On any given night, it’s safe to assume there is live music being played somewhere in Long Beach. Where to find what is the tricky part.
Next month, the Long Beach Music Council will release a comprehensive guide for live music in the city. It lists about 40 venues by types of music they host and when, and includes a list of recurring live music events around town. The pamphlet, which will be available online and in hotels, is intended to inform both the growing number of tourists as well as unaware residents about the varied and thriving music scenes in the city.
“Every single one of us has been asked many times, ‘There’s live music in Long Beach?’” Vaughan Risher says. “People who’ve lived here for years still might not know that.”
Risher, a Mississippi native who moved to Long Beach in 2010, experienced his first local tune at his favorite joint Pizza Pie’s first open mic. He returned every week and became the event’s official photographer, while digging into the expansive local rock scene on other nights. He estimates at his height, he was attending five shows a week. Today, he runs a weekly open mic at Rebel Bite, which stands where Pizza Pie once was, and still takes pictures.
“Nothing I experienced in the 10 years of living in the valley and working in Beverly Hills touched me the way Long Beach did,” he says. “Long Beach means more to me than any other place I’ve lived in my life.”
Risher is one of 11 individuals serving on the Long Beach Music Council, a community-based organization founded last year by local musicians Eric Gray and Shea Newkirk. They’ve since recruited a diverse group of volunteers — whose range of expertise includes licensing, busking and jingle writing — act as area reps for their respective districts in the city.
“At the time we had hundreds of local musicians living in Long Beach who many times had to leave the city to earn an income,” Gray says. “We did not feel the policies governing entertainment and music were conducive to fostering growth.”
The council, which meets once a month independently of the city, operates on the belief that live music fosters economic growth. It strives to create a win-win situation for local businesses, the city and local musicians by advocating for updated policy that fairly streamlines the notoriously convoluted entertainment permitting process, ultimately drawing more businesses and venues into Long Beach.
“The city is a big entity,” says Mark Guillen, lead singer and guitarist of local rock band Redwood Down and the area rep for North Long Beach. “When they talk about live entertainment, they’re thinking a nightclub kind of thing so they put all these regulations on it. But what they’re not seeing are the smaller restaurants that might have a single mic with a guy on the guitar, and they would be under the same requirements as the nightclub.”
What often happens, Risher says, is that those smaller businesses decide that obtaining a permit for music is not worth the trouble.
Since its formation, the council has been hard at work, collaborating with the Downtown Dining and Entertainment Taskforce, as well as the Downtown Long Beach Associates and the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association. It also helped obtain an entertainment license for 4th St. Vine winery. Its partnership with Long Beach Airport, an avid supporter of the local music scene, has produced a playlist made of local music for the airport terminal. Soon, the airport will be inviting local musicians to play on its concourse, according to Gray.
The Musician’s Guide, which the council released a few months ago, has been downloaded several thousand times on its website. It covers everything from best negotiation practices and conduct for performers to signature events, recording studios and record stores.
“We don’t exist in a vacuum,” Risher says. “That’s another awesome thing about the music scene here. Everyone seems to talk to each other and care about what others are doing. And the most supportive attendees of music events are also people who are in that scene.
“I never wanna hear anyone say Long Beach doesn’t have that great of a music scene because that’s complete bull. We have an amazing thriving music scene with real talent. We just don’t have the best showcases for them, and this is sort of the first step.”