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Roundtable: San Diego's packed summer schedule as pandemic restrictions fade

 June 3, 2022 at 12:00 PM PDT

S1: This week on Roundtable. It's all about getting back to normal this summer , at least when it comes to the big events that helped shape San Diego , Comic-Con , live music theater , the Fair and Pride. They all had to scale back over the last couple of years , but now it's full steam ahead. We're looking at what's back and what's new in 2022. I'm Matt Hoffman and this is KPBS roundtable. It's a busy time of year here in San Diego as the end of the school year nears and summer vacations are beginning. That's why this week we're taking a step back from the news and focusing on what's fun in our area. To do that , we have three local reporters who have covered it all over the years. Julia Dixon Evans reports on the Arts for KPBS. And she also produces the popular KPBS Arts newsletter. George Varga is the longtime music critic for the San Diego Union-Tribune. And M.G. Perez is here. He's our education reporter here at KPBS. Thank you all so much for being here. We're going to start with something that's in the paper this week. George , you have a four page spread in the U-T that previews this summer's live music headliners. Before we ask you who you're looking forward to seeing , could you sort of set the stage for us here ? You know , we have the live touring industry.
S2: There are more people touring now than ever before. But concomitantly , you have more people continuing to get COVID. So in the past two weeks , everybody from Animal Collective and Eric Clapton and The Strokes have all canceled performances because they've come down with COVID , Pearl Jam , likewise. So kind of like we're beyond it and we're not beyond that. By way of noting how many different live music opportunities people have. I wrote out a little thing here on June 18. You could go to either Bob Dylan at the Civic Theatre , Sarah McLaughlin at Humphreys , Slipknot and Cypress Hill at Northern Credit Union Amphitheatre , the 16th annual Switchfoot Pro-Am at Moonlight Beach. Joy No that some at Soma and modern Eng was at the Casbah and more. I mean , I could go on , but all that in one evening. And then you multiply that really going into September , far more than any human being will be able to to undertake this weekend.
S1: Tears for Fears is playing in Chula Vista. The calendar is also filling up for major venues , including Petco Park and the new Rady Shell.
S2: I'm afraid there are there are plenty. And , you know , we're lucky to live where we do. And that Elton John is at Petco Park on November 9th on the farewell tour that I thought I reviewed in 2019 when he played here. But the tour kept getting bigger and bigger. And if we take Petco Park , they are having more happening in 2022 than in any year in their history. Specifically , Red Hot Chili Peppers will be the group of them will be there. Def Leppard with Motley Crue Bad Bunny becoming the only performer ever to do two back to back performances at Petco Park and then Elton John. And that's one venue. And then radio show will be opening up the dome. Our fair will be opening up. Really , I think people have will have more than ever before to to pick from. And that is both a good thing and a bad thing.
S1: Julia , let's bring you into this live music conversations. We know that there's touring headliners , but there's also locally produced festivals. And one of those starting soon is mainly Mozart. And then next month , the La Hoya Music Society's Summer Fest.
S3: That's the All Star Orchestra Festival. They're bringing in concert masters and principal musicians from all across the country , from major orchestras. So things like the first violin and the first clarinet from different orchestras and mainly Mozart was also the first organization to perform live music for an in-person audience during the pandemic. They did these super popular Free Drive-In shows at the fairground. They continue those into 2021 , and they also started doing it kind of like a picnic pod style seating for their shows. They're doing that this year as well. That mainly Mozart All-Star Festival starts next weekend and it runs through the 18th. That's at the Surf Cup Sports Park , La Jolla Music Festival , Summer Fest. That is at their concert space. That's indoors. It's called the Conrad , and that runs for about a month starting at the end of July. There's chamber music , jazz , opera , even dance. And these are things that attract composers , musicians from all over the world. There's a lot of living composers , too , including our residents , and kind of a take over from Caroline Shaw , who is one of my favorite composers. So that's something that's on my list for the summer.
S1: And we'll talk more about live music in just a moment. But let's touch on something else that's already underway. We're talking. About Pride. And Maggie , you were there Thursday morning for the raising of the pride flag that happened over in University Heights.
S4: And that flag is the one that represents more than just the rainbow colors. There is an affiliation for the transgender community and also for people of color. And that is the flag that for the first time this year was a raised in front of the San Diego Unified Education Center. And so if I was to put a name on the vibe of the event , this year was about safety. Safety not only for students who identify as LGBTQ , but also just safety in general.
S1: Pride Month is in June and there's plenty to celebrate , including the reopening of the LGBT center. MJ You covered that recently.
S4: They offer a lot of services to the community , not only the LGBTQ community , but immigrant community , HIV community and so forth. But for the most part , it was shut down for two years , which meant no in-person services. But now , as of June 1st , on Wednesday , that they have moved into the next phase of their reopening , which will mean counseling , in-person sessions , support groups meeting in-person and just a lot more activity in the new , by the way , renovated center , which includes an incredible welcoming lobby and other improvements that have been made throughout the facility.
S1: We're talking about big events that are returning to San Diego this summer now that we're sort of in a better place with the pandemic. And there's a lot to look forward to. Let's turn over to the performing arts and the theater for a bit. KPBS arts reporter Julia Dixon Evans is one of our guests. And Juliet , you have your eye on the Shakespeare Festival. It's happening later this summer. How does that fit into the old Globe's summer schedule ? Right.
S3: That's at the outdoor festival stage at the Globe. They're doing two productions. The first is Taming of the Shrew , which starts on Sunday , and that runs through July. Up until July 10th , I think. And then beginning July 31st , they're going to do a midsummer Night's Dream. That's directed by Patricia McGregor. I don't know about anybody else , but I watched Station 11 , the the series recently , and a lot of that revolves around these like beautiful outdoor productions of Shakespeare plays. And so I am really looking forward to seeing some some Shakespeare outdoors under twinkling lights. And after that , I think it was a month ago , the Loggia Playhouse with their Without Walls Festival. I'm just really into outdoor theater now. It's proven to be a really great opportunity here in San Diego.
S1: And Maggie , another theater event that's already underway is the Fringe Festival. We've had some coverage of it here on KPBS. You may have heard it.
S4: And about four years ago , I joined the committee that organizes the San Diego International Fringe Festival. Of course , we have been shut down for the last two years because of COVID. But we are back currently at Balboa Park in two locations , the puppet theater in the central building that is right off Park Boulevard primarily. My official title is on air online media director , which is a fancy way of saying , I need to get the word out as best I can. And thanks to Beth ACCOMANDO , who is the best in the business. We are getting lots of coverage. And she is helping to spread the word about this great festival , which is international. We actually have acts from Japan , from Great Britain , from South America , along with some great outside the box performers , if you will , locally and from across the U.S..
S3: So venues that lifted their mask requirement are re-enacting them. Cygnet Theater is one and they're actually kind of a leader in COVID attendance requirements. They they were one of the first venues to ask for your proof of vaccination , and they recently announced that they were going to be doing a masks night. So that's for people who would only want to go to see the theater if everybody else in the theater was wearing a mask. But they've since just the end of last week , they since said that all of their performances require masks. We've seen a couple of COVID outbreaks among casts. 86 at the diversion area. They had to cancel a few shows. And so they have added shows to the end of the run. And that's a theater , the diversity that they have always had a mask requirement. Other theaters like the La Hoya Playhouse , they're based at UC San Diego , so they have to follow UC San Diego's rules. And Lamplighter is community theater moxy , San Diego Junior Theater. They all require masks at some of the bigger ones , like Broadway , San Diego , The Old Globe and Moonlight Theater , which is outdoors anyway. They're not requiring masks just now , so I'll be watching them to see if they offer something like a mask up night or do do some sort of changes as cases continue to rise.
S2: In New York , I believe all Broadway productions were going to in their mandate for masking in May , and now they extended it a little while back till the end of June. I think today it was announced that almost famous , which began at the Old Globe and written by San Diego native Cameron. Crow there today announced that they would open , I believe , October 11th on Broadway. But I think it's worth noting they were going to open in 2020 and then in 2021 and then earlier in 2022. And so it's going to tie everything together in that. I noted earlier that there are more concert tours going on than ever. And so the supply the supply chain issue there is not only for equipment but for people to make all of that run in the two year one and a half year period to tell music. Live music began last summer. A lot of those people left the industry altogether. And that holds true for theater as well. And I know the Old Globe expressed concern that they might lose people who had been there for decades operating the lighting or in the costume department , whatever. So in the concert industry , they're having a real problem getting enough people to make all these tours work because normally they would be spaced out more. Now you've got all these tours that had kind of been backed up and all happening concurrently , and they're really having difficulty finding people to the point that there have been not only concerts but entire festivals that have had to postpone because they didn't have enough staffing to put them on.
S4: I wanted to say that officially Fringe is not requiring anyone to wear a mask , but we are strongly suggesting that you do wear a mask. Some of our performances are outdoors , but primarily they're in the two indoor venues at Balboa Park. If you don't have a mask , we have plenty to give you. So we are trying to do the best for our patrons and our artists in keeping them safe , hoping that by next year , Fringe 2023 will be mask free.
S1: You're listening to KPBS Roundtable. And this week we're talking about the return of big summer events to San Diego now that most COVID restrictions are fading away. Our guests this week are KPBS reporters Julia Dixon , Evans and M.G. Perez. We also have Union-Tribune music critic George Varga here. Let's pivot a little bit and spend a few minutes on some family focused events. For the first time since 2019 , the county fair is full steam ahead. It opens really soon on June 8th. And that means fair concerts are back. And George , we know that the fair and it's musical acts , they typically draw thousands of people.
S2: I think that would be determined by how eager and hungry people are to go back. And the fair has made it more economical. Up through 2019 , they had a number of ticket options , including a VIP dinner option. And this year , nearly every concert , it's a flat fee or free with your fair admission. I would be remiss not to note that what they've announced that the lineup now and that is the bulk of it amazingly to me does not have a single female headliner. And I think that would take a bit of doing and in this day and age , not being able to bring in a few. The lineup is more middle of the road than ever. The fair typically is I mean , they're not trying to bring in the soda borrower cards for what used to be the bar paying before it went under audience. So they do a good job in that middle of the road area. But frankly , there's nothing that really excites me about what they have lined up.
S1: And I know nothing excites Jorge for this year's lineup , but does anybody have a favorite music memory from the fair over the years ? And I could start. I know I don't if it's a favorite , but I remember going in college to a fifth Harmony show at the fair with a couple of my buddies just to see it. But.
S2: I've been to more fair concerts than I can recall trying to think. I mean , my favorite memory we go to , we didn't happen Pearl Jam , we're going to play at the fair. They were in a big battle with Ticketmaster at the time and the fair with a non Ticketmaster venue at the time no longer in. And then that concert at the last moment didn't happen. So that that's not really answering your question you're the go to serve on the great jazz singer was performing and apparently no one informed anybody that there was like an international mock convention going on. And it's like you almost couldn't see Sarah Vaughan because , you know , it was like a sci fi movie with , you know , what seemed like a thousand mobs. And she kept , you know , constantly trying to get them away. They were going into her mouth. She was an incredible trooper to get through the whole performance and so on was amazing. Regardless , I'd heard her in a non mouth invasion concert prior to that , so that would be one memorable one for me.
S3: I was like super influential for teen teen.
S2: Me Yeah. Lilith Fair the first time I came to San Diego with that fair and that was a pretty amazing lineup. Sarah McLaughlin obviously headlined and the Indigo Girls were on the bill and then they all came out at the end and the fair. I can count on one hand a number of festivals that they've ever had as part of the fair or part of the Grandstand series. And so Lilith Fair would be right up there for me and MKG.
S1: We know that families , they're going to be looking for things to do with their kids this summer. You cover education and our schools for KPBS.
S4: The Monarch School is a school in Barrio Logan that has a student population of students who were unhoused , transient , although many of them stay as long as they can. But the reason I bring it up for families is they have just recently opened a new facility about two blocks away from the school , which is an arts facility. They premiered it with an incredible art show with artwork from many of the students themselves. But more importantly , they've got a theater that seats up to 100 people. So that space is going to be used. They're doing theater classes there and and they will actually be having public performances there. It's just a really important new venue that is being added to the community. And so it's the Monarch School that has been with San Diego or part of San Diego for over 30 years. But this is a new , exciting venue that people should really check out this summer.
S1: And another affordable option is this summer's Park Social. It's being put on by the city of San Diego and Juliet. That includes a focus on visual arts.
S3: So there are things all summer long. And this was a pandemic era program that the City of San Diego put on to fund local artists to get money in their pockets and also give them creative outlets. It was announced in May of 2020 , like right after the city arts budget was slashed. The the point really is to get art into parks and to kind of rethink how we look at public spaces and also find contemporary art in surprising ways , especially if if you're someone who is not going to go and seek out contemporary art. And there's a couple of really cool things that most of them I would say all of them are family friendly and they're they're these activations different weekends throughout the summer where you can go and you can learn how to weave blankets out of shirts. At the San Isidro Community Park , Roberto Salas is doing these huge popsicle sculptures in a couple of parks in University City starting the end of this month. One of my favorite things is Bryan and Ryan , this artist duo. They are launching these remote controlled ducks that they made like 48 little ducklings onto Chase Lake , which normally doesn't allow remote controlled anything and to kind of disrupt the night. Natural order of things there. And there's also interactive music installations and sculptures. It's a pretty momentous undertaking and and a great pairing of the outdoors and an art.
S1: And we can't end without talking about the biggest event of them all. This summer , Comic-Con is back in full force. There was a scaled back version last November , but the July event was canceled over the last two years.
S3: There's there's 80 W comics is there. And throughout the small press area and the past places are groups like Tash Works , some local writers , they're all set up there. It's hard to say who will come back after this break. It's not the most cost effective thing for a vendor to go to , to the huge Comic-Con. And what I really love is the stuff that's kind of outside of of the convention , that comic conference for educators and librarians , which is held every year at the San Diego Public Library downtown. We're still waiting on word whether that will be happening this year. But that is always a really great opportunity for teachers , parents , anyone to to learn more about comics and literacy.
S1: Go ahead. Judge.
S2: Judge. I have a quick Comic-Con tip and I recommend it to people going to Coachella as well , which is look at what time the headlining act will go on. And at Comic-Con it would be whatever the big movie role might be that they're going to be talking about with the cast and then head to the opposite end of the Convention Center or Coachella into one of the tents. I forgot who was headlining , but I walked over , got Tent and Saint Vincent before she really broke , was playing to literally 18 people and was phenomenal. And at Comic-Con you could walk into nearly any other room beyond the main hall and sit right up front and hear fascinating people talk about their work.
S1: And Maggie , we know that you've covered Comic-Con. You did a special edition one from an educational perspective.
S4: But what I learned is that there is educational value in comics. When I was there in November , there was a scientist who was talking about developing scientific knowledge and programs through fashion. She actually put on a fashion show and there was educational value on that. There's also somebody else who's working on an app that is educational using comics , and I'm looking forward to see what will be on the agenda this summer because I definitely had a great time and it was only half the show. So we'll see what this year brings.
S1: Well , we definitely did cover a lot of ground here. But I want to ask you all if there's something that we missed or maybe something that you're looking forward to doing this summer or something that you would recommend. Margie , let's start with you here.
S4: Well , I would just say be safe and have fun. We are in this together and there are lots of opportunities that don't cost anything in many cases and definitely come see the fringe. We are open through June the 12th with all kinds of family friendly and also adult content. But guaranteed eye busting , eyeball busting shows is how we like to put it.
S2: Doesn't get a lot of mainstream media coverage either. The fact that you've got 30,000 people a day over two weekends for three days burning up. You hear a lot of reggaeton and Latin trap performers who you're not going to hear on most American media outlets. It's pretty notable , and people have been asking about what will happen with Kaboom. I had an article last week about the owners of Kaboom are now suing the San Diego Padres in an effort purportedly to move back to the dome or a fair fairgrounds. I don't see. Anyway , couple will come back this year , but. But I probably hear from more people. What about Kaboom ? You know ? And so I have no idea what couple. But I will point out Wonder Front will be here in November with more than 80 bands headlined by Gwen Stefani , The Kings of Leon and the Zac Brown Band.
S3: And that's back in person after two years of a virtual and that's August 20th at the University of San Diego at that festival. Just keeps getting better and better , attracting bigger name authors and also having lots of outlets for four local presses as well as local authors.
S1: That's all for this episode of KPBS Roundtable. And I want to thank our guests. Thank you all so much for being here. KPBS reporters Julia Dixon. To Evans and M.G. Perez. We also had Union-Tribune music critic George Varga. A reminder , we're just a few days away from the June primary election. Check out the voter hub at You can help get organized there. There's also the KPBS Roundtable podcast. In fact , our last two episodes are focused on what's on the ballot locally. Thanks so much for joining us this week. Have a great weekend and we'll catch it next week.

A man holds a barbecue turkey leg at the San Diego County Fair. June 11, 2021.
Alexander Nguyen
A man holds a barbecued turkey leg at the San Diego County Fair. June 11, 2021.
Live music, Comic-Con and the San Diego County Fair are among the major events making a full comeback this summer.

KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman hosts a discussion about the return of major events and summer programs after two years of cancellations and scaled-back offerings. Guests include KPBS arts producer and editor Julia Dixon Evans, KPBS education reporter M.G. Perez and The San Diego Union-Tribune music critic George Varga.