For the past decade or so, most music festivals in the US have had to live in Coachella’s shadow. It’s the first to announce its lineup, always stacked with some of the biggest names in popular music—and for those able to squint hard enough to see the fine print, up-and-comers worth watching. It’s not actually the first big American music festival of the year; Austin’s SXSW multimedia industry conference happens about a month beforehand. But as the unofficial beginning to summer festival season, Coachella offers a window into what to expect from other major festival lineups, such as Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, as well as big summer tours through North America.
One of the benefits of being in San Diego, however, is that once Coachella’s tickets sell out—which often happens pretty early—bands from the festival’s lineup eventually end up announcing shows here in smaller venues. For a long time this didn’t happen, as the festival contract didn’t allow it—even now, the radius clause on artist contracts is somewhat limiting as far as when and what kind of shows can take place (though it's apparently not that hard to get around). But it’s become more of a regular phenomenon; just last year, a slate of artists including The War on Drugs, Alvvays, Angel Olsen, Kali Uchis, Haim, Fleet Foxes, Chromeo and Jessie Ware all made stops in San Diego. It’s informally known as "Localchella," and it’s almost certainly going to happen again in 2019.
Here are six artists from the lineup I’d like to see drop by our fair city.
Janelle Monáe’s conceptual, frequently politically charged funk-soul sound has been underrated for too long. But the ubiquity of last year’s Prince-indebted single "Make Me Feel," along with acting roles in films such as Moonlight and Hidden Figures, has helped put Monáe on many more listeners’ radar. And that can only be a good thing, as few artists have the range and commitment to sheer entertainment value that she does. Granted, she did just make an appearance in San Diego last fall, but there’s no reason why we’re not due for another stop.
Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals
While Anderson .Paak’s new album, Oxnard, didn’t quite live up to the standards of his sublime 2016 breakthrough, Malibu, the California R&B singer nonetheless remains one of the most innovative and fun artists of the moment. He’s the kind of artist who can make a single like "Bubblin," full of boastful absurdity, feel like the song of the summer, and lose none of his cred by having a song appear in a Starbucks commercial. Coupled with live shows full of freewheeling funk (Paak also drums), the presence and joy of Paak’s music would make for a great headlining set locally.
I heard Kacey Musgraves’ fabulous country-disco single "High Horse" recently while grocery shopping, which led me to question whether the baked-goods aisle was getting cooler or if, perhaps, I was becoming less so. Considering Musgraves’ latest album, Golden Hour, an alternately beautiful and iconoclastic alternative to Nashville’s still-too-macho hit machine, topped many Best of 2018 lists, I’m leaning toward the former. Musgraves also hasn’t made an appearance in San Diego since 2014, when she opened for Lady Antebellum. She’s due for a return.
Solange is a big-enough name that it seems highly likely this will be her only Southern California appearance for the foreseeable future. Likewise, the strict nature of Coachella’s radius clause in forbidding "hard-ticket shows," i.e. big-name headliners, happening within months on either side of the festival suggests Ms. Knowles probably won’t just breeze through town between weekends. That being said, if she makes her way here in the summer or fall, we should count our blessings, because her live show is dynamic and fun, and her most recent album, 2016’s A Seat at the Table, remains one of the best records of the decade.
Easily one of the most peculiar—and by extension interesting—artists on the Coachella lineup, Tennessee electronic artist Sean Bowie, aka Yves Tumor, made a fascinating transformation last year with Safe in the Hands of Love. Once a more abstract producer of dark, ambient sounds, Yves Tumor made a stunning 180 into pop music, albeit pop that still leans toward the avant-garde. It’s catchy music that’s founded in an artful kind of weirdness, and on songs like the incredible "Noid," topical as well, addressing institutionalized racism and violence against black Americans.
Blood Orange, the project of British songwriter and producer Devonté Hynes, was originally scheduled to perform at the CRSSD festival back in 2017, but had to cancel at the last minute. So this year would be an opportune time for the art-pop/R&B artist to pay a visit to San Diego. On albums such as 2016’s Freetown Sound and last year’s Negro Swan, Hynes has maintained a balance of vulnerability and danceable funk that few other contemporary artists have managed so nimbly.
There are, of course, other artists I’d love to see come through San Diego in 2019 that aren’t playing Coachella, including Mitski, UK jazz quartet Sons of Kemet, Julia Holter, Kamasi Washington, and countless others. But that’s a concern for another time. The year’s still young.
This week’s recommended shows:
Amen Dunes (Belly Up, January 12): Amen Dunes’ Freedom was an underrated gem from 2018, an album rife with playful genre experimentation, gorgeous production, and extended meditations on grief and loss. So it’s not really a party album, but then again it’s still cold (for San Diego) and we’re shaking off the 2018. A thoughtful, beautiful, and profound live music experience might be exactly what we need.
Exasperation, Sixes, The Havnauts (Soda Bar, January 12): The members of local trio Exasperation have played in a lot of different bands in San Diego, including Ditches and Cuckoo Chaos (though this band is even better). They’re releasing their debut album after a couple years of building up buzz, and their tuneful yet intricate indie rock can finally end up in listeners’ headphones, where it belongs. As an added bonus, up-and-comers The Havnauts are opening the show, and their upbeat pop songs about getting out of bed late and putting on a few extra pounds are all too relatable.
Casbah Day Celebration with The Creepy Creeps, Beehive & the Barracudas, Low Volts, The Loons (The Casbah, January 14): This month, local venue and celebrated institution The Casbah is turning 30, which is a milestone well worth recognizing. San Diego’s music landscape wouldn’t be half what it is today without the efforts of owner Tim Mays, who’s actually been booking shows in town for much longer than three decades. Back in 2014, the city of San Diego declared January 14 "Casbah Day," and to celebrate it, the club is hosting a free show featuring some of the city’s most fun live acts, including The Creepy Creeps and The Loons.