooooo!” Valenzuela greets the crowd amicably as he and the piano player, drummer, and bassist begin their set. I look around the room, waiting for someone to bust out a Snoopy dance, because the music reminds me of every Peanuts cartoon I’ve ever watched. I laugh interiorly at my mind movie, hoping I won’t burst into actual laughter and incur the wrath of Hofmann. But the colorful lights strewn about the lounge aren’t helping me forget about the classic Christmas special. My sampler platter arrives, and I stuff my face, in a moderately successful effort to put dancing beagles out of my mind.

The food is delicious, but credit for taking me out of my head and into the moment goes to the musicians onstage. Their focus and execution of what I consider the quantum physics of music makes me wonder how they do it so effortlessly. Then Valenzuela tells us that, when he was learning these songs, he forgot how hard they are to play. I find that relatable, although his struggles are with chords that look as if they require an extra finger to produce. The group does a number that was originally recorded with Jaco Pastorius, often considered the Hendrix of bass players, and I feel rather than hear that sensual “muaaah” that I associate with a fretless bass. My inner critic reminds me that fretless electrics were created to imitate the sound of the upright (duh).

I’m focused on the bass player Julian Esparza, in my comfort zone spiritually, in spite of being out of it physically. Or am I really that far removed? The use of dynamics is intentional. If it’s loud or quiet, that’s on purpose, as the musicians are harnessing the sound together for a collaborative presentation. It’s like a math problem, when I think about it. But it isn’t long before I stop thinking about it —maybe it’s when I look around the room. The men in floral print shirts are head bobbing and finger snapping, The women are mostly wearing dresses; one is playing air piano, eyes closed and at one with the music.

Sacra/Profana at First Presbyterian Church. The sound is heavy in feeling, and asks how we bring quiet grace back into our daily lives after suffering a loss.

That’s when I notice my toe is tapping involuntarily, and there is a slight movement of my head. Nothing approaching the breakneck headbanging I might disply at a Slayer show, but the same neuro-emotional reaction, like a scene from a David Lynch film. My defiant digit stops tapping as I survey the room again, looking at what’s not happening. Save for a few photos or brief video captures, no one has their cell phone out. It’s as if experiencing the performance was the most important thing in the world to them at this moment. I notice some movement nearby, as my silent table companion grabs at the chips on the table. Quickly, but ready to strike again if I say nothing. I remain silent, and then he munches on them like it’s his job.

The lounge seems to exist in a vacuum when the music stops for an intermission. I head to the stage to snap a picture of the setlist for later reference, but there is none. There’s sheet music, which may as well be written in a foreign language. Impressive. I think of Motown bassist James Jamerson playing with Marvin Gaye, with music charts, never missing a beat. He was a jazz guy and, when not recording, he put his job at Motown in jeopardy to go play clubs. Such seems to be the pull of jazz.

Leaving the venue, I see that the parking lot, which was pretty full when I arrived 30 minutes before start time, is at capacity. Orange shirt guy tells me that my shoes are untied, and I tell him that I’m living dangerously, out of my comfort zone.

— Spike Steffenhagen

Sacra/Profana at First Presbyterian Church

It’s Sunday. Sabbath day. I’m at the Ye Olde Plank Inn in Imperial Beach watching my beloved Green Bay Packers blow a two-touchdown fourth quarter lead. It’s the beginning of the Love era in Green Bay: there’s a new quarterback at the helm. He looks good, but not Hall of Fame good like his predecessors — at least not yet. He fails to bring the team into range for a last second field goal and the Packers are handed their first loss of the season. This is when I swallow the last suds from my beer and tell the salty Sunday football crew I’m going to church. Not to throw some personal Hail Marys for my sins of lewd language during the game, but for the opening of a new season from the local choral ensemble Sacra/Profana.

The day itself has dark clouds hanging over it, but I’m in an oddly cheerful mood. The Pixies are still ringing in my head from their concert the night before when I enter a rain-wetted First Presbyterian Church Downtown. I hear clamorous activity in the courtyard, and a glance over the ledge of an outdoor walkway reveals unhoused folks feasting on meals provided by the San Diego Rescue Mission.

The day’s music program is designed in part to memorialize the memory of the unhoused people who have died on the streets over the previous year. The day is getting darker, but the unhoused look to be in good spirits at that moment.

Once inside the sprawling sanctuary, I find a pew a few rows from the front. I start to lucky-dip into a NIV version of the Bible, and take away a few gold nugget pieces of wisdom from Proverbs while I wait for the a capella act to take the stage. Then I notice my pants feel a little tight, and the squirming begins. Childhood memories of having to wear “nice clothes” to church that didn’t fit quite right resurface. The weird thing is, I did this to myself. This pair of dark Levis fit okay when I bought them on discount at Ross a few months ago. They’re supposed to be my nice denims in case I ever have to go to court. Or church.

Shea Givens has a little country girl sound in her voice. She hails from Missouri, now living in Temecula.

I find a momentarily comfortable position in the pew just as the choral ensemble graces the stage, led by acclaimed American conductor Juan Carlos Acosta. The theme of the program is The End Is The Beginning. The songs touch on death, loss, and grief. All universal and yet personal experiences. The Sacra/Profana group will be putting on five concerts during this, their fifteenth season. The opening concert of the five program series begins at the end, so to say. The ensemble opens with choral composer Dale Trumbore’s “How to Go On.” The sound is heavy in feeling and asks how we bring quiet grace back into our daily lives after suffering a loss. The song cycle is described as a “secular requiem,” with “secular” meaning not having any religious affiliation and “requiem” referring to Catholic Masses for the dead.

Addressing the tension between those two words, conductor Acosta says, “A choral song cycle is basically an assortment of pieces a composer wrote that they want to put together. In this case, they can be performed in any order, except that the last movement had to be the last movement. That’s different from a requiem because a requiem is traditionally like a Mass setting for a funeral service with a specific order it needs to go in. Secular and requiem both touch on themes of death and loss from very opposite perspectives. One is ultra-religious, and the other has a humanist aspect of that loss.”

Place

First Presbyterian Church

320 Date Street, San Diego

During intermission, I sneak up to the balcony pews to get a more heavenly view. The performers have exited the stage, and audience members form little congregations inside and outside of the sanctuary. Following the break, the ensemble ties together the connection between the secular and the sacred, life and death, grief and hope, with Haitian-born composer Christopher Ducasse’s setting of “O Eternal Beauty.” The murky choral texture of this piece fits neatly at the end of the concert to bring a satisfying conclusion to what seems like a mysteriously somber, yet amiable day.

Although the group had just six rehearsals, pleased conductor Acosta tells me, “I think it went well. It’s kind of a big space with a lot of street noise and stuff like that, but overall, I thought it was good. I was proud of what the singers were able to do with that music. It was fairly difficult music to put together in a relatively short amount of time.”

Venues for stuff like this can be tricky in San Diego. Acosta says some of the singers would prefer not to do churches, because many of their programs aren’t fit for a “church situation.” But, generally, churches are the best spaces for choirs. If I have anything noteworthy to say about this experience, it would be this: embrace the wood pews, give your gratitudes, eat the sweets, shake a few hands in fellowship, and enjoy the rich voices of a talented choir like this one. It helped with easing the pain of the Packers’ loss that Sunday.

— Jake Peterson

Lounge crooner at Loews Coronado

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After a day of cornhole, and beer drinking and a 45-minute nap, it was time to head south on the Strand to Loews Coronado Bay Resort. I’ve never been there, even though we share the same zip code. Until I scanned this publication for leads. I wasn’t even aware they had music there. Shea Givens was on the bill.

As night fell, coming out of the darkness from the Strand, the bright lights from the resort reflected like sunshine onto the boats in the marina. I walked into the lobby facing a grand staircase with a big orb that changed colors from blue to green, and a chandelier that rained mini-white light bulbs from the ceiling. First stop was the restroom. I had to pee so bad it hurt. Then time to find the bar, on the other side of the staircase, where you immediately find yourself facing bottles of alcohol. Or they might be facing you.

Place

Loews Coronado Bay Resort

4000 Coronado Bay Road, Coronado

It was almost 7:30 and there was no music. Shea was supposed to start at 7. Still, it was a nice wide-open bar and lounge area. I noticed all the chairs and tables were occupied. There were two burnt orange couches back-to-back in the middle of the lounge area. (I’ll come back to that in a little bit.) As a college football game unfolded on the big screen TV, I was greeted by a pretty server with green eyes and curly blond hair in a ponytail.

“When and where does the music start?” I asked.

She pointed at the TV. “I think Shea is waiting for the game to end, and you’re standing where the music is going to be.” It was early into the second quarter of the football game. I ran into Shea in the patio area next to the bar. Her auburn hair was slicked back in a ponytail. I asked her if that was a kimono she was wearing.

“Vintage robe,” she replied, showing an infectious smile that never left her face all night. She had a little country girl sound in her voice. (She hails from Missouri, and is now living in Temecula.) We had something in common: both of us were at a random location, off our usual beaten path, each of us ready to do what we do best. During our brief encounter, it appeared that she made an executive decision in her head and wasn’t going to wait any longer. She sat behind her Yamaha keyboard and started playing “Rhiannon” by Fleetwood Mac.

My friends Dot and Gerry Harms from Coronado came to join me. “I didn’t expect to see you guys here tonight.”

Dot replied “I wouldn’t ever expect to see you here either; what are you doing here?” I pointed at the bar, then at my drink, and then at Shea. Dot looked at me like she wasn’t buying it. “Why would you pick here? I know you go to some cool places around town to see music.”

Dot shifted from asking questions to observing the environment. Not everyone was sharing the same agenda. Some were there to watch football, others were there for dinner, still others to sit at the bar and have a drink. Gerry returned with our drink refills asked me if Shea had any originals. “I think she does.” I went up to Shea and asked her to play one of her own songs, and she started playing one called “Anxiety.” That was something I could relate to. Gerry and Dot nodded their approval. As open as the bar and lounge was, there was no echo. The sound was quite good, and I decided to be interactive with our performer.

My next request was “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees. “I got you, but it will be different,” she replied. Her version was soulful, and graced with the sound of a woman. That got everyone’s attention and a nice round of applause. Dot said, “Finally, people are enjoying the music!” Then, after a couple rounds of drinks, Dot and Gerry left, and it was as if everyone followed them out, because soon, the place was almost empty.

Shea looked at me. “I got one more, do you have any requests?” I told her to feel what I was thinking. She looked at me as if diving deep into my brain. “Aretha or Alicia Keys?”

“Aretha,” I replied, “and, damn we’re on the same wavelength.” She finished with “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” earning the applause of the guy sitting on the burnt orange couch. He looked like he was sitting on his couch at home, with a beer in his hand, feet up on coffee table, and the game on the TV.

After three cocktails, I managed to walk out with a $14 bill. (That covered one; thank you to Gerry and my server for the other two.) I was originally looking to cover something out of my normal environment, something like a (very expensive) Taylor Swift concert. That would be a truly new taste. This experience had been unusual, but not exactly strange. I’d listen to Shea again. I’d return to Loews Coronado Bay Resort too, if only for their strong drinks and to say hi to my server for the evening.

— Gabriel Garcia

Yacht Rock Revue at Humphreys

In September, Yacht Rock Revue docked their nine-piece, soft-rock extravaganza at Humphreys Concerts By the Bay for a two-night stand on Shelter Island. On the first of those nights, I docked my car near the Brigantine Seafood and Oyster Bar, and observed numerous actual yachts on the half-mile walk to the venue. Perhaps the band was hoping that all the nearby nautical vessels would send soothing, spiritual vibes to their kindred yacht rocking compadres and help keep their (metaphorical) boat afloat.

Judging by all the white captain’s hats I saw upon my arrival, fully hundreds of individuals were prepared to pilot those nearby yachts. The hats could be found on the heads of humans of all kinds, but primarily the 50+ Caucasian types. Also saw lots of shorts and Hawaiian shirts with floral patterns. The entire experience definitely had a bit of a Jimmy Buffet concert vibe. Lots of buzzed-to-quite inebriated sing-alongs, creative dancing with associated party fouls, plus all the requisite smiles, laughs and hugs.

Place

Humphreys by the Bay

2241 Shelter Island Drive, San Diego

I ended up with a great seat in the fourth row of the A section, which was stage left. I was able to obtain this prime seat because my wife jumped ship from accompanying me when I presented her with a video on YouTube that showcased snippets of Yacht Rock Revue songs from a concert at the House of Blues in Orlando. When their version of Sade’s “Smooth Operator” came on, she decided not to come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me. I will have to rethink my video bait for the next outing.

Most of the classic tunes that fall under the “yacht rock” umbrella were considered “soft rock” radio staples back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, songs performed by artists such as Steely Dan, Christopher Cross, and The Doobie Brothers. My first exposure to most of the songs played on this evening excursion was an AM radio station that my mom would listen to while she drove my sister and me to a swim club in the early ‘80s. These are the types of radio stations that I would actively avoid at all costs once I gained control of the dial. The ’90s were certainly not a kind decade to soft rock, but a mid-2000s rebrand as “yacht rock” seemed to spark a newfound appreciation for the genre. The core of Yacht Rock Revue was actually formed by members of an indie rock band, Y-O-U, in 2007. Many other indie artists from the last 15 years or so, such as Mac Demarco, Haim and Foxygen, have incorporated elements of soft rock into their sound; some of them seem to openly embrace the yacht rock classification.

The entire Yacht Rock Revue experience definitely had a bit of a Jimmy Buffet concert vibe. Lots of buzzed-to-quite inebriated sing-alongs, creative dancing with associated party fouls, plus all the requisite smiles, laughs and hugs.

As I settled into the concert, I found myself bobbing my head along to most of the songs and generally enjoying the show. The bands were made up of proper pros, and their obvious love for the material they were performing came across in the execution. One aspect that did surprise me was how many of the songs featured different lead singers. Almost all nine of the players got a lead vocal showcase during the set. It’s perhaps a necessary feature for a group like this, one that’s not covering a specific band, but rather, an entire genre. And who knows? A variety of vocalists (both male and female) that can imitate the voices that originally crooned those past hits might be Yacht Rock Revue’s secret weapon. It certainly worked to create the illusion that the performance was more akin to a live recreation of one of your favorite playlists from days gone by than a standard covers set.

Of the songs I heard, Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes,” was a personal favorite. It also went over great with the rest of the attendees. Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” got a huge response, primarily due to its legendary saxophone solo, which David B. Freeman knocked out of the venue. But as the set carried on, several songs caught me by surprise, and even seemed somewhat fishy, such as Huey Lewis and The News’s “The Heart of Rock & Roll.” This was a bit of a head-scratcher; it didn’t really seem quite in step with the mellow, grooving island/yacht vibes of the majority of the rest of the set. In fact, “The Heart of Rock & Roll” is about as straight forward a replica of a ‘50s Buddy Holly/Chuck Berry rock ‘n roll song as one could hope to hear. But it does contain a sax solo.

If there was one fun fact I learned on this evening, it’s that yacht rock worships at the altar of the sax solo. Anytime there was a sax solo (and there were many, many of these times), it would roar over everything else in the mix. Meanwhile, whenever it came time for a guitar solo, it felt as if it was getting sonically crushed by keyboards. You had numerous instances of this lead guitarist striking the perfect pose with the full leg straddle, the neck of the guitar at a perfect right-angle to the stage, making all the correct lead guitarist pain and anguish faces that are directly connected to hitting all those squealy notes way up on the neck correctly, and for some reason, it was all getting squashed by the other instruments.

Maybe that’s one of the defining characteristics of yacht rock: the lead guitarist drowning. It explains why I have never been drawn to the genre. No matter how hard it tries, yacht rock just doesn’t rock like regular rock rocks.

I hung in there pretty well until about the 90-minute mark, at which point I started to look at my watch after every song had finished. I really started to get seasick about 15 minutes after that. The evening had officially transitioned from The Love Boat to Deadliest Catch. I needed to jump ship, but even if I did, I would have likely just landed on another yacht. I was trapped, so I stuck around for the rest of the set, which did include a fun take on the Little River Band’s “Lonesome Loser.”

The seats around me had pretty much cleared out by the time the encores started; I wasn’t the only attendee who was yachted-out by that point. And yet: after the show had ended, I heard one guy say, “I could have gone another hour!” Well, shiver me timbers, that’s a frightening thought. For a soft rock softie like me, yacht rock is best doled out in small portions. An hour on the yacht is fun. Ninety minutes is pushing it. After two hours and fifteen minutes, you’re drifting into the Bermuda Triangle.

— Dryw Keltz

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Rock & roll, record release, flood benefit, and Sublime’s new lead singer
Louis Valenzuela (guitar) and Julian Esparza (bass) harnessing the sound at Tio Leo’s.
Louis Valenzuela (guitar) and Julian Esparza (bass) harnessing the sound at Tio Leo’s.

All this jazz at Tio Leo’s

“I see a lot of familiar faces here, and I see three or four new ones. I want to let you know that, when the music is playing, we are quiet.” That’s my introduction to Holly Hofmann at Tio Leo’s Napa street location, which hosts a jazz brunch most Sundays. I find out later that she’s an accomplished flautist and musical director of several events in San Diego. Being among the fresh faces, I don’t want to find out what she’ll do if I talk. Besides, I’m not here to disrupt anything. My best-case scenario is to blend in with the other patrons to observe and experience the event.


Alas, it seems that’s not going to happen here, where the age ranges from slightly over the drinking age required to gain access to the lounge to quadruple that. The other attendees wear clothing that is foreign to me unless my wife dresses me for an event. I’m not sure if it’s just their style, or if they got gussied up for the show. One thing is for sure, no one else is wearing a sleeveless shirt with Paul Stanley of KISS’ solo album art on it.

Happily, I’m in the very first booth, a hard left from the entrance in a corner, so the shadows serve as social camouflage. I start to wonder if I’ll get some complimentary chips, and just like that, a staffer materializes from thin air and offers me some. I nod my head in aceptance and gratitude, not wanting to attract Ms. Hofmann’s attention, and whisper when a server comes over to take my order. A man in an orange shirt enters and looks around for a place to sit, so I offer him a spot in my otherwise vacant booth. He attempts conversation; I avoid eye contact and nod, still not wanting to find out what Hofmann will do if she hears the guy with the KISS shirt talking.

Place

Tio Leo's

5302 Napa Street, San Diego

Between songs, Hofmann is rattling off the names of upcoming performers, pausing for the applause and collective gasps, and punctuating a few with, “If you don’t know who this is, you should.” That statement sums up my relationship with jazz, a style I never got into, even though I appreciate the talent involved and the influence of the genre. Music teachers were always willing to share their knowledge with me, pointing out the jazz flavoring of Black Sabbath’s “Symptom of the Universe” and the bass approach to “Electric Funeral.” But then there were the gatekeepers, the “fans” who used the accomplishments of other musicians to paint my own favorite music as shit. (One of the most cited “real guitarists” is Pat Metheny, whose music will be performed here tonight by Louis Valenzuela.) It’s not as if I hate jazz, or have never attended a jazz show: two of the thousand or show performances I’ve seen featured jazz. One was a friend, and the other was drummer Louie Bellson, who was performing at the Horton Grand hotel in the early ’90s.

When Valenzuela and the other three musicians walk onto the stage, there’s polite applause, a far cry from the usual screaming, jostling for position, and the rarely-seen but always-heard guy yelling “Whooooo!” Valenzuela greets the crowd amicably as he and the piano player, drummer, and bassist begin their set. I look around the room, waiting for someone to bust out a Snoopy dance, because the music reminds me of every Peanuts cartoon I’ve ever watched. I laugh interiorly at my mind movie, hoping I won’t burst into actual laughter and incur the wrath of Hofmann. But the colorful lights strewn about the lounge aren’t helping me forget about the classic Christmas special. My sampler platter arrives, and I stuff my face, in a moderately successful effort to put dancing beagles out of my mind.

The food is delicious, but credit for taking me out of my head and into the moment goes to the musicians onstage. Their focus and execution of what I consider the quantum physics of music makes me wonder how they do it so effortlessly. Then Valenzuela tells us that, when he was learning these songs, he forgot how hard they are to play. I find that relatable, although his struggles are with chords that look as if they require an extra finger to produce. The group does a number that was originally recorded with Jaco Pastorius, often considered the Hendrix of bass players, and I feel rather than hear that sensual “muaaah” that I associate with a fretless bass. My inner critic reminds me that fretless electrics were created to imitate the sound of the upright (duh).

I’m focused on the bass player Julian Esparza, in my comfort zone spiritually, in spite of being out of it physically. Or am I really that far removed? The use of dynamics is intentional. If it’s loud or quiet, that’s on purpose, as the musicians are harnessing the sound together for a collaborative presentation. It’s like a math problem, when I think about it. But it isn’t long before I stop thinking about it —maybe it’s when I look around the room. The men in floral print shirts are head bobbing and finger snapping, The women are mostly wearing dresses; one is playing air piano, eyes closed and at one with the music.

Sacra/Profana at First Presbyterian Church. The sound is heavy in feeling, and asks how we bring quiet grace back into our daily lives after suffering a loss.

That’s when I notice my toe is tapping involuntarily, and there is a slight movement of my head. Nothing approaching the breakneck headbanging I might disply at a Slayer show, but the same neuro-emotional reaction, like a scene from a David Lynch film. My defiant digit stops tapping as I survey the room again, looking at what’s not happening. Save for a few photos or brief video captures, no one has their cell phone out. It’s as if experiencing the performance was the most important thing in the world to them at this moment. I notice some movement nearby, as my silent table companion grabs at the chips on the table. Quickly, but ready to strike again if I say nothing. I remain silent, and then he munches on them like it’s his job.

The lounge seems to exist in a vacuum when the music stops for an intermission. I head to the stage to snap a picture of the setlist for later reference, but there is none. There’s sheet music, which may as well be written in a foreign language. Impressive. I think of Motown bassist James Jamerson playing with Marvin Gaye, with music charts, never missing a beat. He was a jazz guy and, when not recording, he put his job at Motown in jeopardy to go play clubs. Such seems to be the pull of jazz.

Leaving the venue, I see that the parking lot, which was pretty full when I arrived 30 minutes before start time, is at capacity. Orange shirt guy tells me that my shoes are untied, and I tell him that I’m living dangerously, out of my comfort zone.

— Spike Steffenhagen

Sacra/Profana at First Presbyterian Church

It’s Sunday. Sabbath day. I’m at the Ye Olde Plank Inn in Imperial Beach watching my beloved Green Bay Packers blow a two-touchdown fourth quarter lead. It’s the beginning of the Love era in Green Bay: there’s a new quarterback at the helm. He looks good, but not Hall of Fame good like his predecessors — at least not yet. He fails to bring the team into range for a last second field goal and the Packers are handed their first loss of the season. This is when I swallow the last suds from my beer and tell the salty Sunday football crew I’m going to church. Not to throw some personal Hail Marys for my sins of lewd language during the game, but for the opening of a new season from the local choral ensemble Sacra/Profana.

The day itself has dark clouds hanging over it, but I’m in an oddly cheerful mood. The Pixies are still ringing in my head from their concert the night before when I enter a rain-wetted First Presbyterian Church Downtown. I hear clamorous activity in the courtyard, and a glance over the ledge of an outdoor walkway reveals unhoused folks feasting on meals provided by the San Diego Rescue Mission.

The day’s music program is designed in part to memorialize the memory of the unhoused people who have died on the streets over the previous year. The day is getting darker, but the unhoused look to be in good spirits at that moment.

Once inside the sprawling sanctuary, I find a pew a few rows from the front. I start to lucky-dip into a NIV version of the Bible, and take away a few gold nugget pieces of wisdom from Proverbs while I wait for the a capella act to take the stage. Then I notice my pants feel a little tight, and the squirming begins. Childhood memories of having to wear “nice clothes” to church that didn’t fit quite right resurface. The weird thing is, I did this to myself. This pair of dark Levis fit okay when I bought them on discount at Ross a few months ago. They’re supposed to be my nice denims in case I ever have to go to court. Or church.

Shea Givens has a little country girl sound in her voice. She hails from Missouri, now living in Temecula.

I find a momentarily comfortable position in the pew just as the choral ensemble graces the stage, led by acclaimed American conductor Juan Carlos Acosta. The theme of the program is The End Is The Beginning. The songs touch on death, loss, and grief. All universal and yet personal experiences. The Sacra/Profana group will be putting on five concerts during this, their fifteenth season. The opening concert of the five program series begins at the end, so to say. The ensemble opens with choral composer Dale Trumbore’s “How to Go On.” The sound is heavy in feeling and asks how we bring quiet grace back into our daily lives after suffering a loss. The song cycle is described as a “secular requiem,” with “secular” meaning not having any religious affiliation and “requiem” referring to Catholic Masses for the dead.

Addressing the tension between those two words, conductor Acosta says, “A choral song cycle is basically an assortment of pieces a composer wrote that they want to put together. In this case, they can be performed in any order, except that the last movement had to be the last movement. That’s different from a requiem because a requiem is traditionally like a Mass setting for a funeral service with a specific order it needs to go in. Secular and requiem both touch on themes of death and loss from very opposite perspectives. One is ultra-religious, and the other has a humanist aspect of that loss.”

Place

First Presbyterian Church

320 Date Street, San Diego

During intermission, I sneak up to the balcony pews to get a more heavenly view. The performers have exited the stage, and audience members form little congregations inside and outside of the sanctuary. Following the break, the ensemble ties together the connection between the secular and the sacred, life and death, grief and hope, with Haitian-born composer Christopher Ducasse’s setting of “O Eternal Beauty.” The murky choral texture of this piece fits neatly at the end of the concert to bring a satisfying conclusion to what seems like a mysteriously somber, yet amiable day.

Although the group had just six rehearsals, pleased conductor Acosta tells me, “I think it went well. It’s kind of a big space with a lot of street noise and stuff like that, but overall, I thought it was good. I was proud of what the singers were able to do with that music. It was fairly difficult music to put together in a relatively short amount of time.”

Venues for stuff like this can be tricky in San Diego. Acosta says some of the singers would prefer not to do churches, because many of their programs aren’t fit for a “church situation.” But, generally, churches are the best spaces for choirs. If I have anything noteworthy to say about this experience, it would be this: embrace the wood pews, give your gratitudes, eat the sweets, shake a few hands in fellowship, and enjoy the rich voices of a talented choir like this one. It helped with easing the pain of the Packers’ loss that Sunday.

— Jake Peterson

Lounge crooner at Loews Coronado

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After a day of cornhole, and beer drinking and a 45-minute nap, it was time to head south on the Strand to Loews Coronado Bay Resort. I’ve never been there, even though we share the same zip code. Until I scanned this publication for leads. I wasn’t even aware they had music there. Shea Givens was on the bill.

As night fell, coming out of the darkness from the Strand, the bright lights from the resort reflected like sunshine onto the boats in the marina. I walked into the lobby facing a grand staircase with a big orb that changed colors from blue to green, and a chandelier that rained mini-white light bulbs from the ceiling. First stop was the restroom. I had to pee so bad it hurt. Then time to find the bar, on the other side of the staircase, where you immediately find yourself facing bottles of alcohol. Or they might be facing you.

Place

Loews Coronado Bay Resort

4000 Coronado Bay Road, Coronado

It was almost 7:30 and there was no music. Shea was supposed to start at 7. Still, it was a nice wide-open bar and lounge area. I noticed all the chairs and tables were occupied. There were two burnt orange couches back-to-back in the middle of the lounge area. (I’ll come back to that in a little bit.) As a college football game unfolded on the big screen TV, I was greeted by a pretty server with green eyes and curly blond hair in a ponytail.

“When and where does the music start?” I asked.

She pointed at the TV. “I think Shea is waiting for the game to end, and you’re standing where the music is going to be.” It was early into the second quarter of the football game. I ran into Shea in the patio area next to the bar. Her auburn hair was slicked back in a ponytail. I asked her if that was a kimono she was wearing.

“Vintage robe,” she replied, showing an infectious smile that never left her face all night. She had a little country girl sound in her voice. (She hails from Missouri, and is now living in Temecula.) We had something in common: both of us were at a random location, off our usual beaten path, each of us ready to do what we do best. During our brief encounter, it appeared that she made an executive decision in her head and wasn’t going to wait any longer. She sat behind her Yamaha keyboard and started playing “Rhiannon” by Fleetwood Mac.

My friends Dot and Gerry Harms from Coronado came to join me. “I didn’t expect to see you guys here tonight.”

Dot replied “I wouldn’t ever expect to see you here either; what are you doing here?” I pointed at the bar, then at my drink, and then at Shea. Dot looked at me like she wasn’t buying it. “Why would you pick here? I know you go to some cool places around town to see music.”

Dot shifted from asking questions to observing the environment. Not everyone was sharing the same agenda. Some were there to watch football, others were there for dinner, still others to sit at the bar and have a drink. Gerry returned with our drink refills asked me if Shea had any originals. “I think she does.” I went up to Shea and asked her to play one of her own songs, and she started playing one called “Anxiety.” That was something I could relate to. Gerry and Dot nodded their approval. As open as the bar and lounge was, there was no echo. The sound was quite good, and I decided to be interactive with our performer.

My next request was “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees. “I got you, but it will be different,” she replied. Her version was soulful, and graced with the sound of a woman. That got everyone’s attention and a nice round of applause. Dot said, “Finally, people are enjoying the music!” Then, after a couple rounds of drinks, Dot and Gerry left, and it was as if everyone followed them out, because soon, the place was almost empty.

Shea looked at me. “I got one more, do you have any requests?” I told her to feel what I was thinking. She looked at me as if diving deep into my brain. “Aretha or Alicia Keys?”

“Aretha,” I replied, “and, damn we’re on the same wavelength.” She finished with “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” earning the applause of the guy sitting on the burnt orange couch. He looked like he was sitting on his couch at home, with a beer in his hand, feet up on coffee table, and the game on the TV.

After three cocktails, I managed to walk out with a $14 bill. (That covered one; thank you to Gerry and my server for the other two.) I was originally looking to cover something out of my normal environment, something like a (very expensive) Taylor Swift concert. That would be a truly new taste. This experience had been unusual, but not exactly strange. I’d listen to Shea again. I’d return to Loews Coronado Bay Resort too, if only for their strong drinks and to say hi to my server for the evening.

— Gabriel Garcia

Yacht Rock Revue at Humphreys

In September, Yacht Rock Revue docked their nine-piece, soft-rock extravaganza at Humphreys Concerts By the Bay for a two-night stand on Shelter Island. On the first of those nights, I docked my car near the Brigantine Seafood and Oyster Bar, and observed numerous actual yachts on the half-mile walk to the venue. Perhaps the band was hoping that all the nearby nautical vessels would send soothing, spiritual vibes to their kindred yacht rocking compadres and help keep their (metaphorical) boat afloat.

Judging by all the white captain’s hats I saw upon my arrival, fully hundreds of individuals were prepared to pilot those nearby yachts. The hats could be found on the heads of humans of all kinds, but primarily the 50+ Caucasian types. Also saw lots of shorts and Hawaiian shirts with floral patterns. The entire experience definitely had a bit of a Jimmy Buffet concert vibe. Lots of buzzed-to-quite inebriated sing-alongs, creative dancing with associated party fouls, plus all the requisite smiles, laughs and hugs.

Place

Humphreys by the Bay

2241 Shelter Island Drive, San Diego

I ended up with a great seat in the fourth row of the A section, which was stage left. I was able to obtain this prime seat because my wife jumped ship from accompanying me when I presented her with a video on YouTube that showcased snippets of Yacht Rock Revue songs from a concert at the House of Blues in Orlando. When their version of Sade’s “Smooth Operator” came on, she decided not to come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me. I will have to rethink my video bait for the next outing.

Most of the classic tunes that fall under the “yacht rock” umbrella were considered “soft rock” radio staples back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, songs performed by artists such as Steely Dan, Christopher Cross, and The Doobie Brothers. My first exposure to most of the songs played on this evening excursion was an AM radio station that my mom would listen to while she drove my sister and me to a swim club in the early ‘80s. These are the types of radio stations that I would actively avoid at all costs once I gained control of the dial. The ’90s were certainly not a kind decade to soft rock, but a mid-2000s rebrand as “yacht rock” seemed to spark a newfound appreciation for the genre. The core of Yacht Rock Revue was actually formed by members of an indie rock band, Y-O-U, in 2007. Many other indie artists from the last 15 years or so, such as Mac Demarco, Haim and Foxygen, have incorporated elements of soft rock into their sound; some of them seem to openly embrace the yacht rock classification.

The entire Yacht Rock Revue experience definitely had a bit of a Jimmy Buffet concert vibe. Lots of buzzed-to-quite inebriated sing-alongs, creative dancing with associated party fouls, plus all the requisite smiles, laughs and hugs.

As I settled into the concert, I found myself bobbing my head along to most of the songs and generally enjoying the show. The bands were made up of proper pros, and their obvious love for the material they were performing came across in the execution. One aspect that did surprise me was how many of the songs featured different lead singers. Almost all nine of the players got a lead vocal showcase during the set. It’s perhaps a necessary feature for a group like this, one that’s not covering a specific band, but rather, an entire genre. And who knows? A variety of vocalists (both male and female) that can imitate the voices that originally crooned those past hits might be Yacht Rock Revue’s secret weapon. It certainly worked to create the illusion that the performance was more akin to a live recreation of one of your favorite playlists from days gone by than a standard covers set.

Of the songs I heard, Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes,” was a personal favorite. It also went over great with the rest of the attendees. Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” got a huge response, primarily due to its legendary saxophone solo, which David B. Freeman knocked out of the venue. But as the set carried on, several songs caught me by surprise, and even seemed somewhat fishy, such as Huey Lewis and The News’s “The Heart of Rock & Roll.” This was a bit of a head-scratcher; it didn’t really seem quite in step with the mellow, grooving island/yacht vibes of the majority of the rest of the set. In fact, “The Heart of Rock & Roll” is about as straight forward a replica of a ‘50s Buddy Holly/Chuck Berry rock ‘n roll song as one could hope to hear. But it does contain a sax solo.

If there was one fun fact I learned on this evening, it’s that yacht rock worships at the altar of the sax solo. Anytime there was a sax solo (and there were many, many of these times), it would roar over everything else in the mix. Meanwhile, whenever it came time for a guitar solo, it felt as if it was getting sonically crushed by keyboards. You had numerous instances of this lead guitarist striking the perfect pose with the full leg straddle, the neck of the guitar at a perfect right-angle to the stage, making all the correct lead guitarist pain and anguish faces that are directly connected to hitting all those squealy notes way up on the neck correctly, and for some reason, it was all getting squashed by the other instruments.

Maybe that’s one of the defining characteristics of yacht rock: the lead guitarist drowning. It explains why I have never been drawn to the genre. No matter how hard it tries, yacht rock just doesn’t rock like regular rock rocks.

I hung in there pretty well until about the 90-minute mark, at which point I started to look at my watch after every song had finished. I really started to get seasick about 15 minutes after that. The evening had officially transitioned from The Love Boat to Deadliest Catch. I needed to jump ship, but even if I did, I would have likely just landed on another yacht. I was trapped, so I stuck around for the rest of the set, which did include a fun take on the Little River Band’s “Lonesome Loser.”

The seats around me had pretty much cleared out by the time the encores started; I wasn’t the only attendee who was yachted-out by that point. And yet: after the show had ended, I heard one guy say, “I could have gone another hour!” Well, shiver me timbers, that’s a frightening thought. For a soft rock softie like me, yacht rock is best doled out in small portions. An hour on the yacht is fun. Ninety minutes is pushing it. After two hours and fifteen minutes, you’re drifting into the Bermuda Triangle.

— Dryw Keltz

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