Songwriter, Singer and Musician Shares His Music with Baseball Fans

| April 4, 2022 | 0 Comments

By Joe Rathburn

Wow, this will be my 19th season at the world-famous Tin Fish Gaslamp restaurant in downtown San Diego. In retrospect, it’s been a beautiful, enjoyable run filled with all those things that make a career like mine worthwhile. I’m Joe Rathburn and I play guitar and sing for a living, and my main gig since 2004 has been playing for the Padres’ fans before every (or nearly every) home game. I’ve made tons of friends and experienced so much during my time at the Tin Fish. On the sad side I’ve had long time patrons pass away, but I’ve seen young couples meet, get married, have kids, and bring those kids back to Tin Fish every season as a summer tradition.

I’ve played to huge crowds of baseball fans totally enjoying the music, and I’ve played to crowds of just one or two tourists who said I drew them in from blocks away. I’ve had lots of folks come back year after year and tell me they wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for me and my music. That’s especially gratifying.

I’ve been struck on the head mid-performance by a deranged homeless woman who claimed I “worked for the CIA and killed Johnny,” and I’ve sat on the steps and played to a beautiful toddler fan as she clapped along generally enjoying herself.

Friends like Bill Fleming, Mark Fisher, and David Howser filled in for me those rare times when I got other jobs that took me away from Tin Fish, and folks like Art Fisher, David Beldock, and Roger Friend occasionally came and sat in with me. But mostly it was just me playing 3 hours straight, no break (my choice) over the course of an estimated 1300 games (not counting this coming season).

In 2013 I released a baseball songs CD which I’m very proud of, but which sold dismally to a crowd I thought would eat it up. To this day, however, it remains my best-selling recording online.

A brief history of the gig: I started playing at the Tin Fish on the Imperial Beach Pier for the then owner Joseph Melluso back in 2002. He soon opened the Gaslamp store and brought me there to play lunch hours. That was while they were still building PETCO Park and the Omni and Hard Rock hotels. It was so noisy, what with the regular city sounds coupled with all the construction noise, I had to quit and told him to call me when things quieted down. They finished the ballpark and Melluso immediately called me for Opening Day 2004. I’ve played there ever since. Melluso sold the place to new owners Mike Brown (RIP 2021) and Jerry Levy. On Melluso’s advice, the new owners kept me on due to the good will I’d built with the fans, a decision I’ll be ever grateful for.

Shortly after the new owners took over I had to fight for my job against City Hall when the vice squad determined the Tin Fish didn’t have the proper license for me to be there, even though I’d been playing there for years. I won! With the help of all the fans signing petitions and a sympathetic vice squad lieutenant. Tin Fish staff got the paperwork straightened out and I was re-instated and granted special permission to continue in perpetuity.

The staff and management at the Tin Fish has always been like family to me, treating me with respect and going the extra mile to make sure all was right for me when the unexpected would occur. Like the time my back went out and they’d send a couple of the young guys over to help me bring my equipment from the parking garage across the street, help me set it up, and help me tear it down and load it out when I finished playing. They did that until I was able once again to do it myself. Trust me, there aren’t too many gigs where that would ever happen.

Once, then manager Jamin Toombs had put up those fake owls in the trees surrounding the patio where I perform. I asked him if they were effective. He walked over to a tree and took one down and chucked it at a bunch of pigeons on the ground, scattering them to the wind, and said, “Yeah, they work great!”

I’m dedicating this season to one of the finest people I’ve ever known, Mike Brown, co-owner of the Tin Fish, whom we lost last year to pancreatic cancer. Brown was always there, nose to the grindstone making sure all was as it should be, doing the daily work, and making sure the customers were happy. I remember him trying so hard. One day he took a little patch of ground right near the entrance to the patio, one of the few patches of ground for blocks, and turned it into a small flower garden. I was touched. He was dedicated to the place and deserves the recognition.

I’m grateful for all my friends and fans who’ve supported me down at the Tin Fish all these years. I look forward to the future and I hope I can keep folks happy there for many more seasons to come. Due to the MLB lockout the season’s home opener has been delayed to April 14. But I’ll be there in my usual spot ready to greet this year’s crop of fans, friends, and patrons as we get ready to cheer on the Padres to another season of great baseball, the highs and lows, come what may.

Joe Rathburn photo is courtesy of Jeff Wiant.

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Category: Entertainment, Events, feature, Local News, Music, Sports

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