San Diego still dancing to the beat of Adams Avenue Street Fair after 37 years
“You can fill your weekend with music like nowhere else.”
That’s how Scott Kessler, the executive director of the Adams Avenue Business Association and one of the masterminds behind the Adams Avenue Street Fair, describes a weekend that’s become a San Diego staple.
“The fair is a celebration of the community of Normal Heights and the Adams Avenue Business district,” he explains from his office of what amounts to the city’s largest free music festival.
Kessler isn’t kidding about the immense size of the event, which this year will boast a whopping array of 80 different musical acts spread out across the festival’s six stages which stretch a half mile long.
“We always have lots of genres,” says Kessler of the lineup, which ranges the gamut from the bluesy sounds of the Delgado Brothers to Madly, a goth-psych group. Fans of zydeco would be charmed by the Bayou Brothers while the band Dirty Sweet would pique the interest of spectators who want to rock out.
There’s also a focus on local talent.
“We pride ourselves on booking San Diego’s best musicians,” says Kessler of this year’s lineup, which consists of the city’s own funky Sure Fire Soul Ensemble, the singer-songwriter Marian Mulock or 17 year-old Sophia Bacino. “We’ll go after about 80 percent of the bands, and the rest of the artists submit. This year, we had 200 hopefuls apply, and we’ll pick 10 or 15 of those.”
A highlight of the 2018 lineup is London native Hollie Cook, widely considered to be rock and roll royalty. The daughter of Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook who counts Boy George as her godfather, Hollie struck out on her own after being a part of the seminal punk/reggae act The Slits and is currently on nationwide tour that takes her to Adams Avenue on Saturday night.
“Our main goal is to put on a fun and positive show,” Cook says. “I like to think that our enjoyment energy is infectious. We’ve been touring since February, but San Diego will be one of the first to hear our brand new set that we are currently working on for the final leg of shows of our tour.”
Cook joins a historic roster who’s graced the stages at Adams Avenue since the very first festival 37 years ago. Throughout the years, the festival has featured acts ranging from No Doubt (the year before it achieved national prominence) to Rolling Stones legend Mick Taylor.
“The fair started in 1982 as a celebration of the relighting and rehabilitation of the Normal Heights neon sign that hangs over Adams Avenue,” says Kessler of the festival’s humble birth of what was essentially a neighborhood block party that featured a single musical act to celebrate the red and teal sign on the corner of Adams and Felton that’s become a trademark of the neighborhood.
Initially, however, the festival and the Adams Avenue Business Association at large had its roots in the government revamping of business districts across the city.
“We’re one of the 18 business improvement districts that San Diego started setting up in the mid-’80s which were targeted by the city to revise the city’s original historic shopping areas that declined in the ’60s and ’70s.”
Almost four decades later, the Adams Avenue Business Association still boasts a strong calendar of five signature events throughout the year that keep organizers busy, whether Adams Avenue Unplugged (another music event), Taste of Adams Avenue (focusing on food) or the booze-focused Adams Avenue Spirits Stroll later this year.
When it comes to plotting the fall street fair, Kessler and his team get to work during the winter months.
“We’ll start planning this in February, begin selling vendor booths in March, and start booking musicians in May,” he says.
To keep things fresh, with some exceptions, Kessler and his team avoid booking the same act consecutive years.
For the prolific Cook, getting the opportunity to perform at events like the Adams Avenue Street Fair is one of the rocker’s favorite parts of the process.
“Writing is emotional, producing and recording is exciting, but touring is brilliant (and can physically and emotionally challenging too),” she explains.
Cook also points to the free aspect of the festival as a facet that piques her interest in the kind of crowd she’s looking forward to seeing.
“It means that all and sundry are showing up getting involved and open minded to whatever entertainment is thrown their way.”
37th annual Adams Avenue Street Fair
With: Deke Dickerson and the Ecco-Fonics, Hollie Cook, Delgado Brothers, Schizophonics, Charlie Chavez and Afrotruko, Sure Fire Soul Ensemble, Dirty Sweet, Hot Rod Lincoln and more.
When: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday
Where: Along seven blocks of Adams Avenue in Normal Heights
Phone: (619) 282-7329
LeDonne is a freelance writer.
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