Drunken revelry in the Gaslamp

San Diego’s annual Street Scene in the Gaslamp Quarter has become one of the largest music events in California. The steadily growing production has continued to expand, both in size and scope.

Lyon Liew

As new ideas are implemented to meet the challenges of a multistage, multiday event, some inherent problems remain. Overall, Street Scene manages to offer a diverse source of entertainment for San Diego’s unique population — attracting generous crowds to the largest party in Southern California. The first two days of Street Scene, Friday and Saturday, are 21 and up and draw the largest congregations.

To say that these days provide a rambunctious good time for all might be something of an understatement. Despite stadium prices for beer — $4 for generic, $5 for Sam Adams, and something even more considerable for mixed drinks — people still flocked to the numerous stands, depots, restaurants and gardens that offered a variety of adult beverages. Consequently, the general mood was happy, if not a little tipsy.

Near the end of the first night, strangers were beginning to throw their arms around each other with the age-old proclamation of a good time: “”I’m drunk!”” Despite the powder keg of throngs of people moving against one another to find the next stage and act, no one appeared openly hostile. There were few noticeable arrests made; it’s safe to say that attending Street Scene is about having fun while enjoying music, not mayhem and fires, like a certain large music event that rhymes with Allapalooza.

Tyler Huff

All together, there were about a dozen different mini-venues within Street Scene — some geared towards smaller crowds and others intended for large masses of people. Between actual stages, along Island Street was Electronica Avenue, where virtually nonstop dance music played. Few spent much time here, since many seemed to mostly keep spirits and energies up as folks meandered through the large event.

There was also the Electronica Tent, which was far more successful than last year’s and only picked up toward the very end of each night. I overheard complaints of heat and sheer volume of noise from other attendees, who, well … didn’t exactly seem like they were young enough to enjoy a rave tent.

Perhaps the most awkward was the Dick’s Last Resort Stage, where — for some strange reason — security insisted on checking IDs at the door despite the event being 21 and up. Even more awkward was the unexpected hug from the stage manager, whom I used to work with at SLAMM. Didn’t see that one coming.

Otherwise, the main problem became overlap, with no foreseeable solution. Live’s set started at 8:45 p.m. and ended at 10 p.m.; meanwhile, Bad Religion played from 9:30 p.m. until 10:30 p.m. Nice smack-dab overlap, which was my biggest gripe with the event.

Considering that I had wanted to see both acts, I was essentially forced to decide which was the more important and forsake the other entirely. Well, at least that would have been the better move; instead, I attempted to catch the opening of Live before moving on to Bad Religion.

What quickly became apparent was that navigating the end of the day’s larger, denser crowds was extremely difficult. Getting out of one sea of people and pressing in through another was a time-consuming and challenging process.

Despite this year’s addition of the massive LCD screens on either side of the stage, viewing the bands required camping out in front of the stage early. So by the time I had made my way from the Ford stage at one end of Street Scene to the Best Buy Stage at the other, I had the unsettling notion that I was about to be hosed in terms of a view.

Fortunately, because of my media pass, a little finagling and the disposable camera someone dropped, I was able to witness Bad Religion first from the press pit and then from backstage.

How would you have handled the situation? Get greedy like at any other concert, and force your way up front, of course.

Bad Religion’s performance was a blistering three-guitar attack; after the recent return of former guitarist and head of Epitaph records, Mr. Brett, there was not the typical exodus of one of the working six-string pluckers. Theirs was, by far, the best set I saw all night, and in classical punk format, just about everyone in the audience was singing along with every word. Street Scene veterans Social Distortion followed them with a crowd-rousing performance, which ended the first spectacular day of the 19th annual event. And snaggin’ picks from Social D. was great, since lead singer Mike Ness makes the ladies swoon, and hyped-up fans will do surprising things for memorabilia.

Saturday was slightly more subdued; the bands seemed geared toward a more diverse age group. Less punk and rock were present: More funk, rap and pop were given center stage. Headlining the main stages were Melissa Etheridge and The Jimi Hendrix Experience on one stage, James Brown and George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic on another, and Black Eyed Peas and Ozomatli on the third stage.

I managed to catch part of George Clinton’s performance, but not James Brown’s, considering his start time was delayed from 10:30 p.m. to after 11:30 p.m. Not surprising, really; with so many bands and so many schedules, a single delay isn’t that bad. Overall, the event was hardly plagued, though few bands actually started when they were supposed to begin.

Friday was by far the biggest day, with Saturday closely behind. An early estimate reported by The San Diego Union Tribune placed Friday’s attendance at around 27,000 people, and Saturday with a few thousand less. Sunday, on the other hand, was comparatively sparse, attracting only 16,000 people. This made the crowds much easier to navigate, but also meant that the 10- to 12-year-old category was by far the strongest contingent. Sugarcult’s sound check met with the deafening, high-pitched screams of many prepubescent girls in studded belts.

The most unexpected treat I had was watching Richard Cheese and Lounge Against The Machine, which does cheesy lounge versions of rock and pop songs. Particularly amusing was the less-than-angst-ridden version of Rage Against the Machine’s “”Guerrilla Radio””: a mellow drawl of “”turn that shit up.””

The cost of the event undoubtedly keep some concert goers away: A single day’s tickets bought prior to the event was $40, two days were $70, and for all three, a whopping $85. All that, before you even walk in the gates and buy beer, food or souvenirs. So perhaps planning ahead for which bands you want to see you would be prudent: Just go for one day, get your drink on before attending or just save up in preparation to purchase a good time.

Overlap performances, prices and vision issues aside, once again Street Scene forced people out into the streets kicking and screaming and made them have a great time in America’s Finest City. Now all I have to do is try and figure out how I’m going to get free passes for next year’s event.