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America, Boz Scaggs, Chelsea Handler head Humphreys Concerts by the Bay 40th anniversary lineup

Humphreys Concerts by the Bay was launched in 1982
Humphreys Concerts by the Bay was launched in 1982 as a straight-ahead jazz series. The Shelter Island venue has become a San Diego institution. Above, Steve Martin is shown performing at Humphreys with his bluegrass band, The Steep Canyon Rangers.
(Courtesy Humphreys Concerts by the Bay)

After canceling it 2020 season because of COVID-19, Humphreys Concerts returns with Gipsy Kings, The Temptations, Bleachers, Camilo, Dwight Yoakam and dozens more

What’s most notable about Humphreys Concerts by the Bay’s upcoming 40th anniversary season is not its star-studded lineup, which mixes such Humphreys mainstays as America, Chicago and Dave Koz with such younger acts as Bleachers, Mt. Joy and Postmodern Jukebox. (The full schedule appears below.)

Nor is it that 2021 marks the start of the fifth decade for this quintessentially San Diegan venue, which draws attendees from as far away as Australia and has hosted everyone from Whitney Houston, Bob Dylan and Aretha Franklin to Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder and Jimmy Buffett.

No, what is most notable about this year’s Humphreys season is that it is taking place at all.

Because of last year’s coronavirus pandemic-fueled shutdown of live events, the venue’s 2020 season was postponed twice before being canceled in its entirety. And because of the uncertainty about when — or how — concerts could resume in California, the start date for this year’s constantly reconfigured season changed several times before solidifying for an August reopening.

“Last year was to be our 40th anniversary, and we were ready to celebrate with what would have been the best lineup we ever had. We were heartbroken when we were forced to shutter because of COVID-19,” said Humphreys honcho Richard Bartell.

“We thought we could restart this April, but the pandemic had other plans. So, we pushed back this year’s start to June, then to July, then to August. ... This is exactly what happened last year. We felt like it was 2020 all over again. It was total déjà vu.”

That this season is even happening is a victory for Bartell and Goldenvoice/AEG Presents San Diego Senior Vice President John Wojas, who has booked Humphreys since 2007.

Wojas rescheduled some of the 2020 concerts for later last year than originally planned — some twice — then scheduled and rescheduled more shows for this year.

The 38 concerts he has confirmed so far for this year are 27 fewer than the 65 that had been booked for 2020. The venue expects to present a total of 50 performances in this year’s shortened season, which spans just over 15 weeks, not the usual six months.

“We didn’t even know if there would be a 2021 season until a couple of months ago, when we started to see how many people were getting vaccinated,” Wojas said.

“Given the number of artists we had confirmed for last year who now won’t be touring until 2022, I’m surprised at how many shows we have been able to book for this season.”

So is Bartell, who is the president of Bartell Hotels. His San Diego company has owned and operated the 1,458-capacity Shelter Island concert venue since late 1984, when it bought the adjacent Humphreys Restaurant and 182-room Half Moon Inn.

He did not know the Polynesian-themed property his company had bought included what was then a 750-capacity seasonal concert venue with a temporary stage. And he never dreamed that concert venue would eventually outpace the hotel and restaurant as a destination and revenue-generator.

Music-loving "boat people" at Jimmy Buffett's 2016 Humphrey's Concerts show
A near-record of music-loving “boat people” turned out for Jimmy Buffett’s 2016 performance at Humphrey’s Concerts by the Bay.
(Hayne Palmour IV / San Diego Union-Tribune)

‘A uniquely San Diego venue’

The pandemic forced Bartell to shut down six of his company’s eight San Diego hotels for three months last year. The palm tree-lined Humphreys concert venue has been operating as the outdoor Humphreys Concerts Bayside Café since last summer. Humphreys Restaurant has been shuttered since March 2020. It will not reopen until the end of June.

That’s nearly two months before the 2021 Humphreys concert season will debut with Minnesota neo-bluegrass band Trampled By Turtles on Aug. 17, which is five months later than Humphreys would usually open. The season will conclude with young Colombian pop sensation Camilo on Nov. 19, nearly a month later than any previous season has stretched.

“If we had to implement social distancing, with seats spaced 6 feet apart,” Bartell said, “our capacity would drop from 1,450 to 275, and it would not be financially feasible to do concerts under those circumstances. So there was no certainty we would have a 2021 season.”

The return of Humphreys won’t come a moment too soon for smooth-jazz mainstay Dave Koz, who has performed there nearly 20 times since 1991. He returns to the venue Sept. 3 on his annual Summer Horns tour with fellow saxophonists Mindi Abair, Kirk Whalum and Vincent Ingala.

“Humphreys is one of the most beautiful places in the world to do a concert,” Koz said.

“It is a uniquely San Diego venue, with the marina right by the stage and people watching from their boats. You can’t find that anywhere else. We’ve played other venues in the area, but we keep coming back to Humphreys. It’s the quintessential outdoor setting for music, and I feel about Humphreys the way I do about the Hollywood Bowl. They’re both classic venues that you gravitate to, almost regardless of who is playing there, because the venue is as big a star as the person on stage.”

Those sentiments are shared by San Diego-bred bass guitar great Nathan East. He has played at Humphreys with Kenny Loggins, Al Jarreau and Sam Moore, as well as six times with his own band, Fourplay.

“Humphreys is one of my absolute favorite venues to perform at for a variety of reasons, but I have also enjoyed attending moonlit concerts there where the vibe is simply magical,” East said.

“Our dad used to take us to Shelter Island as kids and all the fond memories come flooding back everytime I pull into Humphreys parking lot. Most special for me is that Humphreys was the last concert my beloved mother saw Fourplay perform before making her transition, while it was my twin toddlers’ very first concert watching their daddy play at in 2002. Happy 40th anniversary, Humphreys!”

Australia's Ali and Rob Randall at Humphreys Concerts
Australia’s Ali and Rob Randall planned their 2019 vacation in the United States around the performance they attended at Humphreys Concerts by the Bay.
(Courtesy Rob and Ali Randall)

Attracting fans from Australia

Over the decades, Humphreys has hosted more concerts than any other San Diego venue by such legends as Ringo Starr, the late B.B. King and Ray Charles, who — 17 years after his death — still holds the all-time record of 37 shows at Humphreys. It also has been the site of area debut performances by such varied artists as Whitney Houston, Janelle Monáe, Roseanne Barr, Wynton Marsalis, Lyle Lovett and Harry Connick Jr.

It’s the kind of family-friendly venue where parents have taken their young children, who then grew up and have taken their own children to enjoy concerts. A key example is San Diego basketball legend Bill Walton, who attended an average of up to 20 shows annually at Humphreys prior to the pandemic.

“It’s a fantastic place, and we have taken all of our kids there,” Walton told the Union-Tribune in 2016.

“Some of the top artists in the world play at Humphreys. ... From your seat, you see the palm trees, the boats in the marina and the hills of Point Loma. Then, when the sun goes down and the moon comes up, I never fail to turn to (my wife) Lori and say: ‘We are the luckiest people on Earth!’ ”

“There’s nothing like it, at least not in Australia, and it’s just fantastic,” said Melbourne dentist David Fox. He and his wife, Monica, also a dentist, attended Chris Isaak’s 2019 Humphreys performance. The couple had planned a return visit to the venue, but pandemic-related travel restrictions have prevented them from leaving Australia.

“We stayed at the Bay Club Hotel next door and got to hear Chris Isaak’s soundcheck from the pool deck, which was nice. Humphreys is small enough that every seat is close to the stage and Chris dedicated a song to the people in the boats. We’ve seen Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden, Nine Inch Nails at Kings Theatre in Brooklyn and Elvis Costello at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. But there’s no doubt seeing Chris Isaak at Humphreys was the most fun.”

The Foxes are not the only couple to make the nearly daylong air journey from Australia to attend a concert at this bayside San Diego venue. Rob and Ali Randall, who have a farm in Lindendale in New South Wales, also came here in 2019. They do not know the Foxes.

“We effectively planned our six-week U.S. vacation around attending the Marcus Miller, David Sanborn and Bob James concert at Humphreys,” Rob Randall said.

“Neither Ali or I had been to San Diego previously. The concert was booked and paid for even before the flights and hiking routes planned! It was our first time in San Diego. Our hotel room overlooked the stage, we had front-row seats and we were quite the star-struck Aussies!

“We finished the vacation after going to the zoo and Sea World. Then we went up to L.A. and back to Australia. We have very fond memories, and we would return without hesitation. We were made very welcome by the Humphreys team and all in San Diego.”

Bartell and Bobbi Brieske, Humhpreys vice president, both noted that the concert venue does no marketing outside of the San Diego region.

“None, whatsoever,” Bartell said.

“I’m not sure when we began offering hotel/dinner/concert packages, but we’ve been aware that people travel from great distances,” said Brieske, who was hired by Bartell in 1986 and oversees all of its concert performance contracts. “We offer 43 hotel/dinner/concert packages per show and 87 dinner/concert packages.”

The success of Humphreys has become a major economic driver for other restaurants and hotels on Shelter Island and in the surrounding Point Loma area.

“Humphreys made Point Loma a destination again, and I am really excited about the concert series returning,” said veteran restaurateur Susan Baumann, the owner of Bali Hai and Tom Ham’s Lighthouse.

“Richard Bartell is one of the nicest and smartest people I know. If people are going to a concert, they like to have dinner before or after and the concerts have certainly stimulated businesses across Shelter Island.”

Humphreys’ growth was incremental but steady. In 1989, the venue added a permanent stage and VIP deck, as well as hotel rooms that looked out onto the stage.

Although few people recall it, Humphreys began in 1982 as a straight-ahead jazz series booked by San Diego Jazz Festival — and future Street Scene founder — Rob Hagey. His three-month tenure quickly overlapped with that of future Lollapalooza festival co-founder Marc Geiger, who helped broaden the venue’s musical menu.

“Booking Jimmy Buffett in 1984 was a major turning point,” recalled Geiger, who in 1984 moved to Los Angeles.

“The first show I booked at Humphreys in 1982, for Marc Berman’s Southland Concerts, was David Lindley and I remember it vividly. That first season at Humphreys was like the first season of Lollapalooza — it’s a little stronger in your memory. It’s like your first kid, versus your second kid.

“When there’s a great vibe and the audience is having a great time, that’s when you know you have something special. And that’s what Humphreys has, with its location by the bay and its intimacy.”

Geiger was replaced by former Colorado rock singer, radio host and music critic Kenny Weissberg, who initially worked for Southland Concerts before Bartell hired him to be the venue’s in-house talent buyer in 1987. With key initial mentorship from Geiger, Weissberg was instrumental in expanding Humphreys musical menu and attracting top national and international performers that typically performed in much larger venues.

“Richard Bartell gave me free reign to book whatever I thought would work,” Weissberg recalled. “Given that opportunity, I shifted the series’ original emphasis away from smooth- jazz and started mixing it up with rock ‘n’ roll (Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers), comedy (George Carlin, Dana Carvey, Bill Cosby), country (Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash, Vince Gill), folk (Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Donovan), and World Music (Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Ravi Shankar, Buena Vista Social Club).

“Word of mouth spread among artists, agents and managers, and the floodgates opened... I originally hoped that I’d be lucky enough to last three years on the job. I retired in 2006 after my 23rd season.”

Intriguingly, Weissberg was replaced in 2006 by John Wojas and Steve Redfearn, who at the time headed Viejas Entertainment, the company that had been one of Humphrey’s biggest competitors for booking top talent to perform in San Diego. By 2010 Redfearn had moved on and Wojas alone was booking Humphreys, which only a few years earlier had been one of his arch-rivals.

“We’d had animosity, because at Viejas we’d cherry-picked (outbid) a lot of the top acts away from Humphrey’s,” Wojas told the Union-Tribune in 2010. “What’s funny is, at the end of our (2006 job) interview (with Humphreys), I said: ‘If you don’t hire me, one of the things going against you is that you’ll still have to put up with me as a competitor.’ ”

Wojas counts Stevie Wonder, Robert Plant and Dolly Parton among his biggest booking coups at Humphreys. As an employee of Goldenvoice/AEG Presents, which also produces the annual Coachella and Stagecoach festivals in Indio, he has also been able to book some of the acts from both festivals to perform at Humphreys during the same time periods. At least he was until last year, when — like the 2020 Humphreys season — both festivals were canceled, followed by the postponement of their 2021 editions until next year.

“Marc Geiger was a visionary who saw the potential in Humphreys that no one else saw,” Bartell said. “Kenny was instrumental in putting us on the map as one of the top venues in the nation. And John has taken Humphreys to the next level.

“The biggest present we can give ourselves for our belated 40th anniversary is that we are still here. We survived and are planning to have a great concert season.”

Memorable Humphreys moments

The sinking feeling: At Jimmy Buffett’s 1984 concert, so many people crowded together to stand on the marina pier closest to the Humphreys stage that the pier sank.

Unlikely duo: At Elvis Costello’s 2012 concert, basketball legend Bill Walton — who attends an average of 20 Humphreys concerts a year with his wife, Lori — was invited on stage by Costello. Walton added enthusiastic vocal support to Costello’s version of the Grateful Dead’s “Ramble On Rose,” a song performed at longtime Deadhead Walton’s request. The sight of Costello, who is 5-foot-10, sharing a microphone with Walton, who is more than a foot taller, was priceless.

Before the flood: It was raining so hard when jazz giant Miles Davis performed in 1985 that his band’s equipment (and the musicians themselves) were covered with tarps in mid-song — except the drenched but undaunted Davis, who blew up a proverbial storm on his trumpet. Tony Bennett also persevered at his 2015 concert, when ankle-deep rain in the front rows prompted some attendees to flee. But not the then-88-year-old Bennett, who sang on through the downpour.

Swooping in: The egret who started loudly bedding down in a palm tree next to the Humphreys stage drew the immediate attention of Ray Charles. Thinking he was being heckled by a rude audience member, the blind music giant stopped in mid-song. Informed of the fowl source of the disruption, Charles smiled and resumed his concert.

Pumped up kicks: The second of David Lindley’s two October 1982 shows at Humphrey’s came to an abrupt end. The veteran guitarist and his band were less than 20 minutes into their performance when approximately 50 harbor police — wearing riot helmets and armed with clubs — closed down the concert, citing complaints of noise from nearby Point Loma residents. “We got carried away (with the volume),” Lindley recalled in a 1984 San Diego Union interview. “We were having too much fun!”

Hello, boat people! Whether they are in canoes or kayaks, schooners or yachts, or perched on paddle boards and atop oversized innertubes, the “boat people” who watch concerts for free from the adjacent marina are an indelible part of the Humphreys experience. The freewheeling flotillas sometimes start to gather hours before showtime for prime spots, especially for performances by artists who have rarely performed at the venue, such as Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder and the now-retired Linda Ronstadt.

At his 2016 Humphreys concert — his first there since 1984 — Jimmy Buffett dedicated his classic “Son of a Son of a Sailor” to the boat people. At her 1985 show, Roseanne Barr playfully referred to the on-board crowd as: “Cheap (expletives)!” At Riders in the Sky’s 1990 performance, violinist/singer Woody Paul waved and quipped: “Look, it’s the Kuwaiti navy. Go get ‘em, guys! We’ll send food to you soon.” And what better place for Harry Belafonte, a Humphreys regular for years until he retired from touring, to perform his signature “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)?”

Share your favorite Humphrey’s concert

Humphrey’s Concerts by the Bay has hosted many memorable performances over the past four decades. We’d like you to share your favorite Humphrey’s memories. Include the name of the artist, the year of they performed and why their concert was so unforgettable. Email your responses george.varga@sduniontribune.com. Please include the city or neighborhood you live in, such as Chula Vista or Mission Valley, not your address.

Humphreys Concerts by the Bay 2021 season

All concerts are at 7:30 p.m. unless otherwise indicated. Shows marked ** are already on sale.

Tuesday/Wednesday, Aug. 17-18: Trampled By Turtles and Mt. Joy, 7 p.m., $55 (general admission/standing-room only) **

Friday, Aug. 27: Brian Regan, $60

Friday, Sept. 3: Dave Koz & Friends Summer Horns, featuring Mindi Abair, Kirk Whalum, Vincent Ingala and Kenny Lattimore, $69

Sunday, Sept. 5: Chelsea Handler, $100

Thursday, Sept. 9: Tower of Power, $54

Friday, Sept. 10: Rufus Wainwright, with Aimee Mann, $55

Saturday, Sept. 11: “Lost 80’s Live,” featuring The Romantics, Missing Persons, Animotion, Burning Sensations, Musical Youth, Naked Eyes, Tommy Tutone, Stacey Q, Josie Cotton, Boys Don’t Cry, Dramarama, Trans X, Farrington & Mann, 6 p.m., $90 (tickets from Aug. 15, 2020, and Aug. 14, 2021, will be honored) **

Sunday, Sept. 12: Rodrigo y Gabriela, with David Keenan, $64 **

Monday, Sept. 13: Chicago, 8 p.m., $105

Friday, Sept. 17: Judy Collins, $55 (tickets from May 2, 2020, and Aug. 14, 2020, will be honored) **

Sunday, Sept. 19: The Fab Four: “The Ultimate Tribute,” 8 p.m., $50

Monday, Sept. 20: Michael Franti & Spearhead, $64, (tickets from Aug. 2, 2020, and Sept. 16, 2021, will be honored) **

Tuesday, Sept. 21: Boz Scaggs, $97 (tickets from May 12, 2020, Sept. 16, 2020, and June 21, 2021, will be honored) **

Wednesday, Sept. 22: The Temptations and The Four Tops, $75

Thursday, Sept. 23: Three Dog Night, 8 p.m., $61

Friday Sept. 24: Little River Band, 8 p.m., $55

Sunday, Sept. 26: Chris Isaak, $88

Monday, Sept. 27: Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, 7 p.m., $36.50

Thursday, Sept. 30: Shakey Graves, with Sierra Ferrell, $42 (general admission/standing-room only)

Friday, Oct. 1: Demetri Martin, $39

Sunday, Oct. 3: Lake Street Dive, with Allison Russell, $59

Tuesday, Oct. 5: America 50th anniversary tour, $73

Sunday, Oct. 10: Air Supply, $75

Wednesday, Oct. 13: Bleachers, with Claud, $40 (general admission/standing-room only) **

Thursday, Oct. 14: Don Felder (formerly of the Eagles), $49

Sunday, Oct. 24: Jason Bonham’s “Led Zeppelin Evening,” $60 (tickets from May 24, 2020, and April 13, 2021, will be honored) **

Wednesday, Oct. 27: The Cult, $60 (tickets from April 24, 2020 and Oct. 22, 2020 will be honored) **

Friday, Oct. 29: Keali’i Reichel, $59

Saturday, Oct. 30: Oingo Boingo (former members), Missing Persons, Dramarama, $65

Sunday, Oct. 31: Adam Ant, $60

Wednesday, Nov. 3: Gipsy Kings, featuring Nicolas Reyes, $89

Saturday, Nov. 6: Felipe Esparza, $40

Sunday, Nov. 7: Dwight Yoakam, 8 p.m., $85

Tuesday, Nov. 9: George Thorogood & The Destroyers, $60

Sunday, Nov. 14: Patton Oswalt, $57

Tuesday, Nov. 16: Postmodern Jukebox, $59 **

Friday, Nov. 19: Camilo, 8 p.m., $80 **

Tickets for all 2021 Humphreys concerts go on sale Saturday at 10 a.m. at ticketmaster.com. Because of the pandemic, no tickets will be sold at the Humphreys box office or restaurant (although that could change prior to the first concert of the season).


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