By Simone Goldstone | Soundcheck Columnist
It was a year of challenges, a year of adjustments, a year of finding ways to keep live music alive.
As we collectively came together in 2020 to practice being apart, music was left scrambling with how to salvage their sudden loss of in-person audiences.
Despite the chaos and tumult, Newport Beach had outstanding musical highlights. I applaud the organizers and artists who navigated the ever-changing circumstances to make these events possible. Art is and has always been a reflection of its current time, and as we recap drive-in concerts and a digital film festival, we see this year is monumental representation of the zeitgeist.
In August, local band Pinch Me! played a benefit concert at Campus Jax in Newport Beach for their charity Feed the Need. While venues struggled and relied on food services to see them through, Campus Jax made use of their fabulous new outdoor dining area called the Sunset Stage. The first wave of socially distanced outdoor concerts began.
Pioneering shows with strict safety measures in place, Campus Jax continued hosting local bands, such as After the Millennials, a promising and talented group made up of two sets of twins. The family band took to the stage later that month with a song inspired by Covid isolation called “Make Believe.”
The Side Deal, a Newport fan-favorite supergroup comprised of members from the noted bands Train, Sugar Ray, and the Pawnshop Kings, gave a memorable and lively living-room style show at Bayside Restaurant’s new tented patio. They filled the atmosphere with carefree and nostalgic hits such as “Fly,” “Every Morning,” and “Someday,” along with original songs such as “Ghosts” and “Burn the Ships.”
The event was hosted by Irvine Barclay Theatre and combined the best of both worlds: great food and amazing music. Cocktails, desserts, and five-star fare was served throughout the intimate and extremely enjoyable afternoon show.
The OC Fair Grounds did a fantastic job of using drive-in concerts as a solution for live music. I was glad to see Orange County be a vanguard of this new concert viewing trend.
In October I attended a Queen cover band show by the incredible Queen Nation. The laser lightshows brought the stage to life. Watching from the comfort of our cars, in our chosen quarantine pods, each attendee was transported back to Queen’s heyday. Each band member imitated their respective counterparts flawlessly, accents and all. We were able to dance in front of our cars or stay cozy in our seats.
A nod to drive-in movies, the retro effect made the event all the more endearing. I didn’t mind the drive-in experience at all, as it felt quite luxurious and private. With practice, I learned how to perfect the art of car concerts.
A highlight of the year was Jefferson Starship’s show at the OC Fair later that month. Now a drive-in veteran, I knew the tricks of the trade, such as parking backwards to allow my group to sit in the open trunk and enjoy some refreshments. As the music picked up, we danced disco-moves in the parking lot, and lived out our 60s, 70s, and 80s concert fantasies with their familiar stadium hits.
These two shows proved that when solutions are needed, they can be found. I hope drive-in concerts continue through 2021, as I found them to be the most enjoyable fix to pre-Covid concerts. I look forward to attending more in the coming year and hope other bands are able to make use of large lots and open stage-spaces. It’s a way for bands to still go on tour, and infinitely better than live streaming from empty venues.
The Newport Beach Film Festival also redesigned their experience by moving their 2020 festival online in October. A perk of the online festival was the ability to pause and re-watch content.
Counting down the hours and minutes until each film was viewable from the comfort of home, I waited for the link to the movie “Stardust” to go live. “Stardust” covered David Bowie’s early tour of America, and his struggle with publicity and identity before forming his Ziggy Stardust persona. Bowie brooded over the schizophrenia that took his brother’s life and his fear of inheriting the ailment himself.
As a Bowie fan, I enjoyed the details and facets of his pre-fame journey, but I did miss the music often included in other biopics.
As part of the film festival’s short film programs, I also enjoyed several music videos such as JONO’s instrumental “North,” a message of conserving natural beauty. The Killer’s guitarist David Keuning featured a music video for “Hope and Safety” which was shot on over 2,000 polaroid photos from NASA. Similarly, Lee Ann Womack’s “Hollywood” was shot with stop-motion and cleverly depicts the disillusion and disenchantment of Los Angeles using dolls to juxtapose real-life images of California scenery.
Art and videos continued to push boundaries and made progress despite the havoc and disruption of last year. More than ever, 2020 showed that art prevails in the face of obstacles, and when needed, the community can come together to make some magic happen.
I look forward to 2021’s artistic triumphs and am proud of our local venues for their love and support of music.