At the start of the year, singer-songwriter David Rosalis spent weeks recording a new album, with gigs lined up throughout the country and a few overseas.
Instead, his stage would became driveways throughout Huntington Beach and nearby communities and his audience neighbors looking for a good excuse to get out of the house and feel somewhat normal amid the pandemic.
Rosalis again set out Friday, Dec. 18, to entertain with his “Driveway Hop” performances with one simple goal: to share some stoke, when people need it the most.
A longtime surfer, the 39-year-old compares this year to the waves in the ocean.
“Every wave is different, you just need to ride it,” he said. “You can’t force riding a big wave like you would a small wave. Every kind of experience is a little bit different, you just have to adjust and flow with it.”
And if there’s any career choice that can prepare you for uncertainty, and how to go with the flow, it’s being a musician.
Rosalis grew up in Los Angeles, starting his music career in a punk rock band. He had a stint after college working at Sony Pictures, but knew the corporate world wasn’t his deal.
When his punk band dismantled, he moved to Huntington Beach to start a family with his wife, Kendra. They now have two children.
With his family growing, his tone changed. Instead of the dark, hard rock, he enjoyed a lighter, folksier twang with a mix of blues, country and laid-back, Southern California sounds.
He had success with his 2018 album, “Brave Ones,” touring around the country and gaining momentum. He and his wife and family friends at the same time started a nonprofit with the same name to get resources for children with special needs.
When this year rolled around, the musician was ready with a new batch of songs. But no gatherings and shut-down venues pulled the curtain on live performances.
About a week after the initial shutdown was put in place, on March 20 to be exact, Rosalis pulled out his guitar and gear to play in his driveway.
“I need to play, I’m getting weirded out, stir crazy in the house,” he recalled thinking. “Everyone came out in their driveways, had a bottle of wine, socially distant but connected.”
Every Friday for three months, he performed in his driveway, drawing young and old who pulled out blankets and chairs for his neighborhood concerts.
“Our neighborhood got very close,” he said. “It was creating this beautiful scene of community.”
By summer, word got out. Other neighborhoods wanted him to perform.
So every weekend, he set out for a new street, bringing instruments and a rug for under his bare feet.
“I’m super casual. I put out this big rug that was kind of like, ‘this is my space,’” he said. “People would come talk, but never really step on the rug. Like an invisible barrier.”
He played some 50 shows, all for free, though he set out merchandise such as CDs and T-shirts if people wanted to buy. It was also a chance to raise awareness for the Brave Ones Foundation, telling new fans and friends about his other passion to help kids with special needs.
“It was different faces every time I’d go to a different neighborhood,” he said, with sets performed from Fountain Valley to Laguna Beach. “But it was the same response. People loved it.”
Many people, especially during the early days of the lockdown, said they didn’t go out of the house except for when he was performing and it was something they looked forward to all week, he said.
“People felt safe at home, but they felt like they were going somewhere,” he said. “I saw it was doing good things for people. People needed that love.”
As people’s lives started to get back to normal and restrictions loosened, outdoor gigs at places such as Pacific City and Lido Marina and other venues opened up, so he stopped doing the driveway performances.
But then the latest stay-at-home orders dropped two weeks ago, and with the holidays approaching, he knew people would need a bit of extra cheer.
So on Friday night, he set up his makeshift stage on his concrete driveway, rug under his feet, to entertain once again.
“What I’m doing is all about community,” he said. “I felt like I was doing something, it was giving people love and people loved it.”
He has pushed back releasing his new album, “Revive,” until next year when, hopefully, venues start to reopen.
But Rosalis said he knows it won’t be the same as it was. Some places he was supposed to perform at during his cross-country tour have shut down for good.
“This is really hitting the industry from the top down, it’s hitting us really hard,” he said.
Maybe he can create a mobile “Driveway Hop” that travels to neighborhoods across the country.
“Maybe we can lift some spirits elsewhere and bring those Southern California good vibes,” he said. “It just spreads good vibes. That’s what I’m all about.”