Mustang Media Group is a student-run organization that encompasses Mustang News and KCPR. They collaborate to cover news, arts and culture for Cal Poly and the greater San Luis Obispo community. 

This article first appeared on KCPR.org.

On Thursday, May 6, the power of live music returned to SLO Brew Rock with a 10% capacity show featuring the maestro instrumental supergroup Circles Around The Sun (CATS).

The show was a significant step in SLO Brew’s trailblazing efforts to bring live music to the community while obeying health ordinances. 

SLO Brew’s last standard live show with fans was more than a year ago, on March 1, 2020, when Louisville garage-rockers White Reaper took the stage.

The performance followed the proper precautions and adherence to public health guidelines, with tickets sold as pods of two or four people at a table. The venue resembled a lounge rather than a conventional concert space.

SLO Brew required attendees to wear masks and social distance. They also have an industrial-grade HVAC system constantly circulating fresh air in and out of the building.

The capacity restrictions allowed 60 fans to savor an intimate performance in a venue that can accommodate up to 600 people. 

The show did not have the euphoric energy it would have had over a year ago. However, it did have the camaraderie and stellar in-person musicianship that disappeared when the COVID-19 pandemic silenced live performances.

Deadheads, free-spirits and other music enthusiasts danced throughout the night to CATS’ funky and intricately-layered jams. 

Bassist Dan Horne exchanged banter and insights with the audience between sets, keyboardist Adam MacDougall wooed listeners with his magical fingers, guitarist Scott Metzger methodically shredded and drummer Mark Levy anchored with his groovy and reliable beats.

Neal Casal, the inspirational founder of CATS, created interlude songs for the “Fare Thee Well” concerts celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Grateful Dead in 2015. Those songs birthed the band that performed at SLO Brew.

In 2019, after creating his guitar tracks for the group’s newest, self-titled album, Casal died by suicide. He requested the band continue performing in his absence.

Horne, MacDougall and Levy honored his request, and with the assistance of a rotating guitarist, have extended Casal’s legacy even without him physically present.

Casal’s musical legend, the sound and spirit of Circles Around the Sun, graced the SLO Brew performance and reinvigorated concertgoers who had spent over a year yearning for the healing properties of live music.

Longtime SLO resident Tracy Taylor was “glad to see everyone out and about.” She admired attendees, entranced by the ecstatic jams, who danced and cherished the moment.

Since tickets for the show sold out in minutes, CATS fan Ramon Morales from Bakersfield couldn’t secure access to the show, but he still drove more than two hours hoping to glimpse CATS.

Luckily for him, SLO Brew’s outdoor beer garden has a sound system and decent view of the concert space, offering a suitable position to kick back and enjoy the performance.

SLO Brew Entertainment Director Ryan Orr and the SLO Brew staff remained vigilant throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and never stopped creating shows.

“We produced over 150+ live streams from March 2020 to March 2021 in an empty room,” Orr said. “We would roll a huge TV outside and patch the live audio to our outdoor PA system for the people on our property to enjoy.”

SLO Brew continued its live shows with several free concerts featuring SLO favorites, such as The Ragged Jubilee on May 8 and The Upside Ska Band on May 15.

Upcoming shows for The Mother Hips Duo on May 20 and the California-based Jerry Garcia tribute band Jerry’s Middle Finger on May 28 have already sold out.

Orr is optimistic and hopes to strengthen the venue’s newfound momentum by scouting promising bands through 2021 as SLO County Public Health eases COVID-related restrictions

SLO Brew intends to host an “epic” New Year’s Eve 2021 celebration and hopes to entertain additional significant events. The sky’s the limit for SLO Brew.

“I am excited about throwing events that surround the entire campus of the Rock in a multi-day festival-type scenario – selling 800 to 1,000 tickets a day and having loads of fun,” Orr said.

Orr is grateful for the local music community embracing and supporting SLO Brew through a tumultuous and challenging 2020. He vows to work tirelessly and deliver the best entertainment he can now and in the future.

“In the darkness, there was a bright light that shined down on us as community bonding [at a distance] and fellow neighbors supporting others that were struggling,”  Orr said. “Music truly is the universal language that touches our hearts more profoundly than anything else.”

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