A balmy summer evening, 35,000 of us packed into four square blocks in the Gaslamp Quarter of downtown San Diego, a swarming sea of human nature in all its forms and shapes and sizes and colors.
We laughed, we smiled, we danced, well and not so well, some skipped, stumbled and staggered. A few were arrested. But mostly we danced, and for three days we enjoyed the largest annual music festival in California. We were there to see and be the people of San Diego. We were Street Scene 2002.
The people of San Diego have been frequenting Street Scene since it was started in 1984. A few years earlier in 1980, the Gaslamp Quarter had just taken its place on the "National Register of Historic Places." Street Scene was part of an effort to catalyze interest and growth in the area. It was originally held twice a year, but as the years went by and interest in the event grew, so did the size of the festival. Street Scene became an annual event, held in early September as a sort of end-of-summer extravaganza. The number of music stages was increased from the original two stages to the current nine stages. As a result, Zydeco and reggae, Hip-Hop and the blues joined rock and alternative to create Street Scene's signature musical melting pot.
San Diego's finest restaurants contributed their own flavors as they began catering for the event. The influx of new sounds and tastes drew the real flavor of Street Scene to the party: the people. Mardi Gras revelers, Carnival paraders, freaks, fanatics, drag queens and circus performers joined in to create the social kaleidoscope of Street Scene.
For three days, from Friday, September 6 to Sunday, September 9, we danced to every beat imaginable. For a good frenzy, bad piercings and green jell-o hair we stumbled to the punk rock stage, where we were serenaded by the likes of Sprung Monkey, Social Distortion and the timeless Bad Religion.
We grooved our way to the far side of the festival to funk out with George Clinton, then James Brown, whose undeniable and inimitable funkiness was upstaged only slightly by his purple silk suit. We tripped through the massive electronica tent to a full sensory assault - a throbbing maelstrom of sound and sweat and smoke and lights and energy and total surrender to the moment. An infinite hour later, sweating and dazed, we walk throiugh the far exit and Whoosh! back to reality as we were swept up in the surging tide of people filling the streets. The smell of kebabs and thai food and popcorn and good vibes and laughter filled the air. Booths lined the streets, hawking everything from Mom's homemade cookies to Mardi Gras beads and incense.
Stone Temple Pilots, Melissa Etheridge, Blues Traveler, Los Lobos (who played at the very first Street Scene and several since), The Roots, Ja Rule, Busta Rhymes and local favorite and 70s cover band Disco Pimps all chimed in, along with more than 75 other bands, to keep the Sceners busy.
Although Street Scene offers an amazing array of music and food and quirky novelty booths, it's best feature by far is the people.
The extravagantly-dressed Carnival parade members could be seen from blocks away, shaking things that shouldn't be shaken in public. I was almost surprised to see one of the odd and exotic dancers from the electronica stage, ornately dressed, happily munching away on a chicken skewer, as if I couldn't believe that the bobbing, twisting, pulsing blur I had seen on stage an hour earlier relied on human sustenance.
Every now and again, a bachelorette party would pass giggling and flirting down the street, waving anatomically-incorrect lollipops and squirt guns at unsuspecting males. Frat boys and sorority girls exchanged phone numbers over double-fistfulls of beer. Even the Porto-potty Nazi, as we ordained him, who made damn sure that no one cut in line, nobody stepped into the wrong outhouse, and that HE went first, became an eventual source of amusement, after we had finally gotten our turn. The lines at the beer gardens and (not coincidentally) porto-potties are unavoidable, but offered an opportunity for friendly banter:
"Great dancing up there by the way."
"All the way from LA?"
"The Roots and Busta Rhymes were my favorite!"
"Tell him I said hello."
Why do you get two at once?"
The whole scene was almost too overwhelming at times. There is simply too much to see, too much to listen to, too many people to meet in just three days. Perhaps this is why San Diegans have been coming back, year after year after year, like they have been since 1984. It is THE scene you don't want to miss. See you in 2003.
Come see what's causing such a scene: www.street-scene.com.
By Misha Troyan, San Diego Correspondent.