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San Diego’s Casbah Celebrates 25 Years Of Music

Photo caption:

Photo credit: rubyshoes / Flickr

The Casbah is located on the corner of Kettner and Laurel in San Diego.


Tim Mays, Owner, The Casbah


A red building decorated with flames and a funky Aladdin lamp-looking sign is not only become a San Diego landmark, but it's now a long-term legend in local music history: The Casbah on the corner of Kettner and Laurel marks its 25th anniversary this month.

Through the years, the club has booked international acts like No Doubt, Nirvana and Alanis Morissette while becoming a right-of-passage venue for countless local bands.

Owner Tim Mays is stepping into the spotlight — briefly — this month to celebrate this milestone in a show at The Birch North Park Theatre called "25 Years of the Casbah."

A month of concerts is also scheduled throughout January featuring many of the local rock bands who got their start at the Casbah.

The City of San Diego is officially declaring Jan. 14 "Casbah Day."

Interview Highlights

How did the Casbah get started?

Me and a couple friends use to own the Pink Panther which used to be a beer and wine bar and we got the opportunity to purchase another bar that was for sale and we decided we'd buy it and make it a live music venue. We started with the original idea of doing R&B and Roots music something more mellow than rock because we'd have backgrounds as punk rock promoters and we were tired of it. For the first few months we had local rockabilly bands, swing, jazz bands. We started getting calls from agents from rock bands who wanted to play and we started booking them and the next thing you know we started doing 7 nights a week.

Where does the name "Casbah" come from?

My partner Bob Bennett grew up in Pittsburgh and when he was a teenager there, there was a club called the Casbah. So he kinda came up with the name.

What are some of most memorable shows?

The old Casbah, Nirvana played there. I missed the show, I was out of town. A week later, Smashing Pumpkins played there. That was an epic show and put the place on the map. Then, moving into the new club in 94' Morphine played there. And then Cult and Weezer, Rocket from the Crypt. I can go on and on.

What is it like to own a club?

Running your own business, your always on call. That's the downside but that's with any business. Running a music club is great. There's no other feeling like it, it's like putting on a giant party for 200 people and everybody is having a great time. There's nothing like it.

Is supporting local music one of your big commitments?

Local bands are the bread and butter of the club, a lot of the touring acts that come through don't draw enough people, maybe they're just starting out and they're on tour. We've always wanted to cultivate local bands. Our goal is to have a local band start playing there and get them to where they could headline the club and maybe even do two nights.

What gets you excited about a band?

I'll listen to big band music, jazz old 60's stuff new stuff I like rock. A great catchy song that's what I like.

You book shows at different venues under Casbah presents, doesn't that give you a big influence in the acts that get booked in San Diego?

We’re a small club we hold 200 people. As those acts continue to grow and get bigger we've forged relationships with other venues in town to where we could go book that band into that venue. I think last year we did 30 plus shows at the Belly Up and 15 or so at the House of Blues. And we 're doing a lot of shows at Soda Bar which is a smaller club but it gives us a little overflow because we have a lot of bands come through. It also helps fill the calendars for those clubs.

How influential do you think the club has been when it comes to the San Diego music scene?

I'm always very humble in those matters, we've been doing it for a long time and our philosophy has always been: treat the bands and fans the way you want to be treated if you went somewhere and I think that's helped nurture it. And we've had so many bands come through and build their careers.

What is the local music scene lacking?

We do a lot of indie rock but that's what we built our thing on, we try to branch out and do other things. There's a thriving coffee house scene acoustic and folk stuff, there are certain clubs that do metal, we don't do a lot of either one of those. I think there are plenty of clubs and bands. I think if it's lacking anything its that there are too many other things to do so people don't go out as often as they might in another city. And maybe the city could be more supportive of music in town like somewhere like Austin and Los Angeles are very supportive of local musical scenes.

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