AMSD: 8 ½ Years, Over 400 Shows, and Still Just a Labor of Love

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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 8 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.

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Carey Driscoll is a San Diego treasure. He 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 told me. “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 in a music store in El Cajon. Next, he did a few in 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.”

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Throughout its eight and a half 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. And 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.”

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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 told me that “the acoustics in this room are as good as any we play across the country.”

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Thankfully, Carey Driscoll loves music. And thankfully, 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 fine sounding music and performances.

Here’s a look at the AMSD lineup for the next few months:

  • Gretchen Peters- Feb 3
  • Chuck Pyle and Tom Chapin- Feb 10
  • Cris Williamson- Feb 18
  • Blame Sally- March 3
  • Cheryl Wheeler- March 15
  • Ian Tyson- March 21
  • Lori McKenna- March 25
  • David Wilcox- March 29
  • Tom Paxton- April 1

For information and tickets contact:
AMSD Concert Series

3 Responses to AMSD: 8 ½ Years, Over 400 Shows, and Still Just a Labor of Love
  1. [...] Blame Sally – AMSD Concerts Normal Heights – Want to see a show at San Diego’s most intimate setting? This church in Normal Heights has been hosting great shows for years, and the acoustics in there are one of a kind. Carey Driscoll gave us the run down about the shows he puts on at AMSD. You can find that here. [...]

  2. Rick
    February 7, 2012 | 4:28 am

    I agree, that’s what prompted me to do the article. This man is committed to the music and it is inspiring. Can’t say it enough-if you haven’t been here for a show you are missing out!!!

  3. Lafe Dutton
    February 6, 2012 | 8:35 pm

    I live in San Diego 4 months of the year, and Carey’s AMSD’s concert series is one of the major draws to the area for me. Perfect sound and a perfectly quiet environment with a respectful audience and staff. I worked for record companies and have attended concerts around the world: none better than what I’ve heard at AMSD, and most of them couldn’t match AMSD on any level.

    Very grateful to Carey and his staff, and the artists who so clearly love playing there.

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