You want to know what the year’s been like for music fans? Start listing all of the artists who have passed away: Glenn Fry, Prince, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Sharon Jones, Leon Russell, Merle Haggard, Phife Dawg, Prince Buster, Jim Lyons, Oklin Bloodworth ... 2016 has been a year full of suck.
Oddly, that’s a bit at odds with the feeling of Fresno’s live music scene this year, which had of some of the biggest, most exciting concert happenings in recent memory. Here is a snapshot of the bands and venues that caught my attention in 2016.
This is by no means a complete list, and I welcome any debate.
Garth Brooks: The country mega-star returned to the scene in a big way in 2016. He also returned to Fresno after close to two decades, doing a four-show, three-night run at Save Mart Center with his wife, Trisha Yearwood. The total ticket count was “considerably in excess of 50,000,” according to Brooks’ publicity team. But was it the best concert ever?
Paul McCartney: It was the first time in Fresno for ex-Beatle Paul McCartney, who kicked off his One on One tour at the Save Mart Center in April to much fan fair. He started the concert with a “Hard Days Night,” a song he hadn’t performed live in more than 50 years. Suffice it to say, Sir Paul was well received.
Tyler the Creator: The rapper (and Odd Future point man) drew a capacity crowd of youngsters (median age younger than 25) to the Rainbow Ballroom and kept them squashed in on the dance floor, bouncing and crowd surfing and the like for close to three hours.
Banda MS: One of two regional Mexican acts at this year’s Big Fresno Fair, this 16-piece brass band packed the Paul Paul Theater (and also the stage). The show was an hour and forty-five minutes of non-stop music and motion and a real treat, even for a guy who doesn’t speak the language.
Reverend Horton Heat: The Texas rockabilly band headlined the show, but this was really a package deal, with a trio of not-to-miss openers, including the one-man band Lincoln Durham, Unknown Hinson (who “looks like a vampire version of Conway Twitty and plays like a hillbilly Van Halen”) and the Legendary Shack Shakers. The band’s singer, JD Wilkes, was the star of the night.
Grizzly Fest: In its second year at Chuckchansi Park, Grizzly Fest drew 7,000 people to see a trio of hip headlining acts (reggae rockers Slighty Stoopid, indie-darlings Cold War Kids and the rap duo Atmosphere) and an under card of local and regional bands, including Fresno rapper Fashawn. Festival organizers proved they have what it takes to put on a sustainable, regional music festival in the Central Valley.
Grizzly Fest 2017 is slated for April 29. Expect ticket and lineup information soon.
Save Mart Center: A quick tally of some of the performers who played the Save Mart Center in 2016 (besides McCartney and Brooks): Justin Bieber, Carrie Underwood, Selena Gomez, Gwen Stefani, Cage the Elephant, Mana, Blink 182, TobyMac, James Taylor, Pitbull, Pepe Aguilar, Dierks Bentley, Luke Bryan, Julion Alvarez and the Winter Jam tour. The arena had a busy year, and things do not look like they are slowing down for the new year.
Selland Arena: The Fresno Convention and Entertainment Center, which runs Selland Arena and Saroyan Theatre, is looking at its best year ever. Selland Arena posted record-breaking attendance numbers with three sell-out concerts, including the dapper rapper G-Eazy, Hillsong United and Carlos Santana.
The last time the arena saw one sell-out show? 2014.
Rotary Amphitheater: Last year, I complained that this outdoor venue at Woodward Park was underused as a concert site. That changed in 2016. The amphitheater hosted a number of festival shows (the Taste of Chaos Festival, 51Fifty Music Fest, BlazeFest), plus Kiss Country’s $5 concert series and the return of Sacramento rock band Deftones.
Audie’s Olympic Tavern: The Tower District’s favorite dive bar music venue celebrated its ninth anniversary in January with a pair of weekend shows.
In late March, it held its final set of shows.
It wasn’t the only Valley music venue to close this year. In June, the DIY Chinatown Youth Center shut down after a seven-year run of doing low-cost, all-ages punk and hardcore shows. And just last month, the hip downtown eatery/pub Peeve’s Public House announced it would not reopen after a five-month hiatus.