San Diego Union Tribune Interview

My last gig: Guitarist and band leader Rob Shinno: ‘It all seemed unreal’

The band’s most recent gig, in 2020, was a fundraiser for then-presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg 

MARCH 14, 2021 5 AM PT 

Guitarist Rob Shinno, 62, is the leader of the San Diego alternative-rock band Hemisphere, which he founded in 1996. Hemisphere’s newest album, “American Dreams,” was released in October. hemisphereband.com 

Hemisphere’s last gig, with a trimmed-down lineup, was a fundraiser for Pete Buttigieg, America’s first LGBTQ+ presidential candidate, on Feb 20, 2020. I was very excited about the event, having had the pleasure to meet Pete in person at his only campaign stop in San Diego earlier in the year. Pete’s local committee folks, led by longtime San Diego political advocate George Biagi, helped to officially set up the event I hosted, and we proceeded to invite folks to attend. 

Because the fundraiser was held in my home in Hillcrest, attendance was limited to around 50 people, and I was pleased to hear, prior to the event, that it was in fact “sold out.” Since we had some space limitations, Hemisphere lead singer/saxophonist/ keyboardist Don Bowman and I played live as a duo. ... The fundraiser included a personal video from Pete to the attendees and then we performed several songs from our new album, including “Transmission,” which is a YouTube hit with around 60,000 views so far. … 

We all felt wonderful. In the back of our minds, we thought COVID-19 might disrupt things for a bit, but I personally thought: “Oh, well, maybe we need to push back a few dates and things will certainly be better by June 2020 at the latest.” We even met with our recording engineer and producer, Peter Sprague, on March 15, thinking we would all be in the studio. Then the lockdown happened. 

It all seemed unreal. Studio recording session dates and planned performances, including a huge float for San Diego Pride 2020, were all canceled. We were able to book an Oct. 15 album-release show, but lockdown number two hit and our sold-out show at The Lot in La Jolla was canceled two days before it was to be held. 

To make matters worse, our ticketing service, Brown Bag Tickets, never refunded our money so we paid ticket-holders back (ourselves). We did put our “American Dreams” album out on Oct. 1 and received radio airplay on over 55 stations. Our singles, “Transmission,” “These Are the Days” and “America” garnered over 200,000 streams and views, so we have been fortunate on that front. 

I am lucky to be able to work at home from a day job in software technology to provide my income. But isolation is hard on me as well as everyone else, and it’s been over a year since I’ve seen a co-worker in person. Three of my bandmates are full-time musicians — Don Bowman, (keyboardist) Matt Zappe and (bassist) Nathan Brown — and have been heavily impacted. They have basically been unemployed because of COVID and not being able to perform. They’re trying to be as optimistic as possible that we can hopefully get back to normal this year. 

I was watching a large recorded “live” concert the other night, and I felt sad, wondering when I could be in a big audience again, let alone perform safely with my own band. Meantime, I am adding new skills to be productive ... and learning new social platform skills ... (TikTok here I come ...). 

Still, venues are shuttered — including Martinis Above Fourth in my own hood of Hillcrest — and musicians are hurting, and we all hope the public will come out in droves to support live music when this is all over. I just want to perform again and have folks come to our show and have a good time.

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