For a metropolis whose population eclipses a million (and a metropolitan area three times that size), San Diego has often faced challenges in drawing touring live acts to the city. Some of that is due to our locus just down the road from Los Angeles, the epicenter of entertainment in America. But part of that difficulty can be attributed to not having the right-sized venue.San Diego is home to world-class rock clubs such as The Casbah and Soda Bar and theaters like The Observatory North Park with a 1,100-seat capacity, but it’s a 3,500-attendee leap to the next largest option, San Diego State University’s Open Air Theater. For a lot of touring artists, that leaves two imperfect options: Either they won’t be able to fill the venue, or they won’t be able to adequately meet demand.
“There were a lot of bands skipping San Diego once they got too big for the Observatory because there wasn’t a place to play until you got to the Open Air Theatre or [North Island Credit Union Amphitheatre in] Chula Vista,” says Chris Goldsmith, president of Belly Up Tavern. “There’s this giant gap, and it kinda hurts the San Diego music scene and the audience.”The Sound, a newly opened 1,900-capacity venue operated by the Belly Up, aims to fill that gap. Housed in a facility that previously held off-track betting on the Del Mar Fairgrounds, The Sound is a $17 million project seven years in the making. The concert hall is one of only two rock venues of comparable size in the county (the other being the 2,700-capacity SOMA in Midway District). The 9,500-square-foot space features a mix of seating and standing room on three levels, plus several bars and food options—and, just as important for those driving up from the south, plenty of parking.
The Sound officially opened on February 3 with a performance from reggae legend Ziggy Marley. Goldsmith enjoyed observing the looks on attendees’ neon-lit faces as they took in the open space, bars, balconies, and blue-and- red color palette of The Sound for the first time. “The two nights with Ziggy were just amazing,” he says. “They were magical shows; the crowd was in a great mood. It was really fun to watch people walk into the venue for the first time and see their brains explode.”The Sound is booked through early September, when Sylvan Esso plays a headlining show, and it has already featured an impressive set of performers, including The Flaming Lips, Jason Mraz, and Men At Work’s Colin Hay. From the beginning, the venue’s goal was to deliver the best possible sonic experience for audiences.“The acoustics in the room are fantastic,” he says. “It was designed with amplified rock shows in mind. A lot of the older concert halls are for theater or symphony presentations, engineered more for acoustic music. But this venue is built for rock ‘n’ roll, and it absorbs sound well.”Nevertheless, Goldsmith says that the goal is to host a broad spectrum of performances at The Sound—dance music, comedy, and even family and children’s entertainment (showgoers must be 18 to enter solo, but kiddos are welcome if accompanied by a parent or guardian).“It’s too big of a room to be too narrow in focus,” he says. “We intend to use all the colors of the rainbow.”