…Rattle and Roll

My wife Kathe and I love live music, and the Belly Up has long been one of our favorite venues. We’ve seen some amazing performances there – from young artists on their way to breaking through to those deep into storied careers – and been home fifteen minutes after these shows. The Belly Up has endured and earned a great reputation due to their ability to identify and book so many great acts.


Recognizing the benefit of this experience, the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which manages the Fairgrounds, contracted with Belly Up to build out and operate THE SOUND, the music venue located in a building that previously housed off-track wagering. THE SOUND opened on February 3, 2023 with a Ziggy Marley concert, and recently wrapped up a successful first year with higher-than-anticipated revenues along with plans for improvements as it enters its second year.


Prior to THE SOUND’s launch, I had the chance to talk with Chris Goldsmith, president of Belly Up, who told me it would fill an unmet need in the San Diego region. While there are venues of various sizes in the area, there was nothing similar to the 1,900-capacity THE SOUND. As a result, touring artists seeking a venue of that size, typically bypassed the region.


Despite knowing about THE SOUND, the types of artists that would be playing there, and often checking the listing of upcoming shows, we did not make it there in the first year. When we learned Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, a group we really like, would be playing there in early March, we knew we had to go.

Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real at THE SOUND. Photo by Jason McClain

From 2015-2019 the group was Neil Young’s backup band; recording four albums and touring with him. Together with Lady Gaga, Lukas Nelson co-wrote the music for “A Star is Born,” which won the 2019 Grammy for Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media. Nelson also records and performs live often with his father Willie, who has written a few songs and recorded an album or two of his own during his 70 years in the music business.


The show was phenomenal, the venue absolutely fantastic, and everyone in attendance seemed to be having a great time. We certainly did. During the ten minute drive home, I turned to Kathe and asked “Why did we wait so long?”


As THE SOUND enters its second year, the Belly Up management has plans to enhance the sound system, upgrade the menu, and increase the number of shows annually, all of which should make it an even better experience for concert goers. Kathe and I will definitely be going back soon.