2016 arts year in review: Music

Sir Paul McCartney and Neil Young perform onstage during Desert Trip at the Empire Polo Field on Oct. 8 in Indio. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)
(Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

It’s difficult to recall a year in which so many significant musicians passed away - from David Bowie, Prince, Eagles’ co-founder Glenn Frey and Earth, Wind & Fire mastermind Maurice White to Merle Haggard, Sharon Jones, Leonard Cohen, Mose Allison and more, including such San Diego-based stand-outs as Candye Kane and Chicano music pioneer Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez. No look back at 2016 would be complete without noting their enduring legacies - or the array of memorable albums and concerts that the year produced. But our focus is on living artists and ongoing events that provide hope for the future and cause for celebration, starting with ...

Bob Dylan

What did the most famous and influential singer-songwriter of our times do this year? A better question would be: What didn’t Dylan do? He turned 75, released a massive, 36-CD box set documenting his historic 1966 “Dylan goes electric tour” and performed a slew of concerts - including a transcendent June 13 San Diego show at Humphreys Concerts by the Bay. Oh, and he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Dylan being Dylan, he skipped the awards ceremony in Stockholm, citing an unspecified “scheduling conflict,” then announced several 2017 Swedish concert dates the next day.

Andra Day

San Diego-bred singer Andra Day may not have been everywhere this year, but it sure seemed like it. She performed memorably at the Grammy Awards, for which she had earned two nominations. She sang several times at the White House and at the Democratic National Convention. She was also featured at an all-star tribute to jazz vocal icon Ella Fitzgerald at New York’s famed Apollo Theater and delivered a tour de force San Diego concert at Humphreys. And she was virtually the only non-Latin music artist featured at the televised “Rise Up As One” unity concert at the U.S.-Mexico border by the Tijuana airport, where she was accompanied by a student choir from her alma mater, the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts.

Full coverage: YEAR IN ARTS

2016 arts year in review: Classical music

2016 arts year in review: Dance

2016 arts year in review: Theater

2016 arts year in review: Music

2016 arts year in review: Visual art

Desert Trip

Produced by AEG/Goldenvoice, the first edition of Desert Trip was held in Indio. The venue was the Empire Polo Club, whose grassy grounds also host the Goldenvoice-produced Coachella and Stagecoach festivals. Both consecutive three-day weekends of Desert Trip sold out in an instant, drawing a total of 150,000 people and grossing a record $160 million. Credit a boomer-friendly lineup that paired Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones, Neil Young and Paul McCartney, and The Who and Roger Waters. And credit a range and level of amenities for attendees that raised the bar dramatically for outdoor concerts. A second edition of Desert Trip in 2017 seems inevitable. Bets on the likely lineup have already begun.


No pop star dominated the year - or controlled the pop culture conversation on social and mainstream media - as thoroughly as Beyoncé. Her Formation World Tour, which included a razzle-dazzle May show at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium, grossed an estimated $256 million, second only to Bruce Springsteen. She previewed the tour with her controversial performance at the 2016 Super Bowl halftime show, where she easily stole the spotlight from Bruno Mars and Coldplay. Her “Lemonade” album forcefully addressed such issues as resilience and empowerment, feminism and race, infidelity and tenacity. Earlier this month, it earned her nine Grammy nominations. For good measure, she also delivered a rousing joint performance with the Dixie Chicks at the 2016 Country Music Awards.


In its second year, this upscale, wildly ambitious music, comedy, food and drink festival hit some new highs - and a few bumps. The three-day fete’s 2016 lineup at the Del Mar Racetrack and fairgrounds included Aerosmith and Jack Johnson‘s only U.S. performances of the year. There were also similarly crowd-pleasing sets by Lenny Kravitz, Jimmy Buffett, The Chainsmokers, San Diego’s Karl Denson and more. The bumps came with a massive traffic jam and poor crowd control, but the festival’s producers have vowed to make improvements. With time to evolve, KAABOO could easily become a vital San Diego tradition.

For our best pop and jazz albums and concerts of 2016 wrap-up, go to:

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