Let’s be real: growing up as a musician in Orange County can be a tough gig. Even though Orange County is home to some amazing bands, musicians, and artists from multiple genres and styles, in some scenes repping the ol’ 714,949 (and let’s not forget 562 or 657) can discredit your music due to the ridiculous assumptions some have about our experiences. But despite out of town ignorance, noise-hating neighbors, city rules that are inhospitable to the arts, pay-to-play shows, and some of the gnarliest traffic this side of the world has to offer, OC musicians power through. In my experience, being from OC is a beautiful and misunderstood thing, and if you grew up in Orange County playing music, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Here are 10 signs you probably grew up a musician in Orange County.
1. You have sold 50 or more tickets to play a show to 15 people.
Ah, the memories of adolescence. Not a care in the world, except how the hell am I supposed sell 50-100 tickets for a mixed bill on a Tuesday at 6 p.m.?! Perilous Orange County pay-to-play shows aren’t solely reserved for high school metal bands, it’s a full fledged business and reality for working bands across ages, genres, and locations. From rock and country shows at South County’s Coach House to the emo and pop-punk at the Alley in Fullerton (RIP), if your band has wedged a foot on a bill with a headliner anywhere in the county in the last 15 years, you had to pay to get there. Hell, someone once roped a former band of mine into selling tickets to play a seafood restaurant that went under before the show even happened. Extra brownie points to bands who hustled hard to sell tickets for the very coveted 2nd spot, only to be oversold by rich kids from South County who clearly just bought them or sold them to their mom, subsequently bumping you right back to opener. Extra EXTRA realness points if you sold the tickets at the wrong price and ended up having to shell out even more money on each of the 200 tickets you sold for that opening slot on a punk show at the Galaxy Concert Theater (now the Observatory).
2. You know Southern California back streets and freeways like the back of your hand.
Waze doesn’t have shit on you. Chances are you impress (and scare) nearly anyone brave enough to fare the highways and byways of SoCal with you as captain. From hauling ass up the 5 to LA on a Friday night, to navigating the treacherous 91 freeway to Mission Tobacco Lounge, to getting from your grandma’s house to the Continental Room in less than 30 minutes, the OC Musician has known every secret route in town long before Google Maps thrust a bunch of rush hour drivers into our way. Passersby envy your ability to confidently double-park in Downtown Santa Ana, unload gear, and still manage to find a free parking spot that hasn’t been commandeered by Downtown Inc. Just don’t try and put us on the 73 freeway, ok?
3. You get excited to play anywhere outside of Orange County.
Being a band from behind the Orange Curtain means your chances of being taken seriously are pretty slim the minute you cross county lines. Often, bands and artists treat being from Orange County as a dirty little secret, opting to rep ‘So Cal,’ or facetiously rep LA or (gasp!) Long Beach online to gain validation from out of towners. So when a band or promoter from out of town actually invites you to play anywhere outside of Orange County, it’s a moment to relish in for those of us who embrace our Orange County roots. Nevermind the times LA, So Cal, or even San Diego have misrepresented your hometown on a flyer for an out of town show, you are just stoked to be on the bill.
4. You cut your teeth on shitty weekday bar shows with a mixed bill featuring 6 or more bands.
When I say shitty I’m not talking about the bars, because they are backbone and the lifeblood of any new or working band trying to get better and build a following. By shitty I mean your prog rock band is wedged between two crust bands, a singer songwriter, a dude with a 7-string guitar and a loop pedal, and a goddamn cover band that somehow managed to think Shinedown, Bob Marley, and Sheryl Crow would all work in the same set. Alone or in similar company these forms of musical expression are great, but together they are a recipe for disaster. Chances are you have played your share of midnight sets on this line up to the tired bartender who ran out of fucks to give, hardly letting a “cool set bro” pass through their lips. Now that you’ve grown and your band has a following, you shudder at the prospect of having to return to this reality, but will happily support the local scene for one or two bands when you’re lucky enough to score a late shift at work the following day.
5. The police have shut down a practice or a show, even at a legit venue.
There is only one thing police in Orange County hate more than criticism, and that’s live music. Don’t underestimate their ability to sniff it out, and if they don’t find you making a ruckus on their own, one of your neighbors will gladly lend a helping hand by turning you in for practicing that last “Smells Like Teen Spirit” riff five minutes too long. Kids and adults from Lake Forest to Buena Park shiver at the thought of turning that Fender Rumble 15 up past 3, if not from past PD experience then from Orange County mythology of receiving tickets or even worse: eviction. House parties are basically a race against the clock, with the most coveted time slot being the earliest possible. Its not just private residences who fall victim to this Orange County curse, the police have been known to show up to actual bars and venues and shut down entire shows, invoking noise complaints or permit restrictions. When you have cool neighbors (like me…thank you, neighbors!) who don’t call the police on you (anymore), your faith in humanity is restored, you want to dance in the streets, thank them all, and send each of their beautiful faces an edible arrangement: but then you remember you’re broke because you are a musician living in Orange County and go back to awkwardly waving hello while moving your car for street sweeper.
6. You know this guy.
You don’t have to be a stoner or hand drum aficionado to be on a first name basis with Orange County’s favorite humanitarian and African legend Bigira Mustafa David Prince KiroKiro, better known to Orange County musicians and fans as Kiro. Between hitting up shows, running African Corner, hosting and attending drum circles, and raising money for homeless youth in Africa via his nonprofit The Moses Fund, one has to wonder how this outgoing music loving OC transplant has managed to know everyone and be everywhere in the county at once. Stickers of his face grace guitar cases and band vans all over the county, and chances are your mug probably hung up on his shops wall of fame at one point.
7. You’ve played a short-lived DIY or radical space and dreamed of having your own.
Cookoos Nest, The Wizard’s Den, AAA Electra, SolArt, Unit B, Top Acid’s physical space, Koos, Public Storage, Orbitz Studios, The Hub, even all those shows put on in living rooms during the day in South County, you roll your eyes when people say "NOTHING happens in Orange County” because you know its just not true. Bands are fully aware of the history of bad ass short lived (and much needed) music and art spaces that have existed in our community and all the work it takes to make it happen. If you’re radical you have most likely graced one of the many El Centro Cultural de Mexico stages or participated in one of the famed all night Fandangos at La Bodeguita, if you’re old school you probably saw and played some epic shows at Public Storage, Koo’s, or the Cookoo’s Nest, Singer Songwriters across the county mourned the loss of the Santa Fe Café and Morey’s Deli, if you’re a 20 something punk you cried when The Clinic got shut down, and if you were a mess 10 years ago you probably still reminisce about the good old days of chain smoking at garage rock shows at Johnny Orbitz’s before the snake burned it down.
You and your buddies have always had a dream of opening up your own space, and probably have had your eye on the perfect spot, but zoning laws inhospitable to the arts, outrageous rent, and neighbors who hate noise almost always get the best of these dreams before they ever become reality. We cherish and honor those whose physical spaces have lasted and continue to support musicians like El Centro, the LGBT Center OC, and Chain Reaction, and mourn each time a new spot gets shut down. Special shout out to the DIY, restaurant, and retail spots who put their necks on the line to support the all ages arts, you know who you are and we’re not about to compromise your lease.
8. Late night Mexican food is a staple of your diet.
I don’t care what anyone fro m San Diego says, Orange County has some of the BEST Mexican food in the country. We also have Del Taco, and Del Taco is the best food in the world—period. Chances are if you are a musician you love all of it and have had your share of post show Del Taco, Albertos, Alertos, El Taco, Taqueria de Anda, Tacos Mexico, Holé Mole, or Albertacos. This is a tradition passed down through generations of OC musicians, whether you ate Naugles after punk shows in the ’80s, Albertos after rocking the vote in the ’90s, or Del in the post Y2k world, the love of late night Mexican food is in our blood.
9. You or a close friend have been in a ska band.
Look, you don’t have to lie to kick it. You or a close friend were in a ska band, maybe in high school, maybe in college, maybe as a full grown adult. (Full disclosure: I was committed to my ska band for years.) This seems to be a polarizing point of either pride or embarrassment for fellow OC musicians. People from outside Orange County never seem to understand our affinity for ska, which often comes through in jokes that go right over the heads of musicians from out of town. At one point in your life you probably put checkers on every flyer, mini skirt, pair of vans, chucks, or creepers that ever passed through your hands. You knew who Goldfinger was way before Tony Hawk Pro Skater let all those normies in on ska, maybe you even identified as a legit rude girl/boy and called out 3rd wavers on their "poserish” ignorance of first wave legends like Prince Buster or Desmond Dekker. You not only learned up strokes on guitar, walking bass lines, and the one-drop, but mastered them. If you’re lucky you might have even opened for (or been in) a legendary OC ska band like Save Ferris, Reel Big Fish, The Aquabats, Suburban Legends, or Save the Swim Team. You probably still know every line to Tragic Kingdom and love to say your fave No Doubt song is "Trapped in a Box.” Extra cool points if you were a high school jazz band to ska punk horn section transplant.
10. Your coworkers think you are either a rockstar or sleep in your mom’s garage.
You normally don’t mix work and your real life, but your nosy co-worker has managed to find out you are in a band. Despite the glaring differences, you really like your co-workers (you really do!) but you just don’t think they would understand your music. You slipped up, you showed them the latest hot mix of your band’s demo after listening to it on your lunch break in traffic on the 405. Your co-workers are not about to miss out on being friends with the potential next big thing to come out of OC, Steve in IT is still kicking himself for sleeping on that Avenged Sevenfold show at Hogue Barmichaels in high school. Some believe you’re the real deal while others remain skeptical, knowing that most musicians are broke and come a dime a dozen in these parts. They speculate about you and your band, someone even finds pictures of you from Facebook playing to a rather large crowd. Was it photoshopped for OK Cupid or is it the real deal? Only time will tell.