Adams Avenue Unplugged was born in 2012, as a lower-budget successor to the 18-year-old Adams Avenue Roots Festival. Yet, while the original impetus was to lower the production costs by eliminating several large outdoor stages from the free, two-day music marathon, at least one happy byproduct has resulted.
By shifting the emphasis from the outdoor stages to two-dozen-plus restaurants, bars, coffeehouses and galleries along a two-mile stretch of Adams Avenue, Unplugged has helped to plug San Diegans into the Normal Heights neighborhood that hosts the majority of the event’s performances.
ADAMS AVENUE UNPLUGGED
When: Noon to 10 p.m. on Saturday, noon to 7 p.m. on Sunday[a26&27]
Where: A two-mile stretch of Adams Avenue, from Vista Drive in Kensington to Texas Street in University Heights, with a majority of the venues in Normal Heights
Admission: Free; a limited number of $10 tickets are available for performances by the headlining acts at the indoor Church Stage at 4650 Mansfield Street
Phone: (619) 282-7329
This year’s edition, which takes place Saturday and Sunday, will feature 150 performances at 25 locations by 135 solo artists and bands. The lineup features some national headliners, including the Americana band Hot Buttered Rum and singer-songwriter Anais Mitchell, and a bevy of leading San Diego-based artists, including Lisa Sanders, Gregory Page, Sara Petite, Cindy Lee Berryhill, Tim Flannery and Bauhaus/Love & Rockets veteran David J.
“One of the best results of the transition from the Roots Festival to Unplugged is that we essentially created a two-mile long musical walkabout. We went from an event staging area that was about three blocks long, to one that is two miles,” said Scott Kessler, the head of the Adams Avenue Business Association, under whose auspices Unplugged (and, before it, the Roots Festival) is produced.
“The musical walkabout was our original vision and we are very pleased with how it turned out. The audience capacity we can accommodate for two miles along Adams Avenue is much larger, so we can host many more spectators. We had four stages before, for the Roots Festival. Now, we have 25, so there are a lot more people coming to listen to music for a longer time.”
Not up for walking two miles each direction on Adams Avenue? Not a problem.
As it has done in previous years, Adams Avenue Unplugged will offer two free shuttle buses, which will traverse the street to pick up and drop off attendees both days.
Limited reserved tickets available
For the second consecutive year, $10 reserved tickets will be available for the four artists performing each day at the indoor Church Stage. Those artists - which include Hot Buttered Rum, Anais Mitchell, David J and 16-year-old San Diego Music Award-winner Cody Lavaas - will also each perform at one other Unplugged location during the weekend.
Admission to the Church Stage is free, on a first-come, first-served basis. The reserved tickets ensure seating and early admission. (More information appears at the conclusion of this article.)
The shift to indoor venues does not mean the festival has abandoned outdoor performances altogether. Open-air performances will be held on the lawns at such family-friendly Unplugged sites as Kensington Library Park and the Adams Avenue Park. The Park has traditionally drawn some of the largest crowds to both Adams Avenue Unplugged and its sister music festival, the Adams Avenue Street Fair, which is held each fall and is also produced by the Adams Avenue Business Association.
Since expanding to two-dozen-plus venues along two miles of Adams Avenue, Unplugged has drawn about 20,000 attendees per weekend, Kessler estimates. Another expansion has been the shift from the vintage American music idioms championed by Adams Avenue Roots Festival founder Lou Curtiss to more contemporary folk and pop styles. The aesthetic loss has been a commercial gain.
“Nearly twice as many people come now to Adams Avenue Unplugged as came to the Roots Festival,” Kessler said. “There’s a greater diversity of musical offerings now, so we draw more people who might like certain types of music better than others.”
The growth in attendance is an obvious plus for the non-profit Adams Avenue Business Association, which uses proceeds from Unplugged and the annual Adams Avenue Street Fair to help fund improvements in the district.
“Unplugged is not as focused on (outside) vendors, who came in and set up booths for two days during the Roots festival,” Kessler noted.
“Now, the year-round businesses on Adams Avenue are the vendors for Unplugged. Everything has worked out according to plan, as far as the community and the association are concerned, so we’re sticking with this plan.”