AMSD: ONE OF SAN DIEGO’S MOST UNIQUE VENUES CELEBRATES 10 YEARS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hats off to AMSD (Acoustic Music San Diego)  as it celebrates its 10 year anniversary this month! One of San Diego’s most unique concert venues is housed at the Normal Heights United Methodist Church and is the love child of Carey Driscoll. Here’s an interview I did with Carey last year where he talks about how this all came together, why he works so hard at this, and what keeps him and the church rocking after all these years.

When I walked in, Carey was digging through a box of cords. A lighting rig was causing static in a monitor and he was going through a list of possible culprits. It’s two hours before show time at the Acoustic Music San Diego (AMSD) Concerts series and though Carey has been putting on concerts for over eight years, not much has changed. Other than a handful of faithful volunteers who help out during each show, he still does the marketing, booking, coordinating, stage set up, and sound.

“It started as a labor of love; I didn’t know that it was going to be so much damn labor,” he chuckled as he took a moment before sound check to talk to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the last ten years, Carey Driscoll  has rescued the ears and hearts of fans of bluegrass, gypsy jazz, and acoustic music by bringing artists to town when no one else would.

“I blame the internet,” he said matter-of-factly. “As I got on to fan discussion groups, started talking to people, one of the things I found out was about all these artists across the country that never came to San Diego. And after a while, I got real tired of waiting for all my favorite artists to come to town. There wasn’t a venue here that was offering these artists deals that were attractive to them. So, I decided to put together some shows.”

His first show was at a music store in El Cajon. Next, he did a few at a community center in Normal Heights before moving in January 2004 to the Normal Heights United Methodist Church. The venue, like no other in San Diego, comes with a charm, warmth, and even a smell that is perfect for a night of intimate music. The bandstand is set up on the altar and the audience sits in the pews that are lined with red velvet cushions.

“I wanted to create an exception to what other live venues have become: people talking during the performance, especially during intimate performances; people holding up cell phones, taping or taking pictures. That doesn’t happen here.”

Throughout its ten years of existence, AMSD has amassed a long and impressive list of performers including The Byrds’ Chris Hillman, Judy Collins, Richie Havens, Dave Alvin, Country Joe McDonald, Janis Ian, Tom Russell, Graham Parker, Fairport Convention, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and Billy Joe Shaver, to name a few.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“It amazes me that some of these artists, with the stature they have in the industry, some of them for 40 plus years, have never played in San Diego before,” Carey said. “When I contacted Geoff Muldaur who played one of the earliest shows, probably our fifth, he thought I was playing a joke on him. He asked me, ‘Who are you, and which one of my friends put you up to this, because no one has ever booked me to play in San Diego before.’ And after all these years, I feel I pretty much have exhausted the people that I wanted to book. In some cases, I thought there was no chance in hell of getting them booked into a 250 seat venue. But I did. I never dreamed I could get Al Kooper. It never really occurred to me that I could book him, but I got up the nerve to ask him and he said sure.”

It’s easy to see why these artists agree to book with Carey and come to San Diego and play the church. Tonight’s artists, Elephant Revival, an indie acoustic quintet from Colorado, were returning to AMSD for their second time because of their love of the venue. Guitarist Dango Rose enthused, “The acoustics in this room are as good as any we play across the country.”

Thankfully, Carey Driscoll loves music. And moreover, he loves what he does. “I could have model trains, fly kites, or take up some other hobby, but this is my hobby.”

His AMSD concert series is a rare find these days. With no corporate sponsors, Ticketmaster, Live Nation, or very much help overall, Carey has created a concert series in Normal Heights that worships the intricacies of sound and musical performances–a focus that is so often an elusive and valuable commodity in today’s industry.

 

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