HALF CENTURY MARK: The Belly Up, a fixture in San Diego’s North County area, opened in 1974. The Quonset hut cluster is now in the area’s Design District. (Courtesy Belly Up)

Solana Beach club will offer 50 shows to mark the occasion

The Belly Up in Solana Beach, California, has been at the same Quonset hut location for 50 years, serving up blues and indie rock in a market that’s rewarded the lounge with longevity.

In celebration of the half-century mark of what’s called North County down San Diego way, the 600-capacity club is staging 50 shows, beginning July 3 with a 50th Anniversary Kick Off Party featuring 80’s Heat with Bella Lux, and concluding Sept. 30 with the Wallflowers.

The lineup will be heavy on bands that have played the room before, which in addition to the Jakob Dylan-led Wallflowers includes Shakey Graves, War, Michael Franti and Spearhead, Alejandro Escovedo and Cracker.

The club, opened in 1974 by David Hodges, and has brought legends through its doors such as John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Etta James, Robert Cray, Charlie Musselwhite, the Rolling Stones, No Doubt, Foo Fighters, Jimmy Buffett, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Green Day. The Stones performed at the Belly Up in 2015, a private show that took place three days after playing Petco Park on their North American Zip Code tour.

INTIMATE SEASIDE SETTING: Fans line up to see the Rolling Stones at the Belly Up in 2o15. (Courtesy venue)

The current owners, Steve Goldberg and Phil Berkovitz, acquired Belly Up in 2003. They operate Belly Up Entertainment as a promoter of concerts and festivals.

They’ve also launched a record label, Belly Up Live, and a television broadcast, “Live at the Belly Up.”

Chris Goldsmith, who has seven Grammys to his credit as a producer of artists including Ben Harper and The Blind Boys of Alabama, has been with the club on and off for nearly 25 years, having started his career there while in college.

Goldsmith told VenuesNow a key aspect of accommodating large crowds while maintaining an intimate atmosphere is the result of “making artists feel comfortable and providing a positive experience through infrastructure investments and staff training,” which are priorities of the current owners.

The club is almost entirely plug and play.

“Some people will bring in their own mixing board, their own front of house board, but other than that, it’s pretty much they just use our stuff,” he said.

The lights are recent upgrades.

“It’s an Adamson system that we put in when we reopened after the pandemic,” Goldsmith said. It was installed by Sound Image, a nationally recognized company that’s based in San Diego.

“The sound is just great,” Goldsmith said. “It’s a hodgepodge, but it’s just great quality stuff, though not like a fully installed system.”

The Belly Up sits about one mile from the famed Del Mar racetrack and San Diego County fairgrounds, “which is where our other venue that we now manage is at — on the fairgrounds property called The Sound, which opened up last year at 1,900 capacity,” Goldsmith explained.

When the Belly Up opened in ’74, Solana Beach was a sleepy town, Goldsmith said.

“The Quonset huts, which are like two or three city blocks long, are all kind of conjoined,” he said, describing an industrial trades cluster of contractors, workshops and plumbers.

“There was a backpack manufacturing business there, Eagle Creek, right next door,” said Goldsmith. “The owner bought the whole series of Quonset huts and opened the bar there, just to have a place for him and his buddies to have a drink, and started putting music in there.”

Initially, it was much smaller, at about 100 capacity. There was no stage, with acts placed at the end of the bar with a couple of microphones and a speaker.

“It started out very local, with blues bands, and slowly progressed to the point where the physical space expanded several times along the way as businesses would go, move on out of the spaces,” Goldsmith said. “The owner (Hodges), who also owned all the buildings, would take over those spaces and expand the footprint of the Belly Up and eventually put a stage in there, and started doing national touring bands.”

The club’s main booker is Pete McDevitt, who came to the Belly Up from the Blue Note in Columbia, Missouri, where he went to college at the University of Missouri.

The other talent buyer is Chad Walldorf, who has been at the Belly Up for 18 years.

Goldsmith said the San Diego market is not an easy one in which to operate.

“There’s a strong music-loving community, but for a city the size of San Diego, it’s not as big as a you might see in other cities because people don’t move to San Diego for arts and culture, they move there because they’re into outdoors or into they’re into a beach lifestyle, or they’re in the military,” he said.

“A lot of bands that play the Belly Up play the Fillmore in San Francisco. They’re similar-sized metropolitan areas, but there are just not as many people going out to see music all the time as there are some other cities of the same size, so it is challenging, and it’s been hard for a lot of venues to make it make it work in San Diego. A lot have come and gone over the years.”

In the case of the Belly Up, one advantage is its size, Goldsmith said.

“We’re small enough to always have a good vibe in the room,” he said. “We’re professional enough and we have quality enough gear that we can handle bands that play bigger venues, and they can come in and feel comfortable knowing that everything’s going to be what they need it to be when they come.”