Entertainment & Events

Humphrey’s returns for summer with a strong ’09 lineup

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A look at Humphrey's venue on Shelter Island

Summer has arrived, marking yet another anniversary for Humphrey’s Concerts by the Bay, a beloved San Diego tradition graced by performers such as Ray Charles, Miles Davis, Ringo Starr, and Aretha Franklin.

Twenty-eight years ago, the grassy lawn at Half Moon Inn inspired a visiting college kid who helped book concerts in his spare time. It’s not generally known whether the wedding Marc Geiger attended during his epiphany on Shelter Island resulted in a lasting marriage. Everlasting without a doubt, however, was his vision for an intimate outdoor music venue. Humphrey’s Concerts by the Bay, so dubbed after the hotel and restaurant, began with a string of six shows in 1982 and quickly rose to feature about 60 of the biggest acts in the biz each summer season.

“Marc Geiger spread the word to a lot of important agents that this was a charming little venue on the water with great potential. He was of crucial importance in establishing our credibility,” noted former talent buyer and concert producer Kenny Weissberg. And he wasn’t kidding. In 1984, the pair booked 48 shows, Geiger left Southland Concerts to become an agent for Triad Artists, and Bartell Hotels took over the Half Moon Inn, proceeding to give the concert site a million-dollar facelift. Today, the venue has a seating capacity of 1,450, a far cry from the first season set up of folding tables and chairs.

Among the first to kick off the present season in May were Erykah Badu and Joe Cocker. The likes of Frankie Vallie & the Four Seasons, Diana Krall, Jewel, Air Supply, Wanda Sykes, Patty Griffin, and Carlos Mencia are scheduled to follow. While the series was originally renowned as the nation’s premier contemporary jazz showcase, it evolved in the mid to late 90’s to embrace all kinds of music—from R&B to country—as well as comedy, lending itself to draw an equally diverse crowd.

John Wojas of AEG, who previously worked on behalf of Humphrey’s rival Viejas Entertainment, has booked the past three seasons of concerts. Each year’s lineup, determined by whoever is on tour, boasts new acts as well as the favorites loyal fans come to see time and again. “We dream big and it usually pays off,” said Bobbi Brieske, the advertising director and concert manager for Bartell Hotels. “Two years ago, Stevie Wonder decided to tour for the first time in over a decade. He wanted to play smaller outdoor venues. They chose Humphrey’s as their starting point for the tour. It was an amazing night,” she recalled.

In addition to the varied and stellar talent roster, the combination of swaying palm trees, sparkling water, and “boat people” pulled up in their kayaks, dinghies, and motorboats creates the idyllic setting that’s captured audiences and artists alike for decades. According to Brieske, current ticket sales have been very strong and packages are selling more than in the history of the series, despite the lagging economy. “Jackson Browne, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Moody Blues, Bonnie Raitt, Loggins & Messina and Chicago are already sold out,” she said. “We were very cautious about ticket prices when planning the series. Dinner show packages are the same price as last year. Premium Packages are where prices vary conservatively and we’ve already sold more for this season than we sold for the entire 2008 season.”

Prices range from $35.00 to $105.00, food and lodging options excluded. For $63.00 plus the cost of the concert, attendees can dine on modern global cuisine in Humphrey’s restaurant and get seated in the first seven rows of the concert venue. Out-of-towners or locals looking to treat themselves might consider the premium package, which is of course more costly and consists of dinner, overnight accommodations, and seating in the first four rows.

The Humphrey’s Concerts by the Bay series lasts from May to October. If you happen to find yourself in the crowd, you’ll see the former UCSD student’s vision of bonding music and the scenic outdoors is still going strong.

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