Soda & Swine | 2943 Adams Ave., San Diego   »  Neighborhood: University Heights
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by Mikey Beats

In this Beats & Eats, I interview the talent buyer for the Adams Avenue Street Fair and Adams Avenue Unplugged, Steve Kader. He took me out to Adams Avenue, where we chowed down at Soda & Swine.

Mikey Beats: Steve, you are the talent buyer for Adams Avenue Unplugged on Saturday, April 25. Where did this festival come from?

Steve Kader: Adams Avenue Unplugged used to be called The Roots Festival, The San Diego Folk Festival and The Roots & Folk Festival, but now we re-branded it as a musical walkabout where we have music two miles up and down the avenue with various bars, restaurants, cafes and galleries partaking in the event. The event spotlights folk music, singer and songwriter music, pretty much everything with an acoustic dynamic.

MB: This seems like another wonderful day of music on Adams Avenue.

SK: It is and it brings people to Kensington all the way down to the border of University Heights to experience our diversity. One of this year’s headliners is a singer/songwriter named Anais Mitchell, who is playing Stage Coach the day before. Also we have Hot Buttered Rum, who has played major festivals like Bonnaroo and Outside Lands. We also will have Tim Flannery, local baseball player and a great musician.

MB: I DJ’d Tim Flannery’s daughter’s wedding! Much love to Ginny and Travis! Who else do you have?

SK: David J is playing, who was in Bauhaus as well as Love and Rockets and he also used to work with people like David Bowie and Jane’s Addiction. Roosevelt Dime is another touring kinda folk nouveau grassy-meets-New Orleans band. Do you know about Cody Lovaas? He’s a prodigy of Jason Mraz and he’s 16 years old. He’s played with people like Jack Johnson and Ziggy Marley, too.

MB: So obviously you’re done booking the event, but how do you find your talent and how does the talent find you for this particularly event?

SK: For Unplugged, generally we have a submission process through our website, which is www.AdamsAvenueBusiness.com. They can submit an EPK. We’ll listen to it and see if the music fits into the event. I’m always looking out for bands doing different things.

(Karen, the GM of Soda & Swine, lays down a couple of sodas for us.)

MB: I’m drinking a Saranac Shirley Temple. Hand crafted soft drinks are what they do here.

SK: I’m drinking a Spring Grove, established in 1895, caffeine-free, classic flavor soda pop of black cherry that is made with pure cane sugar.

(I take a deep pull off the glass bottle and am instantly projected back to childhood—complete with an obnoxious burp.)

MB: I haven’t had one of these since the ‘80s and that was damn good! I think I’m going to get a soda hangover from all this sugar though.

(Before I can take another pull of the Shirley Temple, Karen comes back over with a mountain of food.)

Karen: These are bahn mi style dirty fries. It’s an item that right now is off-menu, but we make it if you request it. It’s one of those things that we started eating in the back of house so often, that we started offering it to guests. People would say, “What is that?!”

MB: Was there weed involved in the process of creating this? Because it looks like there was.

Karen: There actually wasn’t. It was what I wanted to put on my fries.

SK: This is Karen’s dream fries.

MB: What do we have on there?

Karen: We’ve got chopped up meatballs, pork belly, house-made chipotle BBQ sauce, Sriracha aioli, Julian vegetables, jalapeños and cilantro.

(Steve and I both reach modestly for a small bite each and after a couple chews, we start grabbing fist fulls of dirty fries as if we were playing Hungry Hungry Hippos.)

MB: Wow, that’s the shit! Or, it’s going to make me shit. But, I’m going to enjoy it, I can guarantee that!

(Karen walks away and I sip my soda down after mauling the fries knowing there will be an imminent stomach ache scheduled in an hour, but I care not.)

SK: I just discovered Blueridge Boy: His name is Eric Freeman, he’s in his 30s and he plays old school blues acoustic. He’s amazing and I booked him for this event right after finding him.

MB: Isn’t it nice when you find fresh new talent and you’re listening to it the rest of the week? I always enjoy that.

SK: That’s what it’s all about. When you’re not passionate about it and not discovering in terms the music thing man, get a corporate job. I’ll be 90 years old and still discover a new rock artist or jazz artist or blues artist or folk music artist. That’s the whole thing with art, it’s always taking twists and turns, taking from the past and reinventing itself. That’s a good thing.

MB: I absolutely agree with you. I started hanging out at The Local 94/9 radio show with Timothy Joseph and it’s been a great experience for me because I get exposed to so much new music and it’s a breath of fresh air to hear these talented musicians from different corners of the county. There are so many talented musicians in this city.

(Karen comes back with two icy drinks in a martini glass.)

Karen: These are raspberry Champagne slushies. Our sister bar next door, Polite Provisions, make all their syrups from scratch. So, they boil down raspberries, sift through everything, take the raspberry syrup, a little bit of vermouth, some Champagne and mix it all together and you’ve got a raspberry slushy. These are one of our biggest sellers on a hot summer’s day.

(I slurp down a few gulps of the tangy and sweet slushy, get a brain freeze, cry, take a few more sips, cry again and then finally finish the frozen delight.)

MB: Let me as you a question: As a talent buyer for the event, what advice would you give to the acts that want to submit their music to you for booking consideration?

SK: I would suggest to bands, if you’re trying to submit material, you always want me to hear your best song first. It doesn’t have to be the most professional recording, but if there’s a passion there, some soul there, good melodies and good hooks, things like that it will shine through.

MB: You can still hear it, you know it’s there even if the recording is low quality.

SK: Exactly. Remember when you were in a band, you got that cassette tape or CD that you recorded in the studio, what did you do? You’d play it in a shitty boombox or find your friends that have the shittiest car stereo and play it in there and if it transcended and all that, that’s true. The music is the music, regardless. Nice studios are nice studios, but you know, if they are original songs with heart, soul and passion with good melodies, hooks and rhythm, it will transcend a poor recording.

MB: So definitely have your best foot forward, put your best song first on the demo.

SK: I really respect bands and performers that go extra mile and invite people out and build a network, even outside the center of San Diego. Play in different areas of San Diego. Bring the music to everybody. Too many people are regional in what they do.

MB: What’s something you’ve seen that makes you jump on it?

SK: In terms of materials, whether it’s your press or your bio, I like a lot of simplicity rather than some fluff. I don’t want to know what you did 3 or 4 years ago. Keep everything current, let me know what’s been going on in the last six months. When you book your gigs, think outside the box and be more creative. Expand your horizons. Mention that you’re doing these gigs in different cities, you know? I don’t expect some nationwide tour, but if you’re a new band, passionate about it and spending your own money going to Arizona to tour, I want to hear about it.

(Karen comes back to the table and lays down a gluttonous gauntlet.)

Karen: We have one Bovine Slider, which is beef with marinara and mozzarella cheese. We then have a Crispy Polenta. Ours is served pretty firm, with a crisp outside and a little burrata, a very soft mozzarella, and basil on top. Then, the Scotch Egg, which is soft-boiled and wrapped in our chorizo meatball. It’s breaded, fried and then served open face with a dijonaise.

MB: A chorizo meatball?

Karen: A chorizo meatball.

MB: Dios mio, man.

Karen: Yeaaaah. Traditionally it’s made with haggis, but the chorizo gives it a little more flavor.

MB: Oh my goodness, this’ll hurt.

Karen: I recommend the polenta. It’s a weird fine mix where you have to let it cool just long enough so that it doesn’t burn your mouth, but eat it so that it doesn’t get soft from the marinara.

MB: That bovine is stupid good with delicious marinara sauce and good bread. This placenta is perfect!

SK: Polenta, not placenta.

MB: I’m really into this polenta, not placenta. That mozzarella and basil really does it.

SK: You grew up in San Diego?

MB: Born and raised, you?

SK: Yeah, I’ve been here since I was 3.

MB: What high school did you go to?

SK: Patrick Henry.

MB: I went to Clairemont. Where did you lay your roots in the music scene?

SK: I was always surrounded by music on my dad’s side of the family. My grandfather played piano by ear, a little guitar, sang and wrote poetry. His house was down the street here in Kensington. My dad was also into music, enjoying jazz, blues, folk music and early rock ‘n’ roll. When he was a kid he would go see Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong. He also produced a few concerts in the early ‘60s, including a show with Fats Domino.

MB: There’s some music in the bloodline; did you ever play in any bands?

SK: I was in a ska band called Gang Busters from ’87 to ’92. We played with people like No Doubt, Rage Against the Machine and at venues like Iguanas in TJ where we’d open up for Fishbone, The Untouchables, Special Beat, Bad Manners, all the British two-tone oriented bands. After that, I was into hip hop and DJing. I did a party at the original Casbah called Open Sesame. At that time we put a band together called Motherlode which was a predecessor to The Greyboy Allstars. After that, the whole Green Circle scene kicked in and at that point, I was much more intrigued by the business side of things, like putting on shows. I had a friend from Chula Vista named Sergio Hernandez who wanted to get a funk, rare groove, jazz, funk band together and mix in a Latin Afro-Cuban vibe. He linked up with Karlos Paez and that was the origin of B-Side Players. I was their manager for their first four years and I had never managed a band before but that was great in terms of learning the industry. The shows built up from breaking them into the Belly Up to eventually selling out the Casbah and then getting on Street Scene.

MB: Street Scene was always the best of times, in its glory days. When did you transfer from manager to talent buyer?

SK: I had heard that the owner of the concert venue, 4th and B, had a falling out with the talent buyer and he was looking to bring someone on board to mentor and build into booking the room. I went down and talked to him and interned with him and did what we all do. For about a year I pounded the pavement. Eventually, he asked me what local bands should play on different shows and then he brought me on as a talent buyer. At first I was booking small nationals and locals. By the time I left 4th and B, I was lead talent buyer. I was the buyer and artistic director for three years at the North Park Theatre when it was owned by Lyric Opera San Diego, where I booked more jazz, world music and eclectic shows. During that time I was consulting on the Adams Avenue events and they eventually brought me in on a full-time basis. It had an old folky reputation, but I was tired of going to another boring street fair with hot dogs and corn, so to the best of my ability I changed it into something that I would love to go to myself with a demographic of 9 to 90. I’ve been with the Adams Avenue Street Fair for 15 years, but exclusively as the talent buyer for 10 years. This year, Adams Avenue Street Fair is Saturday, Sept. 26, and Sunday, Sept. 27. This will be our 34th year for the Adams Avenue Street Fair, and it’s the largest free music festival in Southern California.

MB: With the Adams Avenue Street Fair, in your opinion, what percentage are national acts and what percentage are local acts?

SK: In terms of national or touring acts, it varies between 10-20 percent of bands.

MB: So there’s a lot of opportunities for local bands?

SK: Yes, this is the most significant showcase festival for local bands in San Diego. It’s really important to celebrate what San Diego is good at, and it’s really good to support our own.

MB: Celebrating San Diego music.

SK: Celebrating San Diego music and culture. It all ties in with businesses and the neighborhood. Something I always want to instill is that it’s an all-ages event where you can expose your children to live music.

MB: That’s beautiful. Any last thoughts?

SK: Be cordial to people. Say please, thank you and look them in the eyes. Call people up, write someone a letter or recommend a book to somebody.