Switchfoot set for Petco Park drive-in concert, new record and virtual Bro-Am surf contest/concert
The Grammy Award-winning San Diego band will be busy in June, despite the coronavirus pandemic
Grammy Award-winning San Diego band Switchfoot is ready to kick off the summer with an ambitious triple play, designed as a musical response to the coronavirus pandemic.
On June 7, Switchfoot will headline the first drive-in concert in the history of Petco Park. Attendance will be limited to 250 vehicles for the 7 p.m. concert, which will be preceded by a noon concert featuring B-Side Players, SM Familia and Los Sleepwalkers that will also have a 250 vehicle limit and also follow social distancing guidelines. (The concerts come a day after the same Lexus Premier parking lot at Petco Park will host evening drive-in screenings of the movie “Anchorman.”)
Then, on June 19, Switchfoot will release “Covers,” a six-song EP on Fantasy Records which features the band’s arresting versions of songs by Frank Ocean, Vampire Weekend, One Direction alum Harry Styles and others. The songs were chosen, in the words of Switchfoot leader Jon Foreman, “as a lifeline to other people while we’re all trapped in this quarantine, because a cover song can remind you that you are not alone.”
And finally, on June 27, the five-man North County band will transform its annual Bro-Am surf contest and concert — which for the past 15 years has been held as a free event at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas — into a paid live stream.
As in previous years, all Bro-Am proceeds will go to nonprofit organizations that aid homeless and at-risk youth. One of those nonprofits, Feeding San Diego, is also the beneficiary of Switchfoot’s Petco Park drive-in concert. (That concert is being hosted by the San Diego Padres and presented by Local Media San Diego, the parent company of radio stations 91X and Z90.)
“Music feels much more powerful and necessary than ever,” Foreman said Thursday, speaking by phone from the Encinitas area home he shares with his wife and their 8-year-old daughter.
“It’s a strange time. Because, of course, if you ask us if we want to play live and support an incredible cause, we will say: ‘Yes.’ So the question is: ‘How are you going to do that in a way that’s safe and sound?’ And it seems like the people behind this concert at Petco have done a good job of thinking this through.”
Together 24 years, Switchfoot teams singer-guitarist Foreman with his brother, bassist/singer Tim Foreman, lead guitarist Drew Shirley, drummer Chad Butler and guitarist/keyboardist Jerome Fontamilias.
The band did a stadium tour of Europe last summer with Bon Jovi and has performed everywhere from concert halls and clubs to festivals and — in 2011 — at sea in the hangar bay of the nuclear-powered John C. Stennis aircraft carrier. That was the same year Switchfoot won a Grammy in the Best Rock Gospel Album category.
But the band has never before performed at a drive-in concert, a live-music option that is becoming a growing phenomenon here and around the world in the age of the coronavirus and social distancing. And the band has never done any part of its Bro-Am surf contest and beach concert online before.
‘A great opportunity’
“For years, we’ve said that our job description is to bring people together, and — as of 2020 — that is not going to be a reality in the same room or space,” Foreman said.
“But we still feel like it’s our job to bring people together. It just means we have to do it a parking lot at Petco and online for the Bro-Am, instead of Moonlight Beach. I’m looking at the positive side, although it won’t be the same as playing for 15,000 people on my hometown beach. But by being online for the first time, it will be open to people from all over the world who were unable to attend before.
“And we’re talking about raising funds to support a bunch of vulnerable kids who need food, education and the things we all need to feel loved and worthwhile in a community. They need that more than ever. With the pandemic, we felt like we’ve had our hands tied behind our backs. So doing the Bro-Am online and the drive-in concert both feel like a great opportunity.”
Bro-Am’s musical performances will be live-streamed from various locations by the band and its guests. Foreman, an avid surfer, laughed when asked how a surf competition that won’t actually take place will be presented online.
“Yeah, we don’t know yet either. If you have any good ideas, let us know!” he said. “We might have to resort to showing surfing videos. I don’t know how we’ll broadcast the glorious surf at Moonlight Beach around the world, but we’ll see. I feel very comfortable saying this is not our event anymore. It’s the community’s.”
The surf plays a key role in Switchfoot’s upcoming video of “Swim Good,” the Frank Ocean song that opens the band’s new “Covers” EP.
The six-song record also features Switchfoot’s impassioned renditions of Vampire Weekend’s “Harmony Hall,” Jon Bellion’s “Stupid Deep,” “The Verve’s “Lucky Man,” Harry Style’s “Lights Up” and The Chainsmokers’ “Sick Boy.”
In each instance, Foreman said, what drew him and his band mates to these songs the most were the lyrics, which he believes share a commonality.
“We wanted to pick a diverse group of songs, musicians, nationalities, ethnicities, belief systems and various ways that people see the world, for two reasons,” he explained.
“It feels like, on the one hand, we are so isolated and insular in this quarantine. Even the media we consume is predicated on what we have consumed in the past, so it feels like our circles get smaller and smaller. So this record seems like an attempt to wrap our arms around the world. If our job description is to bring people together, how do we do that when we can’t even come together?
“In keeping with (the message on) our last album, (2019’s) ‘Native Tongue’: When fear and hatred speak the loudest, as a culture and community, we all lose. We need to remember that love is our native tongue and what we all have in common is stronger than our differences. This EP is an attempt to voice that conversation.”
‘We have no respect!’
Foreman laughed heartily when asked if his band’s June 7 Petco Park drive-in concert would feature back-to-back versions of Ocean’s “Swim Good” and the 2016 Switchfoot song, “Float.”
“Hah! That’s a wonderful idea,” he said.
“It’s funny because we haven’t played together in months. And even hearing you talk about playing live music makes me excited and thankful that ideas like that (in-concert song combination) will have their day.
“ ‘Swim Good’ is a great place to start (the new record). I feel like its lyrics connects with the particular time we’re in now in an almost uncanny way: ‘I’m going to try to swim from something bigger than me.’ It feels like this weight. And, absolutely, the lyrical element of the song is what felt most connected with what we were trying to accomplish with this record.”
Switchfoot’s version of “Lights Up” features chunky funk instrumental accents that are nowhere to be found on the original version by former One Direction singer Styles. The band’s interpretation of The Verve’s “Lucky Man” has a more pronounced rhythmic snap, while largely dispensing with the string orchestration that The Verve featured.
Is there a balance Switchfoot sought to strike between putting their own stamp on the songs on “Covers” and being respectful to the original versions?
“We have no respect! There is no balance!” Foreman said. “Whenever anyone takes one of our songs and reinterprets it, whether for a remix or a cover version, I am always more excited if it feels like their song. So we took that approach with this record.
“We have a similar philosophy with our live shows when we play our own songs, where it doesn’t matter what the album (version) sounds like. That’s irrelevant. When you’re playing live music, you want to represent just that moment.
“I don’t try and be an actor and pretend I’m going to know what Frank Ocean or Harry Styles meant when they sang those songs, because I’m a horrible actor. I interpret each lyric for what it is for me. I take it and run with it. That’s the beauty of doing covers.”
It is not unusual for Switchfoot to perform a cover song during its concerts. Foreman estimates the band knows about two-dozen songs by The Beatles, Tom Petty, Thin Lizzy, Cyndi Lauper and other artists, including — crucially — Led Zeppelin. The two Foreman brothers were barely out of grade school they co-founded a hard-rocking San Diego cover band called Joker’s Wild, which specialized in songs by Led Zeppelin.
“I was in junior high and I’ll never forget it,” Foreman said. “There is this strange thing in junior high, when young adolescent boys are into Zeppelin and play ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ and I fit the stereotype precisely. l always joke that when you hit puberty you have to suddenly start writing your own songs, because you can’t hit the high notes (like Robert Plant) anymore.
“Joker’s Wild was a horrible cover band! I’ll never forget this one backyard party we played. These older kids, like in 9th or 10th grade, showed up. They knew how to play their instruments and played better than us. It was like we opened for them — and we didn’t mean to. We all went home, and said: ‘We have to practice!’ ”
‘Feed the Need’ drive-in concert, featuring Switchfoot, with Trish Jetton of Hirie
When: 7 p.m. June 7
Where: Petco Park, downtown
Tickets: $100 per vehicle (tickets for the noon concert featuring B-Side Players are $50 per vehicle)
Online: Both concerts go on sale at 5 p.m. today, May 29, at FeedTheNeedSanDiego.com
16th annual Switchfoot Bro-Am live-stream
When: June 27 (time to be determined)
--George Varga is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune
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