Magnolia Performing Arts Center announces debut El Cajon concert season

After an $8.2 million remodel, the former East County Performing Arts Center will relaunch with Patti LaBelle, Art Garfunkel, Al DiMeola and more. Live Nation will exclusively operate the venue, which will informally be known as The Magnolia.


Hello, Magnolia Performing Arts Center. Goodbye, East County Performing Arts Center.

After being shuttered for a decade, El Cajon’s 42-year-old performing arts center will re-open Sept. 13 after undergoing an extensive, $8.2 million interior and exterior makeover. The new venue will be exclusively booked and operated by Live Nation — the world’s largest concert and live events producer — under a five-year contract.

“San Diego is a very robust music market, so we want to be reflective of the community and have a wide variety of content for a wide variety of audiences,” said Benjamin Weeden, the COO of Live Nation’s Clubs & Theatres division.

The list of the initial batch of performances appears below, along with information for tickets, which go on sale this week for all but one of the first 17 shows. The venue will be marketed under the shorter name The Magnolia.

Live Nation owns San Diego’s House of Blues nightclub and Chula Vista’s North Island Credit Union Amphitheatre. It also has exclusive concert booking agreements with such area venues as San Diego State University’s Cal Coast Credit Union Amphitheatre and Viejas Arena, SOMA Live and the Observatory North Park, which it is now in the process of purchasing.

“We own or operate 90 venues across the country,” Weeden noted.

“We now have the opportunity, with the city of El Cajon, to do what amounts to a brand-new venue opening up. That’s something we don’t encounter very often. We want to establish The Magnolia as the first-class 1,200-seat theater in San Diego. The Magnolia fits in perfectly with our regional and national footprint.”

50 shows a year, then 65

The contract with the city of El Cajon calls for Live Nation paid $375,000 a year to annually book 50 shows at the venue, which is adding a host of VIP amenities, and to operate the building. That number will rise to 65 shows annually, starting in 2021.

El Cajon City Manager Graham Mitchell said he is excited about the new/old venue’s initial performance lineup. It includes shows by Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Art Garfunkel and Dave Mason, along with everyone from R&B vocal legend Patti LaBelle and Norteño music star Ramon Ayala to comedian Kathleen Madigan and a MasterChef Junior competition.

But Mitchell, the former city manager of Escondido and Lemon Grove, is even more excited about The Magnolia’s potential to help fuel a revitalization of downtown El Cajon. The Magnolia is located barely a block away from El Cajon’s Courtyard by Marriott hotel, which opened last year.

“In our effort to re-brand the city — and we’re doing a lot of that with some great new developments — having national concert acts helps in that re-branding, and I hope it will be a catalyst project for redeveloping our downtown,” Mitchell said. He has been overseeing the rebuilding of the arts center since he took over early last year from now-retired El Cajon City Manager Douglas Williford.

Since opening in 1977, East County Performing Arts Center hosted such national acts as Merle Haggard, Al Jarreau, the Dixie Chicks, the Everly Brothers and Alison Krauss, among others. Previous operators of the venue expressed similar hopes that well-known music acts would stimulate growth in and around the center in downtown El Cajon, but to little avail.

Asked what is different now, Mitchell replied: “I think that in those years, long ago, the city was not investing money into downtown redevelopment. Shortly before the demise of the (previous) venue, we put a lot of money into infrastructure. We have also changed zoning in downtown El Cajon to (encourage) redevelopment. The people trying to make the East County Performing Arts Center be a catalyst could never do that, because the zoning wasn’t in place. Now, it is and that’s a big difference.

“The other difference, which we’re ready to (formally announce) soon, is the city of El Cajon has five brand-new tax opportunity zones that give massive tax incentives. We’ll have over 100,000 new visitors a year coming to El Cajon and the demand for bars, restaurants and nightlife will increase. And, now, we have the horsepower of Live Nation. Those are the differences between now and 20 years ago.”

‘We can put this center on the map’

Live Nation’s Weeden is also confident that his company — which also operates the Riverside Performing Arts Center — will help The Magnolia thrive.

“To be honest,” he said, “we did not really go back 10 to 20 years to revisit the history of the venue. With it having been closed over the past few years, and the investment by the city of El Cajon, we’re looking at this as the rebirth of that (previous) venue as the Magnolia.

“We looked at the demographics and show (attendance) counts, and felt very comfortable that the El Cajon community — as well as others within San Diego County — would benefit from re-opening this theater and from our bringing content that may not normally come down to San Diego performing arts centers. And we felt very comfortable that we can put this center on the map, similar to how we have with centers in other markets.”

To do so, Live Nation will use multiple talent buyers to book acts for the Magnolia.

“In Los Angeles, we have six tour buyers who will complement the shows going into the Magnolia with national tours that we at Live Nation are buying,” Weeden said.

“So you have the benefit of two talent buyers we have in San Diego, coupled with a national touring team that will pick up separate content as well. So, now, when we go for (booking) theater tours, The Magnolia is where we can put our San Diego shows into, rather than renting out (other area) theaters, as we have in the past.”

Weeden also noted that Live Nation is amenable to renting out the Magnolia for events produced by other promoters.

“I am open to that,” he said. “We have a responsibility to the city of El Cajon to activate the venue in a financially responsible manner. And, as such, third-party promoters are welcome to come into the venue.”

El Cajon City Manager Mitchell contends that municipal governments do not have the expertise required to successfully run performing arts centers. He predicts that the partnership with Live Nation should be a win-win for both parties.

“The city incurs 100 of the costs to operate The Magnolia, (including) booking shows and maintenance, but we also get 100 percent of the profit,” he said. so if we book a band that costs $150,000 and we make $175,000 then we’ve netted a profit. If LN hits certain budget targets then they start sharing in the profit. If they don’t, then there is no share of revenue.”

The Magnolia concert schedule

Unless otherwise indicated, tickets for all shows go on sale Friday at 10 a.m. at and, and at the San Diego House of Blues box office, 1055 Fifth Ave., in the Gaslamp Quarter.

Citi cardholders will receive an email with instructions from Citi for a pre-sale that will run from 10 a.m. today, July 16, to 10 p.m. Thursday, “while inventory lasts.” Live Nation subscribers will receive an email with instructions and a password for a pre-sale that will run from 10 a.m. Wednesday to 10 p.m. Thursday, also “while inventory lasts.”

All shows are at 8 p.m., unless otherwise indicated. More information is available at, which will go live at 9 a.m. today, July 16.

Sept. 13: Countess Luann and Friends ($47.50-$152)

Sept. 24: Al Di Meola — “Past, Present, Future: Music of Di Meola, Piazzolla and The Beatles” ($35-$65)

Oct. 1: Roy Orbison & Buddy Holly (in hologram form) — “The Rock ‘N’ Roll Dream Tour” ($45-$75)

Oct. 3: Patti LaBelle ($59.50-$159.50)

Oct. 9: Dave Mason, with Richie Furay ($40-$75)

Oct. 10: Bruce Hornsby and The Noisemakers ($45-$60)

Oct. 16: MasterChef Junior Live! (7 p.m., $39.50-$69.50)

Oct. 17: Leo Dan ($39.50-$69.50)

Oct. 18: Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo ($59.50-$159.50)

Oct. 23: Engelbert Humperdinck ($45-$75)

Oct. 27: Dream Theater ($39.50-$89.50)

Nov. 1: Ramon Ayala y Sus Bravos Del Norte ($40-$75)

Dec. 13: Stassi Schroeder: “Straight Up with Stassi Live,” featuring Beau Clark and Taylor Strecker ($35-$55)

Dec. 29: PJ Masks “Save The Day Live!” (6 p.m., $29.50-$49.50)

Jan. 9: Art Garfunkel ($30-$90)

Feb. 20: Kathleen Madigan ($39.50)

March 7: Dennis DeYoung ($35-$65)


2:22 p.m. July 17, 2019: This story has been updated to reflect that the Magnolia Performing Arts Center will be marketed as The Magnolia, although its official name remains the Magnolia Performing Arts Center.