Street Scene Turns 20

September 5-7, 2003

First Appeared at The Music Box, October 2003, Volume 10, #10

Written by Miriam Cronkhite

Photos by Jenn Kane


Street Scene is an amazing way to kiss the southern California summer goodbye. The tradition began in 1984, with events in both May and August on one block of 5th avenue in downtown San Diego. Two stages ó one placed at each end of the street ó featured alternating bands. In 1987, Street Scene ó which added two blocks to form an "L" shaped set-up ó became a once-a-year, multi-stage music festival when Concrete Blonde and the Fabulous Thunderbirds played on opposing stages simultaneously. A year later, Street Scene featured five stages on a single Saturday night. The additional space meant Street Scene could expand the eventís musical horizon. In 1990, a Friday night was necessary, and by 1995 it became a three-day festival with Sunday becoming the day for all-ages events. Street Scene also introduced a variety of food by creating "The Taste of San Diego," featuring specialties from some of San Diegoís best culinary experts.

Cypress Hill at San Diego Street Scene in 2003

This yearís Street Scene, which was held on September 5-7, boasted three days of colorful Brazil Carnivals, and great food, amazing sights, and expensive drinks flooded the streets of San Diegoís Gaslamp/East Village district. The first two days included some adult activities such as the Drag Show Cabaret, pseudo gambling, and an all-access pass for alcohol.

Saturday was the peak of the event with 35,000 in attendance. Highlights of the line-up included The B-52s, Arrested Development, G. Love & Special Sauce, and 311, but the award for the most engaging performance goes to Cypress Hill.

The B-52s emitted enough energy to light up the entire crowd with their mystical instruments and synchronized moves. Fans mouthed every word as everyone danced, caught up in their "own private Idaho" right in the heart of San Diego.

DJ Machete X complimented Arrested Developmentís hip-hop explosion on the City Beat stage. From the American brotherhood vibe during Sly Stoneís Everyday People to the reggae/pop/rock music of a band with no social boundaries, Arrested Development was a welcome contribution to the sound spectrum.

The city blocks vibrated with variety and music. Colorful parades danced to world beats, and as this sound faded out, infectious dance mixes faded in. DJs and light shows attracted festival-goers who still had the motivation to groove.

In the meantime, Cypress Hill sparked the crowd. Fans swarmed, and the band gave life to its many recognizable raps. The performers ignited a newfound energy and filled the open air with a powerful force. Unfortunately, people became more hostile as the crowd grew drunk and irritable, and by the time 311 rocked the party, the front of the stage was no place to be.

Sunday was a mellow alternative to Saturdayís chaos, and the third day of the event seemed to be more organized in every aspect. The drunks were caged in the beer gardens, which sold Karl Straussís microbrews, Cuervo margaritas, Captain Morgan rum punches, and Smirnoff cocktails. The younger crowd ventured out to see Bad Religion, Macy Gray, R.E.M., and the remaining members of the Sex Pistols, among others. The 20,000 onlookers seemed to be more subdued and maybe a little exhausted, some having survived Friday and Saturdayís exploits.

Macy Gray took the stage in the afternoon, asking everyone to "introduce yourself" to one another. Gray was graceful, soulful, and inspirational. Fans of all ages connected to the songs from her new album (The Trouble with Being Myself) and related to favorites that have touched lives.

As the sun started to set, a visual R.E.M. burst onto the scene with a warm welcome from the crowd. The song list spanned the last few decades, and Michael Stipe was true to his own unique motions. It wasnít the "end of the world," but it was apparent that everyone felt fine!

The event closed with a band that had the ability to revive the dead. Johnny Rotten, age 50, led the animated Sex Pistols in a dynamic set. In true spirit of the band, they told off their record company and performed Anarchy in the UK with immense drive and commitment to the art of rebellion.

After 20 years, Street Scene has evolved into a melting pot of punk, jazz, Latin, alternative, rock, blues, reggae, folk, pop, dance, hip-hop, soul ó virtually every kind of music on the planet. For $45/day attendees had access to approximately 60 food vendors, 10 arts & crafts vendors, 90 bands on nine stages, and people of all walks of life. Itís hard to imagine what the 21st birthday bash will entail, but given the eventís track record, itís sure to be quite a worthwhile endeavor.


Copyright © 2003 The Music Box