It’s like George Harrison sings in “Here Comes The Sun,” a Beatles classic: “The ice is slowly melting.”
While two large festivals, Monterey Jazz and Carmel Bach, have already announced plans to reunite live with fans this fall, and Cali Roots plans to reconvene in May 2022, the spring thaw now shows signs of extending to smaller venues.
Darryl Choates, owner of Deja Blue in Seaside, reopened with socially distant live music six weeks ago. Wednesday is happy hour jazz with vocalist Lee Durley, pianist Scotty Wright, drummer Leon Joyce and bassist Arlington Houston. Thursday karaoke is chased by an R&B DJ on Friday, with blues on Saturday then Sunday reggae with Tony Miles from 3-6pm. Six 75-inch TVs simulcast the music to the outdoor patio, so patrons don’t have to be inside to enjoy the tunes.
Choates first opened his doors on Feb. 20, 2020 after an extensive remodel, only to have to shutter two weeks later. “To have done all of that work only to close right back down was devastating,” he says. The federal Paycheck Protection Program helped him weather the financial storm. “It hasn’t been easy for anyone, but it has been especially hard on the artists,” he adds.
Artists are back at places like Tarpy’s Roadhouse on Highway 68 and Rio Grill in Carmel, which have both been presenting live singer/songwriters Friday through Sunday since the end of April. Midici Pizza in downtown Monterey has live jazz most Thursdays and Sundays. Folktale Winery in Carmel Valley has afternoon sessions with solo artists in its outdoor wine garden daily. So yes, the thaw has begun, with many other venues and operators set to follow suit soon.
But what about actual concerts, with touring bands, lights and large audiences like in the Before Times?
If Monterey’s Golden State Theatre has anything to say about it, it’s right around the corner. Owners Eric and Lori Lochtefeld had been wanting to divest themselves from concert promotion while still retaining their ownership position, and in December 2019 they penned an agreement with Monterey native Ben Bransford to do just that. Bransford chose ukulele legend Jake Shimabukuro as his first salvo, only to have the show get canceled.
“It’s been truly surreal,” Bransford says. “I’ve worked for Lori and Eric for a year-and-a-half now, and I’ve yet to produce my first show.”
Thankfully all that is about to change, since Bransford announced a 14-date season beginning Aug. 20 with comedian Nikki Glaser and ending Dec. 3 with comedian Kathleen Madigan. In between the two stand-up shows is a diverse calendar of musical listings, which includes blues legend Buddy Guy, the smooth jazz of trumpeter Chris Botti and the old-school soul pop of The Temptations, to name a few.
“We’re trying to have something for everyone,” Bransford says. “This 14-show schedule is just a starting point.”