The Observatory Manager Ryan Blank is the Key to the Venue’s Success
Written by: Lauren Villa The Observatory
Photographed By: Arielle Levy
“I think in the 80s, the Red Hot Chili Peppers played a couple shows here, ” Ryan Blank says, “I heard that we don’t do seats anymore because the fans were in there ripping them out and going wild.” He laughs and sips some water. There is something incredibly humble yet mature about the way Ryan carries himself. His words are measured, and it’s minutes into our conversation when you realize this 24-year-old lives and breathes music. Blank is the manager of two of the hippest venues in SoCal: The Observatory North Park and The Observatory Orange County, where he is sort of responsible for everything, from what happens at the front door with security to the band’s backstage experience. He tells us how he is constantly aiming to improve the music experience. “I check in with everybody to make sure what’s going that night, what may have gone wrong, and then I try to think about how we can do it better next time. We want everyone to have a good time. That’s the whole purpose of concerts: people have fun and connect with a band.”
Ryan’s job extends outside the venue—he is helping engineer innovative ways to connect with folks in the North Park neighborhood. “It’s unique because we are in a neighborhood … there are houses literally 100 feet behind the venue.” Since moving in January 2015, The Observatory staff have worked hard to solidify themselves as community members, to be regarded in the community as not “just” a concert venue. From maintaining a consistent presence at neighborhood planning meetings to hosting fundraisers and school recitals, The Observatory is making sure that there is a space to give back.
“We want the community to feel like they have access to the venue, and if they need to use it for an event, ” he says, “that’s a way we can give back to the community. We love doing that kind of stuff.” To celebrate their one-year anniversary in the community, The Observatory decided to send a big thank you to North Park; they organized a potluck and invited all the neighbors within a few blocks to break bread. The event marked a milestone in The Observatory’s history, “there are so many North Park residents that have never been in the building before. It’s fun to host an event where they get to come enjoy the space for the first time.” In addition to neighborhood gatherings, the venue hosts an annual LGBT Film Festival and drag show called “Tantrums in Tiaras, ” that benefits the LGBT Center in San Diego; Christmas recitals for local schools; and hyper-local movie nights to benefit local non-profit parent associations.
Originally from Orange County, Blank graduated from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in entertainment and tourism management. That, paired with the fact that he grew up surrounding himself with music, makes his job sort of second nature. Blank started going to live shows when he was 10 years old. “My mom took me to concerts, ” he says, “I’ve been involved in music for a very long time. I used to take photos of bands performing at shows for like three or four years. Throughout college I was playing in bands, and then I started thinking about what I was going to start doing in my life.” This led to an internship at Live Nation, and later, a job at The Observatory in Orange County. Blank worked there for two years before he was asked to open and manage the North Park location in San Diego.
“I guess my dream line up would be Joyce Manor and Andrew Jackson Jihad; they are like a folk-punk band from Arizona. In the last five or six years they have blown up. Not in a huge sense where they’re playing arenas … but I started seeing them play in houses with like 50 people. Same way with Joyce Manor, they’re from the LA area and I would go see them a few times a week in a house in Orange County and then a bar in LA with 20 people, then they started growing and growing and now they’re headlining a show here. It’s cool to be working with bands that I know and love and I get to see them headline a show here. It will probably sell out, and stuff like that is really cool for me.”
What do you get when you combine an edgy, hip venue and a neighborhood full of creatives? Well, there is a type of symbiosis occurs. Many know San Diego’s North Park as one of the hippest neighborhoods in America, yet many still don’t know much about its emerging music, restaurant and drink scene. With killer line-ups, The Observatory is helping attract fans to the neighborhood from all over San Diego, Orange County and LA. The more people coming to shows means more business for locals across the board. “After a show, restaurants and bars in the neighborhood will stay open late, ” he says, “You have all of these new crowds of people going to local restaurants and bars and shops … it’s all good for everybody.”
Ryan and others behind The Observatory’s magic are helping to put San Diego on the map as a musical and cultural hub. Multiple times throughout our conversation Ryan points to the expertise of the venue’s talent buyer. “He is just really, really good at what he does. He will book a show and I’ll be like, who is that? And it’s sold out. Our social media following is growing quickly because people know that we have shows that normally wouldn’t happen at a venue our size, like The Killers and Morrissey.” Ryan then dovetails into an animated reverie, recalling his experience watching The Killers play a secret show on The Observatory stage after headlining at the CRSSD Music Festival held in Downtown San Diego. It’s hard not to listen to Ryan speak so candidly and authentically about the love for the work he does and not think to yourself, “Life goals.” It’s clear there’s not just talent driving The Observatory’s success, there is an undeniable level of passion and commitment to taking care of the community and making sure that San Diego is a place for good music to happen.
What decade had the best music according to Ryan? The late 80s. “I’m a big punk fan—that’s when all the old school punk bands were coming up and doing a lot of cool stuff spreading the punk scene across the whole country.”
Dream Line Up: Ryan’s perfect show would include folk-punk band Joyce Manor and Andrew Jackson Jihad.
The Observatory North Park
2891 University Ave
San Diego, CA 92104
The Observatory Orange County
3503 S Harbor Blvd
Santa Ana, CA 92704