It’s all the Buzz—Queen Bee’s Celebrates Its 10th Anniversary
Queen Bee’s Art and Cultural Center celebrates its 10th anniversary next month with 12 days of special events, including this year’s Beatles Fair. Founded by Alma Rodriguez, aka the Queen Bee, in 2009, today the building at 3925 Ohio St. is not only one of the cornerstones of the North Park’s artists community, it’s also one of San Diego’s most important venues. Its wooden-floored main room is elegant, enough for weddings and quincenieras, though it’s been utilized for everything from poetry slams to swing dances to heavy metal swap meets. The Queen Bee moniker was bestowed to Rodriguez in an early article on her activities in music. It instantly stuck. Queen Bee’s is indeed a hive of activity.
Let it be said, it’s hard to keep up with Alma Rodriguez. A bundle of energy, she’s on the run more often than not, closing deals here and there, but most of the time she multi-tasks from her office. In truth there is never really any “off” time with Rodriguez. In the little moments she can spare from her own projects, Rodriguez can be found out and about, supporting other events and artists. “It’s nice to get out there and meet people,” she said. “You talk and sometimes things happen. But mostly it’s fun going out and I really love music.”
Queen Bee’s Art and Cultural Center itself is a two-room, 250-person capacity venue, with a patio—but things never stay the same for too long. Décor and ambience change as the building transforms from dance studio to wedding reception, burlesque stage to fan convention. There is always something that needs to be done. Sitting in Rodriguez’s office, the phone’s ringing and it’s amazing to watch the steady stream of folks that come in and out, for help, booking, advice, or direction, as Rodriguez calmly guides the various aspects of Queen Bee’s operations. It’s almost Fellini-esque. One gets the feeling that if someone were to mention that there was an elephant in the fountain, no one would question where the elephant, or the fountain, came from, it would just get taken care of.
It’s been a long journey. Rodriguez was born in Puerto Rico, spending time in New York, Los Angeles, and Florida before arriving in San Diego in 1999. It was in Florida that she began promoting music. “What brought me here?” she asked rhetorically. “I was looking for new horizons, new opportunities. San Diego had and has a lot to offer.”
She initially came to the area to work as a reporter for the Spanish language publication, El Informador. She stayed for three years, but her day job was quickly overshadowed by her desire to promote music.
Hot Monkey Love
In 2000, with barely a year spent in San Diego, Rodriguez founded the Hot Monkey Love Café at 6875 El Cajon Blvd. “I saw so much talent out there that I felt needed to be heard, or at least have a place where artists could grow their art,” she said.
She mentions that before deciding on San Diego as her post-Florida home, she had briefly considered Los Angeles. “But I didn’t want to deal with a lot of the hypocrisy from a lot of the industry types there,” she said. “I wanted to deal with real people, in a grassroots way.”
While the local music community embraced Hot Monkey Love, the same could not be said of her neighbors. With up to a dozen bands in a show, limited parking and other issues, numerous complaints were made about the venue. Hot Monkey Love lost its lease in summer 2009. “It was my training ground,” Rodriguez said. “I was able to see what this city is all about and what people were in to. It was an opportunity to get my feet wet in San Diego.”
Rodriguez said that while Hot Monkey Love didn’t work out, “I have a philosophy. There’s the good, the bad, and the ugly. And there are lessons in all of it. I see that venue as very crucial piece of the story. I learned a lot.”
For her new venue, Rodriguez wanted to expand on her work at Hot Monkey Love. “That was about young people, breaking new artists, and promoting new music talent,” she said. “While things may not have gone smoothly, in that way we were a success. We gave a lot of performers a chance to be heard. But with my new place, I wanted to go beyond that and involve all the arts as well as create something that would involve the community. That was my vision.” Going for a broader appeal and broader age group, Rodriguez hit the right notes almost immediately. “There’s been some trial and error, but it was clear to me early on that there really was a need for a venue like this in the area.”
She registered the Queen Bee name on December 12, 2009. “I put down the first and last months rent with deposit and immediately started fundraising,” Rodriguez recalled. “I put on concerts and we took care of things that needed to be taken care of, one item at a time. A lamp that needed fixing, a coat of paint, a bathroom remodel and so on, got taken care of little by little. It took six years to make Queen Bee what it is today. It’s a work in progress, but every step of the way was worth it. I truly believe in good faith. When you make people happy you make yourself happy.”
Rodriguez ended up acquiring the Queen Bee’s building in a roundabout way. An extensive search for a post Hot Monkey Love venue led her to 3925 Ohio Street. She thought the size of the room as well as the location were perfect, although a lot of work needed to be done to get the building ready for performances. It was a long time before a spanner was thrown in the works, “Basically, I ended up subleasing the building. Everything was fine for a little while. But one day about a year after Queen Bee started, while I was working on something, fixing up the venue, a man walked in and said ‘who are you?’”
Under New Management
The distinctive yellow and black building at 3925 Ohio Street, with its two protruding rooftop gabled dormers (aka the windows that stick out) played a significant role in the area’s history. Though the building itself dates back to 1931, the side of the street it’s on had been in use since 1913, first as the North Park Lumber Company, then in 1915 becoming the Dixie Lumber and Supply Company. It could be said that much of North Park was built with wood from this location. Over the years the adjoining land was sold, with 3925 Ohio Street bought in 1958 by Allen Hitch. The man who had just entered Rodriguez’s life was his son, Allen Hitch Jr.
The bad news was that Hitch did not allow subleases. “It was scary for moment,” Rodriguez said. “But it turned into one of the greatest blessings,” she continued. The good news was that Hitch loved what Rodriguez was doing with the space and agreed to let her take over the lease. Hitch has had offers for the building but is happy to have Queen Bee remain. “He told me that it had been his father’s dream to use that building as some sort of community center,” she said. “So in a way, we are fulfilling that legacy.”
In 2019, the lumber milling and storage facilities on Ohio Street are long gone, but the building remains a vital and historic part of the community.
Rodriguez’s love of music is at the forefront of Queen Bee. “I appreciate all kinds of music,” she enthused. “At the previous venue, it was mostly younger bands, but here I felt it was essential to give the community a variety of sounds.” To that end she has wildly succeeded. The venue regularly stages rock, hip-hop, country, dance, rock-a-billy, singer-songwriter and jazz concerts.
If Queen Bee’s has a signature event, it’s the Beatles Fair. Originally a grassroots festival promoted by the members of the local Beatles Fan Club, Come Together, it was held at various locations from 1995 -2004, before finding a permanent location at Queen Bee’s in 2012. A who’s who of Beatles-related guests have taken part in the events, including former Beatle Pete Best, Tony Sheridan, Denny Laine (Moody Blues/Wings), Billy J. Kramer, Joey Molland (Badfinger), Liberty DeVitto (Billy Joel/Paul McCartney), and many more. Notably it was Queen Bee’s that sponsored the official City of San Diego proclamation, declaring March 31 to be Pete Best Day.
On Saturday, December 7, the 17th Beatles Fair will take place as part of a week-long celebration of Queen Bee’s tenth anniversary. Typically held in spring, the move to this late in the year surprised many. “It’s just that with all the tenth anniversary events going on it was too much to do as a separate thing,” Rodriguez explained. “Rather than skip the Beatles Fair altogether, we just worked some things together to make it happen.”
While the show’s line up, including headliners, had yet to be announced at press time, actor and musician Robbie Rist (The Brady Bunch/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Sharknado) will be this year’s spotlight artist, with author and Goldmine magazine columnist, John Borack (Shake Some Action 2.0: A Guide to the 200 Greatest Power Pop Albums/John Lennon: Life is What Happens) the first confirmed guest writer.
“It’s important to show the new generations who the Beatles are,” Rodriguez said. “It’s something that means a lot to me, cultivating interest in the great music that we grew up with. I have a five-year-old granddaughter and it’s wonderful to see her respond with such enthusiasm to these songs as they become part of her childhood, just like they were part of mine. Years from now when she’s grown and spending time with her grandma, a love of the Beatles is something we’ll have in common.”
While music is a big part of what Queen Bee’s is all about, Rodriguez has given a home to the dance, poetry, and burlesque communities as well. “About 30 percent of our bookings are for receptions, quincenieras, banquets, and that sort of thing, which is a big part of what we do. Aside from the obvious music events, we also host theater and modern dance events.”
She considers there to be a lot of crossover between the music side of the venue and the community-type events. “Yes! There is a lot of that,” she said. “People come to a concert or an open mic and they discover what Queen Bee has to offer. It’s happened quite a few times that someone will come in to see an artist and will later come back to book a banquet or family gathering.”
Recently, she’s even hosted roller skating. “The inspiration for that is the 1970s’ Soul Train TV show,” Rodriguez said. “Moving around to music on roller skates takes me back to the days when I was in New York. The floor in Queen Bee’s second room is perfect for skating,” she laughed. “It’s great to see people on wheels, but it’s just an extension of dancing, really.” The music played is generally modern electronic beats and EDM, “but we always go back to the roots and play classic disco type songs as well. You kind of have to,” she joked.
Queen Bee’s has become one of San Diego’s favorite spots for the dance community. Lessons are available for Salsa Sundays, or pole dancing on Tuesdays and tango on Wednesday, to name just a few weekly options that take good advantage of the spacious wooden floor. You’ll definitely see Rodriguez out there dancing. “It’s a great way to meet people and get exercise,” she said. “Plus it’s a lot of fun, especially when there is a live band,” she noted.
Rodriguez is also proud of the San Diego Poetry Slam, taking place the second Monday of each month. “That’s brought us a lot of attention,” Rodriguez said. “It’s always crowded and always a lot of fun. It’s considered one of the best in the country.”
One of the newest developments at Queen Bee’s is their full service in-house recording studio called the Hive. “It really was a natural progression to working with artists,” Rodriguez said. “There is so much talent that comes through Queen Bee’s, I thought it was imperative to have some place to document it and do it right. It was a major investment, but well worth it.”
The seeds of the studio started as a way to help touring musicians. “Four years ago, there were some Cuban musicians who came through town. They didn’t have any way to properly record all this amazing traditional music they had, so I thought hey! I have some extra space,” she laughed. “I thought it made sense to have something like this right here in house, rather than spend time and money sending artists elsewhere.” She points out that as much as it’s a proving ground for performers, “we’re also helping people that want to be producers and engineers, get their start and learn hands on.”
Beyond recording area and touring musicians, Rodriguez is using the studio for a weekly podcast, Live from the Hive. Hosted by Mr. Ohso, the show features interviews with artists and influencers. In addition to being found online, the podcast can also be heard Sunday nights on KNSJ 89.1 FM.
Reflecting back on her ten years as Queen Bee, Rodriguez is justifiably proud of her accomplishments. But she considers things to just be starting. “It’s all sort of gone by in a blur,” she said good naturedly. “One minute you are there and the next you are here. It’s been a lot of hard work; a lot of people have been involved. At the end of the day, I’d like to think that we’ve helped the artist community in San Diego. All types of art, for people of all ages. I’m happy to see these past ten years as a starting point to even bigger things.”
To celebrate the tenth anniversary, Queen Bee is throwing a two-week long party with special events each day, starting on December 1 and wrapping up on December 12. “We want to show off all the different sides of what happens here at Queen Bee’s,” Rodriguez remarked. “Each night will have a different theme, culminating in a free open house sort of night on December 12, so that the community has a chance to come and experience what we have to offer if they haven’t done so already.”
So far the details of the big celebration include December 1st, which will feature Salsa night with a variety of salsa DJs; an art show is happening on December 2nd. Art will be on display, with a special exhibit of four paintings that describes the trials and tribulations it took for Rodriguez to reach 2019. Meanwhile December 3rd will feature a “best of” open mic, December 4th will be devoted to local rock bands, and December 5th will spotlight Americana music, with a swing/ rockabilly night also in the mix. “We’re going to try and get ten years of music in 12 days,” she said.
All of the events scheduled for December are important to Rodriguez, but the final day, Thursday December 12, promises to be special. “It’s going to be a free community event. I want people to come in and celebrate with me. So many thought it would never happen, then it would never last, but here we are.” There will be four bands playing on that day, but as gifted as they are sure to be, for Rodriguez, they won’t be the star attraction that day. “I’m hoping that we’ll have people come in that have, for example, had a wedding or a banquet here and memories are built out of what has been offered to the community by Queen Bee.”
Has Rodriguez considered expanding Queen Bee’s to other locations? “That is something that has been discussed in the past,” she acknowledged. “And I have nothing against it. In fact, there have been offers to do something. But the problem is not the money or the business side of it. It’s that to make something like that work, there would have to be someone else like me willing to make it happen at the other locations, sometimes at the expense of other things. I don’t think people realize it, but there is a lot of sacrifice involved in something like this, along with the hard work. Ultimately, at least for now, it would stretch things thin. I can’t be like an octopus and be everywhere.”
In the meantime, she hopes to raise funds to eventually buy the building. “That’s the dream,” she said. “I would love to see Queen Bee’s continue well into the future.”
With two decades of her life dedicated to San Diego’s arts community, Rodriguez is justifiably proud of her accomplishments, “…but we’re just beginning,” she said. “There is so much to be done and such a huge vibrant community to help support.”
She pauses and reflects on her life’s work. “Funny enough, I do feel like a real queen bee,” Rodriguez smiled. “I feel like a mother to all these wonderful artists and entrepreneurs I’ve been fortunate enough to work with. I’m lucky to have people around me who want to work toward similar goals. Yes, it’s hard work, but I’m always excited about what might be coming up next,” she said.