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Monday, August 08, 2005 | It’s 9 p.m. on Friday night and the sky above the Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park still shimmers with the residue of a perfect summer day. Framing the intricate architecture of the pavilion is an early-rising moon that lights up the clouds above and behind it.
Local residents promenade around the park, diners digest their meals at the nearby Prado restaurant and revelers make their way to and from engagements and parties at the Balboa Park Club. Meanwhile, in a dark corner of the pavilion, just to the east of the main stage, a different activity altogether is taking place. Amps are plugged in, microphone stands are erected and drum skins are tightened as ONE, an eight-member roots-reggae band, set up for an impromptu, unsolicited concert.
Soon, a heartbeat “thump, thump” of bass and percussion begins to rattle the pavilion’s cast-iron benches. The bleat of trumpets and the haunting wail of a saxophone frame vocalist Jarrod King’s voice as he proclaims to the near-empty amphitheater, “It’s got to start somewhere – might as well be here.”
His words, though they refer to something else entirely, are apt to the scenario. The band’s members certainly want to start something, and after many frustrating and thankless attempts at working the city’s club and bar scene, they recently decided to try a new approach to sharing their music with San Diego. By setting up a generator in the bushes behind the pavilion and running cables to their instruments, they have made the most of a performance space that is unique, acoustically sound and free.
“It’s a way that we can gig for people, but it’s not like we set up a venue, we’ll just come and get the vibe we’ll get,” said Corey Coughlin, ONE’s 23-year-old bassist. “I believe, and I’m sure these guys believe too, that it’s a worthy message for people to hear. It’s a way to spread the message in a peaceful and loving way – just to show love and appreciate life.”
The music is a heady jumble of roots reggae, with central themes that it sticks to like glue. At the core of the sound are two percussionists, Eric Meza, who plays a five-piece drumkit, and Christian Molina, who taps a steady rhythm on two large bongos. Adding to the sound are two guitarists, a bassist, a keyboard player, a horn player and a saxophonist. The tunes are tight in their execution but lazy in their style. The lyrics are heartfelt. Somehow, King keeps his regular references to “Jah,” “peace” and “love” from becoming clichéd. Later, King admits that he doesn’t think of himself as much of a singer, and said that he only stepped up to the mic after ONE’s previous singer was shot in a drug-related dispute.
The intensity that charges King’s voice and facial expressions tells the audience that he’s being profound when he sings about such universal themes.
Not that there is an enormous audience to play to. On the outskirts of the theater, curious crowds of onlookers drift up to check out what’s going on. A few couples and small groups wander into the pavilion and take a seat on the benches, staying for a while and applauding politely after each song. Screaming groupies, they are not.
But the musicians say that crowds aren’t really a big issue for them. Asked if he would like to see hundreds of people packing the pavilion to see him sing, King shrugged his shoulders.
“Either way, it’s fine with me,” he said. “If we are playing for a lot of people and they’re having a good time and it’s making them feel good, that’s all that matters.”
Around the perimeter of the pavilion, orange lights cast an eerie glow across the open-air performance space. The whir of the hidden generator is noticeable in the background, as ever-present as the thick scent of cannabis that wafts from the band’s friends and fans in the scattered crowd.
Standing slightly back, watching the performance with a thoughtful look on his face, is Michael Hinton. The 50-something local resident was on his evening stroll when he heard the band and diverted his course to check it out. He said it was nice to see the organ pavilion being used and that it wasn’t used enough.
John and Laurie Van Lossow, visiting San Diego from Seattle, were also delighted to stumble across the impromptu concert. “It’s nice easy listening music,” said John Van Lossow. “It’s awesome, it’s great,” added his wife.
The idea to play at the pavilion is credited to 25-year-old Juan Pablo “J.P.” Rojas. The soft-spoken guitarist and vocalist explained that his band purposefully don’t play on the pavilion stage.
“I see that as a platform to be invited to now,” he said. “Before, we took it as our playground, and now I have great respect for the stage itself. It’s an opportunity for musicians to present their ideas. I guess I’ll wait for the day we’re invited.”
Rojas said the setting adds a lot to ONE’s music. Not just in terms of acoustics.
“It adds a lot of history,” he said. “There’s a lot of history in this place, history not only of Balboa, but of what California really is, at least for this particular place. People come to find the reason of what this pavilion really is and what this park represents.”
ONE’s performances don’t stick to a schedule. The band members themselves often don’t know when their next open air adventure will be. For anyone lucky enough to stumble across a show, however, the experience is likely to draw them back on a Friday night to the bushes behind the organ pavilion – just to check if the generator’s running.
Please contact Will Carless directly at
For information on ONE and their upcoming shows, indoors and out, contact Juan Pablo Rojas at