San Diego’s music scene navigates the uncertainty of pandemic life – City Times

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This story was featured in the Fall 2021 edition of CityScene magazine.

The white and yellow lights of the Music Box Marquee sign illuminated the 1300 block of India Street. A line of patrons was full of conversation as they awaited the double screening of musical artists Your Smith and Electric Guest for a mid-November show.

This particular line for the concert had distinct differences from those two years ago at the Music Box. Some customers were already wearing face masks and, in addition to shouting for IDs to be ready, security personnel were asking for vaccination cards.

Ian Shelton of Militarie Gun performs in a stand-up show at Soda Bar on November 18.
Ian Shelton of the group Militarie Gun sings for a stand-up show at the Soda Bar. Photo by Will Mauriz / City Times Media

San Diego-area concert halls such as the Music Box, San Diego House of Blues, and Copley Symphony Hall were forced to temporarily close when a state of emergency was declared by California Governor Gavin Newsom in response to the surge in COVID-19 cases in March 2020.

The closures have caused unprecedented pressure on the music industry, and the lasting impacts are not yet known. The local entertainment lights went out with the lines of customers and disappeared for 18 months with the shutdown of all of San Diego.

Businesses such as concert halls were not considered essential at the height of pandemic closures. They suffered heavy financial losses and their employees were denied work.

After 15 months of closure, lasting from March 2020 to June 2021, event venues finally got their first chance to breathe again in San Diego when California has fully reopened.

However, not all concert halls reopened right away. The North Park Observatory waited two more months and Soda Bar waited another month before its first shows due to still fluctuating COVID-19 cases.

One venue that opened two days after the state reopened and took care of the rapid rise was the Music Box.

Customers lined up to take part in the Electric Guest group's show with artist Your Smith at the San Diego Music Box on November 13.
Customers lined up to take part in the Electric Guest group’s show with artist Your Smith at the Music Box. Photo by Will Mauriz / City Times Media

Joe Rinaldi, Managing Partner of Music Box, said COVID-19 presents a profound historic catastrophe “and there is no best practice on how to survive these special circumstances.” That’s why we formed a coalition with the National Independent Venue Association and asked for federal help.

NIVA was formed in mid-April 2020, three weeks after the economic shutdown from the pandemic, and has successfully lobbied for essential funds for independent sites.

“If we hadn’t done that, out of 3,000 sites in the United States, 80% of the sites most likely would have been turned off,” Rinaldi said.

Smaller indoor venues such as the Soda Bar, which has an approximate capacity of 200 people, have had to follow suit and seek help to overcome the forced closings.

“To survive, we applied for a lot of grants,” said Cory Stier, managing partner of Soda Bar, “by cutting all the extra bills, keeping our expenses to a minimum, we got a series of PPP loans, we fully participated in NIVA and received the Obtaining the grant, which we badly needed.

Even when the sites finally reopened, they had to think about what additional protocols they would take to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and its variants.

“We were tracking the number of infections,” Stier said of the protocols in place at the Soda Bar. “It takes time to reopen and ramp up. “

The stream San Diego County Mandate is based on self-attestation. People who are not vaccinated are required to wear masks, which is part of the policies the places share with customers, Stier explained.

“We post our policy at every event and at the top of our website,” he said.

Resident DJs Camilla Robina and Heather Hardcore get ready for the Blue Mondays at the Merrow in Hillcrest, Calif. On November 15
Resident DJs Camilla Robina and Heather Hardcore begin their set for the Blue Mondays at the Merrow in Hillcrest. Photo by Will Mauriz / City Times.Media

After performance spaces began to open up and introduce mandates, pushback became a regular occurrence.

“When the restrictions got tighter initially to attend events, I received hundreds of emails and phone calls to complain and request refunds,” said Krag Kirkland, box manager. office for Music Box.

Forced closings, testing protocols and occupancy limitations imposed on halls and shows for operators of corporate halls and independent concert halls must continue to face significant losses, as their sources of income come from. the sale of tickets, the sale of food and drink and merchandise have been greatly reduced to a minimum. or almost entirely eliminated.

Business revenues for concert halls grew steadily for seven consecutive years through 2019. But between 2019 and 2020, Live Nation Entertainment concert income fell to $ 7.76 billion from $ 9.43 billion, or nearly $ 1.5 billion.

And while that reality affected the results of huge global operators like Live Nation, it was even darker for financially vulnerable independent concert halls, many of whom feared they would go bankrupt or have to sell their venues.

The public’s desire to see shows persists, as venues continue to see occasional lineups and sold-out shows.

“Things were easier when it first reopened and the venues needed bands immediately,” said San Diego-based musician Melanie Jaquess, “but now things are sort of backed up now. Seating is already looking to reserve. for next spring.

Jaquess said San Diego theaters are starting to see more high-profile performers returning to tour and outperforming smaller ones as groups feel more comfortable with touring.

However, not all sites have survived. Martinis above the fourth, Rose bar and West of Lestat gave way under the economic impact.


Concert halls like San Diego Content Partners, Bar Pink and Kava Lounge have closed their doors permanently due to financial stress associated with the temporary closure. Learn more about their struggles.


Assistance to government programs and ASB Grants have greatly helped surviving businesses cover their payrolls and pay off their mortgages.

As the impact of COVID-19 and new variants like the omicron variant continue to emerge, there are still plans to begin

The empty stage set up ahead of artist Your Smith's performance at the San Diego Music Box on October 13.
The empty stage was prepared before artist Your Smith’s performance at the Music Box. Photo by Will Mauriz / City Times Media

Dec 1 that participants aged 18 and over must provide identification to indoor mega-events. And your ID must confirm that you show proof of vaccination status or a negative test result.

San Diego concert halls are still focused on organizing the customer experience and feeling some normalcy despite navigating the uncertainty of the ongoing pandemic.

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