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Exploring the epicenter of San Diego’s burgeoning music scene

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The amp rings out through the idle chatter of the bar. The background music begins to fade away to silence. All that is left is the voices of strangers talking amongst themselves within the confines of the bar.

The band approaches the stage and begins to assemble their musical arsenal – each member strategically placed amongst the guitars, drums, bass, and keyboards. As this is all going on, your gut instinct from your past experiences of bar bands is one of reserve – you doubt they possess anything of musical interest.

Then it happens – the first strumming of the note, powerful and clean it reverberates throughout the entire bar and into the streets. The band comes into unison … the steady beat of the bass and drums, the powerful intense vocals with the melody of the guitar, it’s almost too perfect. All the doubts that you once had are washed away by the musical onslaught you hear from the first band, the second, band, and the third.

Thinking to yourself, you say, “Where have I been?” The answer – You have just walked into epicenter.

This area is a musical Mecca that resides within the heart of San Diego. It extends from Park Boulevard, down to 4746 El Cajon boulevard, to Upas & 30th Street, and finally across to Adams & 36th. Know these landmarks well, because what lies within them is a musical scene so vibrant and alive that there is not any other place like it in San Diego. North County does not possess it, East County does not possess it, and Pacific Beach does not possess it.

Of course those places have their music “scene,” but when gazed at from a birds-eye view they pale in comparison to “the epicenter.” Consisting of Radio Room, Soda Bar, Beauty Bar, The Ruby, Bar Pink, The Office, The Ken Club, U-31, and many others, the area wipes the competition away in the live music category. On any given night you can search all these venues and find bands to see.

Those residing within the area know that much of the scene lies within two dominating regions known as Normal Heights and North Park, with some outside points lingering into Hillcrest and City Heights.

Photo from harry525 via Flikr

Photo from harry525 via Flikr

North Park was established in the summer of 1893, when San Diego Merchant Joseph Nash sold 40 acres of land northeast of Balboa Park to James Monroe Hartley. Hartley and his family wanted to begin a lemon grove on his newly acquired land, but the outward growth of San Diego caught up to them and  eventually began to be known as “Hartley’s North Park.” Soon after the inevitable encroachment of the growing population, Hartley’s son and his brother-in-law developed the first residential and commercial districts. This began North Park’s transition from an agricultural area to one of industry and suburbs. This evolution ultimately led to what we see today.

Photo from Allan Ferguson via Flikr

Photo from Allan Ferguson via Flikr

The second large piece of the area is Normal Heights. Having been formally platted in 1906 by University Heights Syndicate, with the tutelage of D.C. Collier, Normal Heights was now officially on the map. Soon after this formal process was finalized, the population began to roll in. People were brought in via a trolley line, which allowed them to settle within the district. The process of expansion was eased in by the expert carpentry work of a man by the name of Bertram J. Carteri, who ensured the development of Normal Heights wasrapid, yet unique. The heart of Normal Heights soon began to become alive and pumping with new stores, homes and restaurants. As folks settled in, Normal Heights etched its place within San Diego, and soon became a part of the beautiful city we love today.

So, what does the history of how these places were established have anything to do with the music scene that rests in its boundaries? Of course, the history of any place directly correlates with what it has become and will become in the future. When gazing at these areas that make up the bulk of the scene, the relevance of its history to its musical diversity becomes clearer. These places where born and bred on the concept of growth and change. The people that resided in it at its infancy where searching for life. They wanted to establish themselves and find a place within the world they lived in, and they achieved this by evolving and changing their surroundings.

It was these characteristics of the founding settlers that indirectly created a diverse art, life, and musical environment that we know today. The ability to change and understand the important aspects of life, art, and beauty that existed among the founders of the regions has descended into the aura of the now-thrinving scene – an aura that breeds ingenuity, great music, and an overall sense of artistic creativity.

It is the history that has spurred an eclectic music scene that lies within the heart of San Diego. It has become a breeding ground for up-and-coming musicians, and those that even just want to play for the hell of it. The musical prowess is of such great power and content, that one who is an avid music appreciator will love it.

The scene doesn’t harbor your normal teenybopper, mainstream music that we hear today. Rather, it holds the foundation to new and innovative music that is becoming highly popular among the locals and the underground scene. There are no pre-requisites you need to have in order to play. There’s no judgment on how you look or how many pounds you need to lose to play in front of the crowd. It harbors none of the qualities that are slowly eliminating good music. Instead, it only cares about the music you bring, that you be true to yourself and show the people that music still has its fire and passion.

In this day and age, areas like the scene in North Park and Normal Heights are needed; its cultivation of good unique music shows a glimmer of hope for the music community. Its guiding light brings salvation for those seeking new musical endeavors, and for those seeking credit for their music.

This scene is the remedy to the musical illness that plagues this great city. Let’s face it – the ingenuity and creativity in mainstream music nowadays is lackluster and mediocre when compared to other generations. The machine has pumped the docile masses into feeding off a steady diet of hip-hop and pop meals that aren’t even fulfilling. We have become so inundated with this false notion of talent and art that is perpetuated by avenues such as MTV.

As San Diegans, we must acknowledge places like North Park and Normal Heights. It is areas such as these that are trying to keep the spirit of change alive. Glorify – not annex – difference, and allow anyone who has a truly unique and fresh style in music to play and bring it to the people. Show more of what is unknown, rather than regurgitating what is already done.

So, if you have a chance on a weekend night, take a perusal in the area. Marvel back on how eclectic and truly unique the music scene is. Walk into one of the venues, sit back and enjoy one of your favorite beverages, and just listen and keep the spirit alive.

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