CityFest turns 25
The scoop on this year’s celebration
Published Thursday, 07-Aug-2008 in issue 1076
One of Hillcrest’s favorite traditions – San Diego CityFest – hits the streets Aug. 10. Celebrating its 25-year anniversary, CityFest promises to bring the best in shopping, live music, excellent food, stellar beer and prizes.
“CityFest is an annual arts and crafts fair held in Hillcrest on the second Sunday in August every year, attracting over 100,000 people to the area for one day,” said Jamie Harlow, Marketing Assistant for the Hillcrest Business Association who aids in sponsoring this annual event. “Fifth Avenue becomes a mile-long venue of tents and visitors, stretching from University Ave. all the way to Balboa Park.”
This tradition actually stems from humble beginnings – the restoration and lighting of the classic Hillcrest sign.
“CityFest began as a celebration of the lighting of the newly renovated Hillcrest street sign, one of the many vintage neighborhood signs in San Diego, in 1984,” Harlow said. “The residents of Hillcrest had so much fun, they decided to do it again in 1985 and called it CityFest.”
The Hillcrest Association was established in 1921, making it the oldest business association in San Diego. In 1984, at the urging of local businesses and residents, the city of San Diego formed the Hillcrest Business Improvement District (BID); Joyce Beers served as the first executive director. The HBIA represents more than 1,200 businesses, administering a portion of the funds collected by the city through local business licenses.
The association employs private security patrols in the core of our neighborhood and pays the electric bill for the neon Hillcrest sign. In 1999, the HBIA established the Uptown Partnership, Inc., a nonprofit corporation focusing on projects to improve Uptown parking and transportation resources. It has successfully organized CityFest since 1984 and continues to make it one of the hottest summer events this side of Pride.
Tony Kopas and Bob Walker organized the first (and only two-day) CityFest with the help of the Hillcrest Association during Mother’s Day weekend in 1984. Walker, owner of The Gallery Store, organized a juried art show which drew a crowd of about 30,000. Active participants filled Fifth Avenue (north of Robinson) with many expressing themselves with paintbrushes on the street. The following day the painted streets made the front page of The San Diego Union-Tribune. Unfortunately the Hillcrest Association was responsible for the costly paint removal: $1,642 according to Steve Zolezzi, HBA president at the time.
While residents no longer paint the streets of Hillcrest at CityFest, much more fun is to be had celebrating the event’s 25th anniversary.
“Since the first celebration, CityFest has become one of the largest, if not the largest, one-day events in California!” Harlow said. “Artists, craft vendors and foodsellers come from all over California, and we even have some from Arizona and Nevada. Local music is a huge draw, with two stages hosting bands continuously all day, and two beer gardens near the stages. From its humble beginnings as a neighborhood party at the corner of University and Fifth, it’s grown to a full-sized outdoor arts and crafts festival that keeps on growing.”
Hillcrest adds its own flavor to the festivities.
“Because of the unique flavor and character of the neighborhood of Hillcrest, CityFest has a wonderfully diverse, energetic crowd, including everyone from families with young children, to senior citizens, to college students, to business people, to artists … the list goes on,” Harlow said. “Also, while not a juried art show, vendor participation is selective based on the type of items offered so that the market is not flooded with all one type of product. This makes our venue competitive and a great experience for both shoppers and sellers. The mix of people, and the variety and quality of the arts, crafts and services available, makes CityFest a truly unique experience!”
CityFest gives back
While certainly a good time, CityFest’s revenues go directly back to the community.
“Generally CityFest clears about $20,000 each year that gets invested right back into the neighborhood,” Harlow said. “So far this year is looking to be just as beneficial, if not better, than previous years, even in this tricky economy. CityFest provides a wonderful day of free entertainment for residents and visitors, and local businesses benefit from the extra traffic in the area. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.
“CityFest is produced by the Hillcrest Business Association, which manages the Hillcrest Business Improvement District as defined by the City of San Diego. All of the proceeds from CityFest go toward neighborhood improvement projects such as extra street cleaning, security detail, public space and tree maintenance, and programs such as Tuesday Nite Out; Hillcrest moRe sUper Sundays, our new monthly art walk; and the PROW program, which administers specific permission to business owners to use the sidewalk in front of their building for seating or displays. The association also advocates on behalf of the small business owners of Hillcrest, acting as a liaison with the city, residents,and neighboring business districts. The businesses and residents of Hillcrest directly benefit every day from these services, and last year the American Planning Association voted Hillcrest one of America’s top 10 neighborhoods! We must be doing something right!”
The music
From 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Fifth Avenue will be alive with CityFest happenings and debauchery. The music lineup is impressive – two stages and 16 artists made the program this year. The North Stage will be DJ’d by Laura Jane, who has been working in the entertainment industry for as long as CityFest has existed. Check out the Kahuna Cowboys at 10 a.m., the Cool Cats at 11:15 a.m. and the famous Sue Palmer at 12:30 p.m.
Although heavily retro (1930s), the “good time” music the Kahuna Cowboys play is strictly All-American. From the white sandy beaches of Hawaii, to the Mississippi River Delta, the Kahuna Cowboys cover it all: western swing, Hawaiian, jug band, blues, jazz and, of course, cowboy tunes. Comprised of three colorful characters, Double D, Rustlin’ Russ, and Doctor B, the Kahuna Cowboys’ show is upbeat and humorous. It’s hard to be serious when one of the guys is playing a washtub bass, whiskey jug, musical saw or washboard! Or funnier yet, singing while gargling. Still, don’t let all the horseplay fool you. The members of the band are accomplished professional musicians who have been performing for more than 30 years. While playing more than 20 instruments during a show, the Kahuna Cowboys are all at once, a great musical revue, light-hearted entertainment and an evening you’ll never forget.
San Diego’ s Queen of Boogie Woogie, Sue Palmer, has amazed audiences all over the world with her unique style and phenomenal left hand. She delights in creating an atmosphere reminiscent of the small clubs and cafes of 1932 Paris, Harlem, West Texas and Hawaii. Her first CD, which features many of her own compositions, has been described as “full of fun, and cool enough to cause crop damage to orange groves.”
Palmer is no stranger to the spotlight. For five years, Palmer was the musical partner of blues diva and recording artist Candye Kane. They toured France and most of Europe, including Scandinavia, Greece and Turkey. Their travels also took them to Reunion Island, Canada, Australia and all over the United States. Under the moniker Sue “Beehive” Palmer with Candye Kane and the Swingin’ Armadillos, she appeared on the Penn & Teller Show and the Roseanne Show, where Sue acted as the talk show band leader (1999). Sue is a featured artist on all four of Kane’s CDs under the Antones and Sire labels. Her impressive musical stylings should not be missed at this year’s CityFest.
Later on the North Stage, check out Theo and Zydeco Patrol, Joanna Royal, DJ and the Hitmen and the Bayou Brothers & Michele Lundeen.
Theo and the Zydeco Patrol is not just another blues band. Its secret spice to the Blues is the Louisiana hot sauce of traditional Cajun and zydeco music. With a sound straight from the backwoods zydeco dance clubs, Cajun fais do do dances, backyard crawfish boil parties and bayou festivals, Theo and the Zydeco Patrol brings the best of Southwest Louisiana festival music to Southern California. Featuring the diatonic Cajun-style button accordion, keyboard accordion, washboard and vocals in the original Cajun French of Southwest Louisiana, Theo and the Zydeco Patrol cooks up a fiery mix of the Cajun and Zydeco dance music that is sweeping the country.
Frequent vocalist at the Bamboo Lounge in Hillcrest, Joanna Royal’s sultry jazz voice has graced San Diego for years. “This isn’t your typical, boring, background-music-style of jazz,” says Royal on her Web site. “It isn’t overly academic or elitist either. We play jazz with a blues sensibility, and we play blues with a jazz sensibility. When we show up, we’ve come to swing, to belt and make everybody feel good. We love a crowd that comes to drink, to dance, to sing along and have a great time.”
D. A. and the Hitmen brings together four veteran blues musicians from the San Diego scene, featuring Lance Dieckmann on harmonica and lead vocals, Paul Alvarado on lead guitar, Bob Prater on bass and Pete Langhans on drums. Paul was the founder of the band The Blues Invaders and recruited Lance to write originals. Their collaboration resulted in the release of The Invasion Begins, an 11-song CD produced in 2001 featuring eight originals by Paul and Lance. Their efforts were rewarded with a nomination at the San Diego Music Awards for Best New Blues CD in 2001. After the Blues Invaders disbanded in late 2001, Paul and Lance went on to form D.A. and the Hitmen. Be ready to rock your way into the blues with this band.
The Bayou Brothers team with blues-roots-soul singer/songwriter Michele Lundeen for an unforgettable close to the North Stage at the 25th Annual CityFest. “Michele Lundeen, dubbed ‘The Queen of Steam’ for her stirring vocals and electrifying stage presence, does indeed command attention,” according to Lundeen’s Web site. “Often described as ‘Janis Joplin meets Bonnie Raitt,’ Michele is a powerful, soulful vocalist with an incomparable style all her own, effortlessly blending classic roadhouse rhythm and blues, jump swing, Memphis groove, sultry jazz and funky soul and even some N’Awlins style second line into a satisfying musical stew. Michele has shared stages with dozens of nationally known blues and roots artists from John Lee Hooker to Elvin Bishop, and Savoy Brown to Queen Ida while gaining a reputation as a talented headliner in her own right.”
The South Stage continues the celebration with a fresh list of local favorites. Check out Veronica May, Astra Kelly and Runhoney in the first half of the day.
Veronica May is making waves in the local scene. “May has been playing piano for 20 years, percussion for 11 and guitar for five,” according to her Web Site. Veronica is evolving her unique style – creating a sound all her own. “If her fingers aren’t bleeding by the end of the show, she didn’t give you everything she had.”
Astra Kelly’s early interest in music was fueled by family jams, school choirs and formal music studies. Her universal solo style has developed into a sound she calls acoustic soul. It is a rich fusion of her Chicago roots in acid jazz, funk and blues, merged with rock and folk elements. Many times armed with only an acoustic guitar, her delivery is an intensely powerful expression of equal parts joy and pain, balance and struggle. With the electric trio, it’s gritty guitars, bass and drums, driven by impeccable vocal wailing. Multiple albums and countless performances later, Kelly is still topping the charts and turning heads in San Diego.
For more on Runhoney, see our Q&A with the band (page 31).
Later on the South Stage, check out artists Anna Troy, Emily Wells and Social Green.
Bluesey rocker Anna Troy may only be 22, but her intelligent sound speaks experience. Following her four-year stint alongside her sister in pop duo, The Troy’s, and with the support and influence of several established San Diego blues artists, she began writing and performing her own songs in the genre a year and a half ago. Catch her weekly at the Gulf Coast Grill among other venues in metro San Diego.
Experimental indie folk artist Emily Wells demands one’s attention when she performs. “I was three, maybe four, up way past my bedtime, and I saw a girl named Midori on Johnny Carson playing a Vivaldi Concerto for Violin. Somehow, strangely, from that moment on I had it in my head that I was going to be a violinist,” Well says on her Web site. “I don’t know if it was the sound of the instrument, the poised young woman, or the affections of Johnny Carson and the crowd that night that lured me, but since that day my desire to make noise and be heard has not ceased … Our live show has become something of a musical spectacle, with live violin sampling, bumpin’ hip hop to classical beats and bass to move you.”
Reggae-infused rock band Social Green is a veteran of the SoCal live music scene. Social Green has been performing in various venues for the past three years: The Belly Up in Solana Beach, The Beach Fire in San Clemente, San Diego Indie Music Fest 2008, Humphreys Lounge, The Metaphor Cafe, 710 Beach Club, Winstons, Canes, Static Lounge and Bamboo Lounge. In addition, the band performed for the 2008 Heart of Africa Benefit. Social Green has performed together for the past three years and in this short time has established a strong following all over San Diego, North County and Orange County. Social Green is currently in the studio working on its next release Sounds of Revolution.
Wrap up the evening on the South Stage with F.U.Z.Z. and Hillcrest favorite, MC Flow.
“F.U.Z.Z. is deep-rooted in all that is funk,” according to the band’s Web site “...and intertwines many other influences to create an exciting aural escape for the open mind! Don’t let the minimalism fool ya’ though – the trio puts out an explosive live show!”
Alt hip-hop veteran MC Flow closes the evening on the South Stage at CityFest.
“MC Flow is a quick-witted, rhyme-spittin’, female emcee,” according to the artist’s Web site. “Originally from New York, Flow moved out West in 2000, and quickly made a name for herself as a feisty, female lyricist with controversial lyrics and an engaging live show. In 2007, she won a San Diego Music Award in the Best Hip-Hop category and in April 2008 released her debut album, Incredible, a project that combines booty-shakin’ beats with the rapid-fire politically charged rhymes she is known for. MC Flow is backed by producer Taylor-Tay, fly-girl/dancer GG, and turntablist DJ Rob Fayder.”
Book and literacy fair
This year’s CityFest will also be including the annual Hillcrest Book and Literacy Fair, making this year’s event even bigger than before. Bookseller’s Alley will run from Brookes Place to Anderson Place, and include a Literary Salon with author readings in a quiet, coffeehouse-style atmosphere.
Hosted by Judy Reeves, the Literary Salon will be at the Coffee Nook at Brookes Place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nearby will be the Childrens’ Story Nook at the Design Center’s grape arbor, hosted by Curran Jeffery.
Storytelling will be by local readers from the Mission Hills Library and the Story Affinity Group of the First Unitarian Church, beginning at 10:30 a.m.
The Open Air Literary Salon begins with a reading and discussion of Greg Mortenson’s book, Three Cups of Tea, led by Nicole Vollrath.
The salon will also feature best-selling author Drusilla Campbell, and a memoir panel featuring memoirists Steve Montgomery, Patrick McMahon, and Suzana Norberg, moderated by Thomas Larson. Poetry will be brought to the afternoon by the multi-talented, multi-lingual Michael Klam. Author, editor and educator Jim Miller will read from his novel, Drift, and the afternoon will close with a performance by international poet Roger Aplon and percussionist Marcos Fernandes.

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