“Soul Sessions” @ LoveLab – A taste of Haight-Ashbury in O.B.

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A view from the hills overlooking OB (photo by jarnott via Flikr)

A view from the hills overlooking OB (photo by jarnott via Flikr)

Upon entering the room, I feel as though I’ve stepped back in time to an Acid Test: On the stage, musicians play soulful electric jams that can be heard from the surrounding streets outside. Forty or so people line the boundaries of the large room and listen attentively to the talented players, not breaking their gaze even to drink a beer. And on the floor, dancers armed with hula-hoops make mesmerizing twists and twirls in the flashing stage lights. It’s then that I realize I’m not tripping in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco; I’m in an apartment in Ocean Beach.

“Dude, you’ve got to check out this new thing,” my friend said to me enticingly one Sunday afternoon. “It’s a music jamming party at this guy’s apartment in O.B.!” It didn’t take me long to think this one through; I was given the address and told to show up any Tuesday night. “Bring your guitar and beer” were his last words to me.

When the day came, I struggled for hours to make it to my destination from Pacific Beach after an anything-but-moderate Taco Tuesday afternoon. After painstakingly finding my way up the long road into the O.B. hills, I heard the drum set and electric guitars and knew I was in the right place. I followed the sound through a back alley, up some sketchy-looking stairs, and into an old building … and it was like I had just stepped back into 1967.

Photo from devrieda via Flikr

Photo from devrieda via Flikr

It didn’t take long to fall into the vibe of the place. The music was unbelievable. The hula dancing was psychedelic. And everyone there looked happy to be alive. It was easy to see how the famed Acid Tests of the sixties had become so popular. Granted, no one was eating acid here (I don’t think), but a contagious feeling of being part of something special entered my body. The dim lighting and quirky characters that filled the room added to the exciting underground atmosphere. My drunken thoughts started running; this must have been what it was like to see The Dead at an early show.

People jumped on and off the stage sporadically, contributing a bit of their flavor and then giving others from the growing audience some time in the spotlight. Some groups that played were established bands, but many were just people who had met that night and happened to hop on stage at the same time. Over the course of an hour, the audience got a taste of everything from a comedic songwriting girl to a guy spinning someone in the air with his feet. Standing there talking with my friends, I became curious of the mystical atmosphere of the place. How had this great thing come to fruition?

I got my answer towards the end of the night as I was walking out. After hearing awesome bands Science Fiction and Four Minutes Til’ Midnight rock the stage (they actually finished closer to 4 a.m.), I spotted a chance to talk with the mastermind behind the evening’s jam sessions. He stood outside leaning against the wall and coolly pulled the long, dark hair out of his eyes while taking a drag of his cigarette. I introduced myself and soon found out the story behind the epic parties.

Our host, Derek (I won’t disclose his last name for the reasons that I don’t have his permission, and I have no idea what it is) is originally from Maine, and had friends who attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston, one of the most competitive and prestigious music universities in the county. Derek told me that jam parties like this one could be found any night of the week over there, and he and his friends would both host and attend the gatherings regularly.

John Mayer stopped by to jam a few times … cool cat,” Derek mentioned nonchalantly.

For a few minutes, we allowed ourselves admissions of what an underrated guitar player John Mayer is, regardless of whether one may hate “Your Body is a Wonderland.”

After further travels, Derek eventually ended up in O.B., where the apartment he found seemed destined to host these jam sessions. The stage was built in. It housed one large room big enough to accommodate many people. And even O.B. itself seems worthy of such a special experience. Word spread quickly of Derek’s weekly jams and the event became something almost worthy of legend. Indeed, I left after my first experience smiling ear to ear, feeling like I had witnessed something special from the inside out.

Photo from dissonance via Flikr

Photo from dissonance via Flikr

I spent the next week counting down the days until Tuesday night, when the party started off bigger and louder than any previous. Unfortunately, the steady flow of people also brought in a steady flow of noise complaints to the cops, forcing the plugs to be pulled in order to evade thousand dollar fines. The music slowed down and the drum set was no more, but us musicians kept right on playing our acoustic guitars and bongos. We were there to play music… no matter what kind. But much of the crowd was there for loud, electric tunes and to party hard. The crowd left slowly that evening once the music changed, and the apartment quickly lost some of its underground, magical club-like appeal.

Since that night, the event has still attracted its regulars and maintained decent popularity. People still show up to dance with hula-hoops, just as others show up to pound beers. We still bring our acoustic guitars and drums to jam in large groups, and somewhere along the line, someone dubbed the new acoustic jams “The Soul Sessions,” and our setting “The Love Lab.” It’s certainly got the feel of something unique and fun—just like the mood of the late sixties—but there’s something missing now that the vibe’s turned acoustic… something I can’t explain.

The Soul Sessions still leave me craving like a drug addict to walk in Derek’s pad, strap on my Fender Telecaster and throw down some heavy, distorted, obnoxiously awesome blues licks. Derek assures me that when the time is right we will again see the place alive with the drum set banging and electric guitars crying out into the warm San Diego nights. Until then, I still look forward to receiving my text message every Tuesday from Derek, reading, “SoulSessions at the LoveLab, Tonight: 9PM.”

*Here’s a video I shot at Soul Sessions (forgive the poor quality as it was taken on a cellphone):

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