San Diego Music - Casbah

The San Diego Music Scene: Venues, Bands, and Festivals That Started it All

The San Diego Music Scene: Venues, Bands, and Festivals That Started it AllSan Diego is a city rich with culture. In particular, the San Diego music scene is especially vibrant and varied, with a number of famous artists, venues, and festivals drawing people to the city. From heavy metal to eclectic rock to opera and everything in between, the San Diego music scene features a wide range of genres, making it easy for anyone to find something they enjoy.

Beyond these well-known and current figures and places, the San Diego music scene is also steeped in a rich musical history. Continue reading to learn more…

A Brief History of the San Diego Music Scene

The San Diego music scene has been steadily growing and evolving for many decades, from the opera and big band music of the early 1900s to today’s more eclectic mix. The ’60s in particular were a definitive turning point for San Diego, as several influential bands turned the city into a place to watch for up-and-coming musicians.

Out of the many music events that took place in the 1960s, one stands out: the formation of Iron Butterfly. The band formed in San Diego in 1966 before having their first national hit with “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”, and are known for their unique sound that paved the way for hard rock music.

The 1970s also saw a great deal of progress, especially with the change in popular music. However, of marked importance in this decade was the introduction of Tom Waits. Now renowned as a musician, in 1972 he was simply the doorman at a San Diego club. However, with his first album “Closing Time”, which came out the following year, Waits lifted himself into his now storied career.

In the 1980s, the San Diego music scene exploded with several new festivals and the introduction of The Casbah, arguably the city’s most famous venue.

The Casbah: San Diego’s Iconic Venue

Though The Clash’s famous song “Rock the Casbah” was not inspired by the San Diego club, this venue certainly stands out within the San Diego music scene. Originally built in 1989, the Casbah quickly found a strong following of locals and musicians, hosting notable bands like Nirvana and the Smashing Pumpkins. The club is renowned for hosting both world-class musicians (including MGMT, No Doubt, Ben Harper, and Arcade Fire), and local artists looking to make it big.

 In 2014, the Casbah celebrated 25 years of operation. And though its owner, Tim Mays, has been humble in the past when discussing the Casbah’s influence on the San Diego music scene, it’s impact is undeniable. In fact, the city of San Diego even declared January 14 to be “Casbah Day”. Its location near downtown is an iconic piece of San Diego real estate.

Songs and Music Dedicated to the City

With the number of renowned musicians that have come from San Diego, in addition to those that weren’t born here but have come to love the city, it is no surprise that several artists have idolized the city through their songs.

One of the most notable is “Where the Turf Meets the Surf” by Bing Crosby. Written in commemoration of the opening of the Del Mar racetrack, the song is short but straightforward, describing the simplistic nature of what Crosby hoped the racetrack and city would be for visitors and residents.

Another notable song that features San Diego is Bruce Springsteen’s “Balboa Park,” named for the 1,200-acre park in San Diego that boasts hiking and biking trails, museums, theaters, and the San Diego Zoo. The song takes on a somber feel, as at the time the park was plagued by a string of criminal activities, from vandalism and theft to murder; thankfully, the park has cleaned up since then.

Perhaps one of the more well-known musicians who has highlighted San Diego is Eric Clapton with his 2006 album titled “The Road to Escondido”. Nominated for a Grammy in 2007, the album doesn’t feature songs dedicated specifically to San Diego, so much as embody the feeling of the city, as Clapton and JJ Cale, Clapton’s collaborator for the album, both had ties to the city.

With such a vibrant music scene, many people have taken the step to begin learning music themselves. If you are considering learning how to play, taking private music lessons with a qualified professional teacher is a great first step. Who knows – you might be the next big San Diego musician to make it big!



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Photo by Roebot

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