The recordings are all a great listen, but he’s even better live, where his wit and whim result in performances that are never less than great fun and often revelatory.
Equal parts folk and pop, Olmeda’s in-concert performances have been rare in recent months as he preps new tunes, making his appearance at Java Joe’s on Oct. 12 a “must” for longtime fans or anyone who enjoys acoustic music.
Olmeda grew up in the Thunder Hills neighborhood of Oceanside, but his first public appearance was on a public-access television show filmed in Spring Valley. Olmeda is a now a seasoned and confident veteran of the stage, the latter a trait that goes back to his first set.
“I was sure that I was a star,” said Olmeda, laughing. “I even gave up my A&W burger-flipping job because the little old couple [who owned the place] refused to give me the day off to tape the show.”
While today Olmeda is known for his eloquent fretwork, he said he was initally drawn to music by the rhythms. It was his mother who steered him toward guitar.
“My mother chose the guitar because I was always drumming on something, and she said, ‘I’ll be damned if I’m gonna put up with your drumming day and night on a set,’” he recalled.
Ironically, for this event, Olmeda will be joined by his brother, Tico Rivera, best known as a percussionist with Jason Mraz. However, Olmeda performs mostly solo. The choice for this format comes down to past experience.
“I used to be a pain-in-the-butt band director,” Olmeda said. “I demand too much of my musicians in terms of originality and that’s not the easiest way to make friends if you’re not paying much. I had an awesome band called Supermice! for about 36 minutes, though. They were super awesome but I rode ’em too hard.”
Olmeda has toured around the world, but it hasn’t all been smooth sailing.
“The weirdest thing was playing for Jerry Adams in Ireland in 1997 at a local parade in Belfast. [I was] singing “Tramp the Dirt Down” by Elvis Costello and the microphone did this weird sway because the stage was pretty rickety and it came back and hit me right in the mouth and chipped my tooth ... [Still,] I didn’t miss a beat,” he said.
A veteran of pretty much every venue in town that welcomes acoustic music, Olmeda said San Diego’s music scene is healthy — to a point.
“It’s not the San Diego scene that’s stale,” he said. “It’s the state of music as an appreciated art form that merits monetary compensation that is killing the art of songwriting. I’m gonna get a T-shirt printed up that says ‘Free Music Sounds Cheap!’”
In the meantime, he said he’ll continue working toward an eventual new album, with new songs appearing regularly.
“I usually get a hook or a chorus or one line of lyrics stuck in my head and I grow songs from them,” Olmeda said. “I make music for the same reason some people breathe. I really get annoyed when people ask, ‘Are you still writing songs?.”
After decades playing music around the world, Olmeda maintains that performing is still his driving force. “Music means more to me now than ever — just not as a dependable income,” he said.
• Carlos Olmeda performs at 9 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 12 at Java Joes, 4976 Newport Ave. All ages. $10. www.javajoessd.com.