Live music abounds at local restaurants and bars, concerts in the park, summer festivals and even at the library.
By Sharael Kolberg and Newport Beach Magazine Staff
If you’re a fan of live music, you don’t have to go far in Newport Beach. From intimate performances in restaurants to large community concerts, there are nearly nightly options to listen to anything from jazz to rock, local cover bands and acoustic singer-songwriters. Whether you want to sit back and observe or hit the dance floor, opportunities abound at music venues throughout the city.
Dining in Newport Beach can include spectacular harbor or ocean views, a family-friendly vibe or a romantic date night feel with food ranging from casual tacos to high-priced steak, but one thing that always makes the experience better is live music. Whether it’s a solo artist, a quartet or a full band, music sets the scene.
At A&O Restaurant & Bar, located at the waterfront Balboa Bay Resort, you’ll find California cuisine served in a casual atmosphere right on the harbor. Guests can enjoy all-day dining, indoors or on the outdoor patio, noshing on menu items like seared scallops, free-range chicken wings, fish tacos and beef tenderloin as they watch boats drift by on Newport Harbor. On Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 6-9 p.m., mostly acoustic music is played, ranging from country and oldies to rock-and-roll. And from May through the summer, live music is also offered from 1-4 and 6-9 p.m. on Sundays as well as 6-9 p.m. Thursdays.
“Some call music ‘food for the soul,’ ” says Executive Chef Prabeen Prathapan. “It relaxes our nerves and takes the edge out of our stressful life. Once you are relaxed, you can eat at a calmer pace and chew properly, helping aid digestion.”
Not far away, Bayside Restaurant offers elegant New American cuisine overlooking Newport Harbor with menu choices that include rib-eye steak, braised short ribs and oven-roasted rack of lamb. For the best views, dine alfresco on the wraparound patio with built-in heaters and sun drapes. The newly renovated bar and lounge area still retains its iconic Venetian wine tower as well as a ceiling with oars from Italy’s Venice canals.
There is music at Bayside seven nights a week from 6-10 p.m., and during Sunday brunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., with genres varying from jazz to blues and contemporary hits. Late Friday nights are dedicated to live jazz jam sessions from 10-11:30 p.m., where guests can bring their own instrument or step up to the piano or mic to perform for the crowd. Diners are in for a treat on Thursday nights when Ron Kobayashi, Jerry Mandel, Craig Springer and Lou Savage from the Irvine Barclay Theatre take the stage.
“I enjoy being able to express myself through music at these public venues because of the ability music has to enhance everyone’s experience,” says Kobayashi, a jazz pianist who has been a full-time musician for 35 years. “The biggest challenge of playing live music is being able to please everyone with [the] choice of material to be performed … because there is such a diversity of musical tastes.”
Bayside also doubles as an art gallery, with rotating museum-quality pieces adorning the walls. “Our motto is ‘Dining As Art,’ and we believe this extends from the beautiful food on the plate to the art on the wall and the music coming from the lounge,” says Bayside owner Marc Ghoukassian. “These incredible local artists are a joy to listen to, and our goal is to bring happiness to every guest who walks through the doors at Bayside. It’s important to highlight all the artists of our community.”
For a tropical vibe, head to the newly remodeled Tommy Bahama Restaurant, Bar & Store in Corona del Mar Plaza. The relaxed, island-inspired eatery offers full-service dining both indoors and outside with fresh local fare, cocktails and desserts. There is live, contemporary music seven days a week that ranges from mellow to upbeat. “Live music is a key element to the Tommy Bahama experience,” says General Manager Daniel Anthony. “It adds to the atmosphere and lends a creative, positive upbeat energy to our relaxed island lifestyle vibe. And our guests love it, which is very important to us.”
At the north end of town by the airport, supper club Campus Jax presents a wide variety of music six nights a week (closed Mondays) as well as hand-crafted cocktails and dishes from the California-Cajun menu. “The club only seats 150 for dinner, but the sound system and audio engineering team, thanks to the support of nearby pro audio company, QSC, rival anything you’ll hear at large performing arts centers and arenas,” says owner Jack Jasper.
Expect to find everything from big bands to rockabilly and swing, jazz, local and tribute bands, singer-songwriters, crooner-style vocalists, party dance groups and world-class touring musicians such as John Tesh, a pianist and regular performer there, and trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, whose latest album, “Rhythm & Soul,” which was nominated for a Grammy Award, was produced at Campus Jax under the record label MetaJax Entertainment, started during the COVID-19 pandemic by the venue’s entertainment partner, Tim Ellis.
“MetaJax was born out of the struggle to keep musicians and performers working throughout the pandemic,” Jasper says, adding that MetaJax has produced more than 400 livestream performances broadcast globally and helped get struggling musicians paid over $200,000 since it began in March 2020, five days into the pandemic lockdown.
This June, expect the Tijuana Dogs, Delfeayo Marsalis & the Uptown Jazz Orchestra, vocalist Matt Mauser performing Sinatra tunes, jazz singer-songwriter Crystal Lewis, Lia Booth’s jazz quintet and tribute bands for Chicago, the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt, Joe Cocker, Aerosmith and Santana.
Campus Jax is especially known for its jazz programs. “Curated by MetaJax producer and artist-in-residence Tony Guerrero and Steamers Jazz at Jax host Terence Love—former owner of Steamers jazz club in Fullerton—the jazz artists and musicians who have performed at Campus Jax [in] the past three years represent over 100 Grammy Awards,” Jasper says.
Music for Every Taste
The list goes on and on: Other restaurants and bars that offer live music in Newport Beach include Muldoon’s Irish Pub (across from Fashion Island) with traditional Irish dishes, a fireplace, patio, DJs spinning tunes and live bands mostly on Friday and Saturdays; The Village Inn on Balboa Island with a casual atmosphere, American fare and occasional live entertainment—typically country music once a month; and The Shamrock Bar & Grill on West Coast Highway, which serves up burgers, fish and chips, shepherd’s pie and bangers, beans and mash along with music by the likes of Quiet Mile, Simm City, GRD, Off the Vinyl and The Droppers.
Meanwhile, The Quiet Woman is a cozy place for sophisticated comfort food, craft cocktails and a vibrant late-night, live music scene in Corona del Mar with country on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and pop, rock and classic rock on Thursdays through Saturdays. Also in CdM, Port Restaurant & Bar—which offers fresh Mediterranean fare, specialty cocktails, martinis, wine and draft boutique beer—has showcased live music almost every night for more than a decade. Through June, among other artists, Port is featuring French-Moroccan singer and keyboardist Moise, who sings in French, English, Brazilian Portuguese and Spanish on Saturday nights.
Mastro’s Ocean Club, the white tablecloth steakhouse at Crystal Cove Shopping Center, features live music nightly provided by a piano or guitar player or two while Zov’s, which serves a Mediterranean-inspired menu in Newport Coast Shopping Center, offers guitarist/singers such as Don Raymond, Alan Levin, Chris Farmer and Greg Feldman performing on Friday and Saturday nights. And The Winery Restaurant & Wine Bar on West Coast Highway has live music on Friday through Sunday nights by guitarist/singers Jay Magdaleno, Jabe Amato and Roderick Chambers (a contestant on season 18 of “The Voice” who is known for his smooth, soulful vocals), among others; music styles range from classic rock, country, folk and blues to pop, funk, soul and Motown. At The Resort at Pelican Hill, vocalists, pianists and other musicians add to the modern, upbeat vibe in the Great Room lobby from 7-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Live music has also returned to Coliseum Pool & Grill on weekends; overnight guests may enjoy the tunes while at the pool, but locals may make a reservation at the restaurant and listen to the music while dining.
Over on the peninsula, The Blue Beet, which boasts a rooftop patio and a lineup of beer, wine, craft cocktails and food from flatbreads to burgers, tacos and salads, also offers live music several nights a week from guitarist and singer Mike Hamilton on Mondays to rock groups such as Vooduo, Off the Vinyl, All Star Trio and FlashPants (1980s cover band), among others, on Thursday through Saturday nights. The Peninsula Lounge, with coastal cuisine, an extensive wine list and harbor views, presents live music Fridays and Saturdays from 6:30-9:30 p.m. followed by DJs at 10 p.m. and karaoke on Thursdays. Music lovers can also find live tunes (typically vocalists singing covers, accompanied by acoustic guitar or piano) from 6-9 p.m. Fridays at The Mayor’s Table restaurant at Lido House hotel. Woody’s Wharf offers live music starting at 5 p.m. Thursdays (jazz) and Sundays (often reggae, but styles may change). Guests at 21 Oceanfront Restaurant will find musicians performing in the bar and lounge from 5-9 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays and from 5-10 p.m. Sundays; these talented guitarists and vocalists present contemporary pop music from the 1970s through present day.
If you’d rather get out and enjoy a community concert, Newport Beach has various offerings throughout the year that are popular with residents of all ages. Whether it’s a small gathering at the library or a large concert at an outdoor venue, these events are a great way to listen to live music, catch up with your neighbors and support artists from near and far.
The Newport Beach Arts Commission sponsors a free annual summer series called Concerts on the Green from 6-7:30 p.m. on select dates at the Newport Beach Civic Center Green. Performances will include The Sully Band, an acclaimed 10-piece R&B group, on July 23; Tijuana Dogs, a high-energy, country cover band, on Aug. 20; and Boys of Summer, an Eagles tribute group, on Sept. 17. Guests can bring low-slung beach chairs and blankets, pack a picnic or purchase dinner from on-site food trucks, but alcohol is not permitted. Also, at Marina Park, singer-songwriter Tiffany Dennis and Cruise Control will perform from 4-5:30 p.m. Oct. 15.
For classical and instrumental music, head to the Newport Beach Public Library’s Central Library for the monthly Sunday Musicales. From September through May, these hourlong performances start at 3 p.m. in the Friends Meeting Room and are sponsored by the Newport Beach Friends of the Library; admission is free. Check with the library toward the end of summer for the fall schedule of concerts.
From June 18-25, the Baroque Music Festival returns in Corona del Mar. The 43rd festival season, “A Bach Kaleidoscope: The Master from Many Angles,” will feature five concerts at venues including the Sherman Library & Gardens. The annual festival aims to present the diverse music of the Baroque era in a variety of ways and at affordable prices. Pieces range from Bach’s first orchestral suite to concertos, cantatas and sonatas as well as pieces by Telemann, Vivaldi, Mozart, Beethoven, Boismortier and more.
Find large-scale works, some with singers, at the festival’s Sunday concerts. Weeknight presentations often feature smaller-scale vocal and chamber performances. After the concert, attendees may socialize with the musicians over “wine and waters.”
Jazz lovers won’t want to miss the Newport Beach Jazz Festival from June 2-4 at the Back Bay Amphitheater and golf course inside the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach. Food and retail venues are available and admission prices vary. Among the performing musicians are renowned R&B singer-songwriter Kem on June 3 and chart-topping jazz and R&B saxophone player Boney James on June 4. Others include Eric Darius and Rebecca Jade on June 2; Chanté Moore, Gerald Albright and DW3 on June 3; and Leela James, Richard Elliot and Rick Braun, and Marcus Anderson on June 4.
The Summer Concert Series at the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach is also a great way to spend an evening listening to contemporary jazz and R&B under the stars. This one-of-a-kind experience is at the outdoor Back Bay Amphitheater with spectacular views of Newport’s Back Bay. The lineup includes singer-songwriter Michael Franks on June 23, violinist Damien Escobar on July 7, singer Matteo Bocelli (son of famed Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli) on July 14, Grammy-nominated singer (and actor) Chris Isaak on Aug. 11, R&B crooner Howard Hewett and saxophonist Michael Lington on Aug. 18 and then guitar player Peter White and saxophonists Mindi Abair and Vincent Ingala on Oct. 29. Admission prices vary; food and drinks are also sold on-site.
From upbeat dance tunes to jazzy numbers and soulful sounds, no matter what type of music you’re in the mood for, you’re sure to find it at one of these many music-filled venues in town.