by Ross Moore
It was on a weekday morning of early 2010 when I walked into a Starbucks in Clairemont and first met Veronica Graciano. I had recently moved to San Diego from Kentucky and was exploring an idea for a music project. New to San Diego and not knowing anyone, or for that matter much of anything about the local scene, I wasn’t sure where to go or what to do. But I had seen a copy of the Troubadour, so I thought, “well that could be a good place to start,” so I contacted Liz Abbott. Liz suggested I talk to Allen Singer, president of the San Diego Folk Society. Allen, in turn, told me that Veronica was a person I should definitely meet. I will forever be indebted to Liz and Allen, for I truly had no idea what was lay ahead.
Before I explain further let’s go back a few more months. In the fall of 2009 I had been asked by Jose Aponte, Director of the San Diego County Library, to work on developing new community partnerships that would help bring more programs to his libraries, especially in light of the growing recession and the decrease of funding for such programs. Not long after I found myself spending a few hours at SDCL Headquarters pouring through several binders of collected evaluation forms that had been completed by library patrons across the county. I quickly discovered that many people were asking for more music programs, especially local music. As music was my first love I was easily motivated to try and find out if something could be done to meet this demand. As it turned out all it took was a couple of phone calls and I was on my way.
My original vision was to create an opportunity for folks much like myself, those looking for a chance to play their music, but something beyond the typical open-mike night. I knew there wouldn’t be much money to support this effort so I didn’t even bother to consider anything larger in scope. But then Allen firmly instructed me, “You have to pay something”. With that edict in mind I sent out a survey to the 33 branches of the San Diego County Library asking if any of their Friends of the Library groups might be interested in supporting a series of local music programs. Fortunately for fans of local music, several branches came back with positive responses. Next thing I knew I was walking into Starbucks with a bigger and better idea.
Veronica had also come to the San Diego music scene somewhat by accident. One night she had the opportunity to hear Joe Rathburn perform. Immediately becoming a fan, and then a friend, a series of conversations led to the creation of eliteAudience, based on her new-found passion to bring live music to as many people as she could. Neither Veronica nor I realized when we first met that we had a shared vision, and certainly at first we were not completely sure exactly what shape that vision could take. But we hit it off immediately, and I walked out of that first meeting with a new-found excitement, my head swirling with ideas for what we just might be able to accomplish. That very afternoon, during an organized community walk to promote another new library partnership, I strode the hills and neighborhoods around the Vista Library with Director Aponte, sharing my ideas and my excitement. He immediately encouraged me to continue my efforts (turns out 25 years earlier he had created a music series at the first library in which he had worked). From that moment on he has been more than supportive, believing that providing free quality entertainment to the families of San Diego County is a vital part of SDCL’s mission.
The next day Veronica invited me to concert she was promoting that following weekend featuring among others Larry Robinson, who became a friend and supporter of our project until his tragic death. A couple of weeks later I attended one of Joe Rathburn’s Folkey Monkey shows, with his guest Gregory Page. Needless to say, after those two experiences I had a real understanding of just how rich the San Diego music scene was. After a follow-up survey to the branches I began to finalize a schedule that included a couple of preview shows in March to be held in the temporary storefront library in Fallbrook (the new library on the hill above was still under construction) and then an official opening concert on Friday, April 24, 2010., to be held at the Solana Beach Library. Keyboardist John Foltz played that first preview show for an audience of no more than 10 people, followed a couple of weeks later by long-time San Diego singer and songwriter Lisa Sanders. A few more folks showed up. And then finally the official kick-off arrived, with about a hundred people listening as Joe Rathburn opened the new series, followed by Carlos Olmeda, and finally the band Folding Mr. Lincoln. At the suggestion of one of the librarians the new series was christened the San Diego County Library Acoustic Showcase. Simple, yet exactly right. But still, with only about one concert scheduled each month for the rest of 2010 we had no real idea of what was still to come.
A few months later I sent out another survey to determine if there would be enough support to continue the new series. The result, thankfully, was that I have never needed to send out another! Branches in El Cajon, Encinitas, Fallbrook, Poway and Rancho San Diego quickly signed on to host regular monthly shows. A year later, Lemon Grove, Vista and San Marcos joined in. Addition locations scheduled occasional shows as well, with a result that 21 branches have held at least one show along the way. From Imperial Beach to Fallbrook, from Del Mar to Jacumba, local music fans have enjoyed great performances all across San Diego County.
I decided that we needed to bring on new partners, and being from Kentucky and with a real love of bluegrass and folk music, I approached Dwight Worden with the San Diego Bluegrass Society and once again, Allen Singer with the San Diego Folk Society. Both were as enthusiastic as Veronica had been and quickly signed on. Unfortunately we tragically lost Allen a few months later but we have continued to include folk music. A particular highlight was our special concert at the Poway Library on Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday, where we joined communities all around the world in celebrating the life and music of “America’s greatest folk singer.” And bluegrass remains a vital component of the series, now approaching 20 shows a year. A very special thank you to the San Diego Bluegrass Society: they not only schedule all the great bands for us but provide a subsidy as well.
Our focus has and always will be on local music, but occasionally we have had the opportunity to branch out. We have twice hosted “mini-tours” by an amazing Norwegian singer, Marjit Vinjerui (you never know when you’re going to get an email from a guy named Bjorn from thousands of miles away!). And last year we brought world-class fiddler Mari Black to several libraries. These were very special programs, but again, our mission remains to bring some of San Diego’s best local musicians to our libraries for free concerts in great listening spaces. And to date we have featured upwards of 100 different singers and bands at over 360 shows and counting. Jeff Berkley, the Lovebirds, Peter Bolland, Gregory Page, Chris Clarke and Plow, the Yes Team, Lisa Sanders, Joe Rathburn, Virtual Strangers, Nathan James, Jim Hinton, Erika Davies, Gone Tomorrow, Suzanne Harper, and the list just goes on and on and on. So much great talent, so many great shows! Along the way we picked up a National Association of County Governments award, and now proudly present close to 100 free concerts each year. While I can’t prove it, I can’t imagine that there is another library system in the country that provides as much local music as does San Diego County Library!
From the very beginning the San Diego County Library Acoustic Showcase has operated as a “community partnership” and we always will. It begins with our two main partners, eliteAudience and the San Diego Bluegrass Society, who book the performers. Financial support is provided by our wonderful Friends of the Library groups. Then there is the SDCL staff, and the performers who share their immense talent, willingly for less compensation than they undoubtedly deserve. And last, but far from least, our audiences, who continue to come out and express their support for what we are doing by attending the shows. From the beginning we have averaged right at 50 attendees per show, with a total audience that will reach 18,000 this summer. It indeed takes everyone, truly a community effort, to make all of this possible.
And now it is time to celebrate. On Saturday, April 25, beginning at 1:30, we will be holding our fifth anniversary concert at the beautiful Encinitas Library. Just as he did five years ago, Joe Rathburn will open the show. Then after a break to enjoy some celebratory cake, the band Journeyman will take the stage, with nothing less than the Pacific Ocean as their backdrop! I want to personally thank Liz, Allen (I know you’re up there listening), Dwight, all the musicians, and everyone else who has made the last five years so successful. And of course a very, very big thank you to Veronica Graciano, my true “partner in crime!” Besides for arranging our wonderful performers she also maintains a great website with the complete schedule and samples and info on many of the artists, at www.sdcls.homestead.com.
Finally, we want to invite everyone to be at the Encinitas Library to help us celebrate what we have accomplished in the last five years. But most importantly, come and enjoy some live local music in a great listening environment. Because that’s what the San Diego County Library Acoustic Showcase is all about, and hopefully will continue to be for many years to come!