Closed since mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Belly Up nightclub has devised a novel way to keep the music playing while the 46-year-old Solana Beach venue entered its ninth week of being shuttered.
Billed as the SharkBelly Festival, the online-only event — which launched May 6 — will let fans download 39 complete live albums, for the next 90 days only, from bellyuplive.com. All of them were recorded at the famed North County club, which over the years has hosted everyone from B.B. King, the Rolling Stones and Lady Gaga to Green Day, No Doubt and Jimmy Buffett.
The 39 artists whose live albums are being released, all with the title “Live at the Belly Up,” include at least four Grammy Award winners: gospel-music legends the Blind Boys of Alabama; blues mainstay Charlie Musselwhite; neo-soul singer Macy Gray; and Jamaican reggae legends Toots and The Maytals.
Other bands and solo artists whose “Live at the Belly Up” albums are now available range from Rufus Wainwright, Big Head Todd and the Monsters and Ozomatli to Zap Mama, Yonder Mountain String Band and actor-turned-troubadour Jeff Daniels.
Each album can be downloaded for $7.99. Individual songs are priced between 99 cents and $1.29 apiece. Proceeds will be evenly divided between the artists and the 600-seat venue, whose next scheduled show is a June 10 performance by blues mainstay Taj Mahal.
“We’ve had the online-only Belly Up Live record label since our first release in 2013, and we’ve put out live records when it made sense to do so,” said Belly Up Entertainment President Chris Goldsmith. “It’s not our primary business, but it’s wonderful to document performances for the public.
“But when everything had to close, due to COVID-19, there was a lot of time to think. We had lot of recordings that have never been released. Because, even though the artists gave us permission to record them at the time, for various reasons — including conflicts with their record labels — they didn’t want it to come out afterwards.”
But now, with virtually all concerts and live entertainment events on hold because of the coronavirus, artists are far more open to having their “Live at the Belly Up” recordings released now. “We reached out to them and they were really receptive,” said Goldsmith, who has won multiple Grammy Awards as a producer of albums by Musselwhite, the Blind Boys of Alabama and Ben Harper.
“It was heartwarming, because there’s a genuine affection for the Belly Up and the artists are able to support the club with these albums.”
Those artists include San Diego saxophone star Karl Denson. He has performed at the Belly Up more than 50 times with his band, Tiny Universe, and as a member of Slightly Stoopid, the Greyboy Allstars and (in 2015) the Rolling Stones.
“It really is one of my favorite places in the country. It’s an awesome all-around venue for listening and playing,” said Denson, who was scheduled to perform with the Stones on May 8 at the band’s now-postponed 2020 tour-opening concert here at SDCCU Stadium. He first played the Belly Up with Greyboy Allstars in the mid-1990s.
“We love that venue, and we’re pretty confident that our live album will be great, because we’ve played so many great shows there. We’ll see if we make any money from, but that’s not really the motivation. We just want to be in league with the Belly Up. Because we believe in them and they’ve believed in us for all these years. So we’re cool with whatever they want to do.”
Goldsmith is hopeful fans of the Belly Up will share Denson’s desire to support the venue.
“The cost of each album is about the same as buying a drink at the Belly Up,” he said. “So if everybody who’s been to the club over the years ‘buys a drink’ now, it will be very substantial for us. This provides people with something in exchange for their support. We’re giving them a little piece of history in exchange for their small contribution.”
— George Varga writes for The San Diego Union-Tribune