See what’s new at this weekend’s Adams Avenue Unplugged


What 50 percent less be 50 percent better for Adams Avenue Unplugged?

We’ll find out Saturday when the free acoustic music marathon returns with 100 performances by 80 acts at 32 locations. It will be the first time the event will be held for one day, instead of two.

The lineup, happily, remains talent-packed. It includes Eagles songwriter Jack Tempchin, Euphoria Brass Band, Sara Petite, blues guitar stalwart Fred Heath, Peggy Watson, Yale Strom & Hot Pstromi, Tom Brosseau, Gregory Page, and former Byrds’ member John York.

“Over the years, we’ve done changes every year,” said Scott Kessler, the head of the nonprofit Adams Avenue Business Association, under whose auspices Unplugged is presented.

“Attendance on Sundays has been smaller, and we thought if we could concentrate the crowds for one day, we’d save a little. We lose money on this each year, so this is just a way to stem our losses.”

The budget for this year’s Unplugged is about $45,000. The performers were booked by San Diego Troubadour co-publisher Kent Johnson, Lestat’s music honcho Louis Brazier and veteran talent buyer Steve Kader. As in previous years, a free bus trolley is available for attendees who want “to avoid exercising,” Kessler quipped.

In fact, the festival’s footprint stretches more than 2 miles on Adams Avenue.

Its easternmost venue is the Kensington Cafe, where Joe Rathburn, Clinton Davis and 7th Day Buskers’ leader Shawn Rolf will perform. Its westernmost venue is Mona Lizzy’s Art Studio, which will host two performances by Sam Bybee, who has five albums to his credit.

Adams Avenue Unplugged

When: Noon to 10 p.m. Saturday

Where: A 2-mile stretch of Adams Avenue, from Vista Drive in Kensington to Hamilton Street in University Heights, with a majority of the venues in Normal Heights.

Admission: Free for all performances. Tickets for Saturday’s 21-and-up VIP Beer & Food Deal are $19.

Phone: 619.282.7329


Unplugged was launched in 2012 as the replacement for the 18-year-old Adams Avenue Roots Festival, which in turn was the successor to the San Diego Folk Festival. The festival was designed to promote restaurants, coffee shops, bars, galleries and other businesses by eliminating Unplugged’s larger outdoor stages and the myriad vendors that had shut down traffic on Adams Avenue.

“We don’t do this event to raise funds, but as a promotion,” Kessler noted.

“Since we eliminated the vendors on the street five years ago, we’ve been doing cost-saving measures to make up for a loss of revenue. Most people don’t see the Adams Avenue Business Association because we’re behind the scenes. But we have to remain fiscally responsible. Making Unplugged a one-day event is just a way to break even.”

Another change this year will be the elimination of paid tickets for performances in the Normal Heights United Methodist Church, which in 2014 hosted Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Chris Hillman.

“We’re back to all-free performances at the church,” Kessler said. “We tried to charge $10 per ticket, but it was too confusing to people at an otherwise all-free event.”

Like other annual free civic events here, Unplugged relies on grants from the City of San Diego for a fair portion of its budget.

That funding could be in jeopardy if Mayor Faulconer’s proposed 2018 cuts to arts funding goes through. Earlier this month, the mayor unveiled a budget in which arts funding would shrink from $15.1 million this year to $10.4 million next year.

“For the past six years, we’ve had underwriting from the city’s Economic Development & Tourism Support fund,” Kessler said.

“But this year we were told we’ll be shifted back to the Arts & Culture funding pool. If that happens, or even if we stay within the EDTS pool, it will be an issue if the city doesn’t fund events like ours anymore - and for the other neighborhood organizations that depend on that kind of city funding. The city will impact our ability to do this event, one way or the other.”