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Concerts by the Sea returning this summer under Kiwanis Club of La Jolla

La Jolla's Concerts by the Sea series will return to Scripps Park for four shows in July and August.
(File)

Four shows are set for Scripps Park in July and August.

For performers like Sue Palmer, being onstage is “life-affirming.” But with the COVID-19 pandemic canceling concerts the past two years, she hasn’t had the chance to lead her boogie-woogie band of musicians before a crowd.

Until now.

Palmer and her Motel Swing Orchestra are among the acts set to perform as part of the return of the summer Concerts by the Sea series at Scripps Park in La Jolla.

The concerts, once run by the La Jolla Town Council and La Jolla Rotary Club, will now be run by the Kiwanis Club of La Jolla and be known as Kiwanis Club of La Jolla Concerts by the Sea. The Kiwanis Club oversees several large public events, including the La Jolla Half Marathon, Junior Olympics and pancake breakfast.

Sue Palmer and Her Motel Swing Orchestra will take the stage July 31 as part of the four-Sunday concert series in July and August.

“We wanted to start with four concerts, at least for the first year,” said event organizer Howard Zatkin, who agreed to lead the effort in his retirement years.

“I’ve lived in La Jolla since the late ‘60s and music is a love of mine,” Zatkin said. “I went to the concerts and loved them. What could be better on a Sunday afternoon to come out to The Cove and hear some music? It was amazing to me how many people came and danced. It was a real community event. La Jolla has so few events … and I hate to see some of these traditions go when so many people enjoy them.”

Though he has no experience coordinating concerts, Zatkin said he reached out to popular performers from past concerts, who in turn recommended sound technicians and offered advice on city permits. Some of the performers even agreed to play at a reduced rate.

“They wanted the concerts to come back as much as the audience,” Zatkin said.

The concerts were put on pause after 33 years when the board of directors announced at the end of the 2016 season that it would be the last unless a “substantial long-term funding source” came forward to underwrite the shows.

At the time, board President Shirleymae Davis said “it made me sick to [my] heart and I cried my eyes out over it, but that doesn’t bring in the money, unfortunately.” She cited increases in city permit costs and decreases in sponsorships and donations.

Soon after, it was announced that La Jolla Cove Swim proceeds would provide some of the money to bring the concerts back. The swim — a reimagining of the La Jolla Rough Water Swim, one of the world’s best-known open-water swim races — was held in fall 2019 and raised $20,000 to fund the first round of concerts. The Kiwanis Club of La Jolla oversees both the La Jolla Cove Swim and Concerts by the Sea.

With the COVID-19 pandemic and limitations on gatherings in full effect, the concerts were not held in summer 2020. “We had all the performers lined up, put deposits down, but COVID was still going,” said Kiwanian Suzanne Weiner. “But the performers agreed to do it in 2021. ... That was the idea, but in the summer of 2021, the Delta variant [was spreading], so we postponed it. And bless their hearts, our performers said they would do it in 2022.”

Sue Palmer and Her Motel Swing Orchestra
Sue Palmer and Her Motel Swing Orchestra (from left): April West, Jonny Viau, Pete Harrison, Sharon Shufelt, Palmer, Steve Wilcox and Liz Ajuzie.
(Nick Abadilla)

“Scripps Park is one of the most beautiful places in the world to perform,” said Palmer, who has appeared in the Concerts by the Sea about 10 times. “It’s like the French Riviera.”

During the summer concerts, she added, “the crowd is happy and enthusiastic, the sun is out, there are swing dancers and everyone is moving. ... It has been strange not playing. We had to go without live music for at least a year … and people were hard up to have music in their lives. We finally get to have concerts.”

Those who have seen her can expect something fresh during her show this year, Palmer said.

“We have a new singer, and with her came a whole new repertoire of songs,” she said. “We’re looking forward to showing off what we can all do together. We have been playing together for 20 years, and coming back for any kind of performance gives our life meaning.”

Ron Jones, who emceed the concerts for 20 years, applauded the Kiwanis Club for its effort but said that rising city fees might complicate the endeavor.

“I’m in total support of [the concerts’] return. Every time I do a public appearance, people ask me if and when they are going to come back, and people are sad when I tell them I don’t know,” he said. “It was a wonderful community event that brought people out to La Jolla’s front porch. I salute the club for trying to make it happen.”

More information, including volunteer opportunities, will be posted at kiwanisclublajolla.org.

Concert schedule

All concerts will begin at 3:30 p.m. at Scripps Park in La Jolla.

July 17: Full Strength

July 24: Mighty Untouchables

July 31: Sue Palmer and Her Motel Swing Orchestra

Aug. 7: The Heroes ◆