An Eclectic Group of Aerospace Professionals and Career Musicians Takes the Stage on Hermosa Beach’s 29th Street

Spacecraft and song.

  • Category
    Arts, People
  • Written by
    Anthony Karambelas
  • Photographed by
    Shane O’Donnell

On a narrow residential side street off Hermosa Avenue, a crowd is forming around a three-story beach home. Between two sets of stairs splitting off into private residences is a landing, occupied by a phalanx of guitar stands, mics, speakers and a drum set. A keyboard and conga drums are squeezed onto the adjacent patio.

This setup is exactly what you might expect from a bohemian area known to host the BeachLife concert series. What might not be so apparent at first glance is that the band has only been playing for three years. Less than half of its members are musicians by trade, and intriguingly, the other half are aerospace professionals.

Rewind to the winter of 2019. Every restaurant worth its salt in Hermosa Beach was hosting live music. Among them was Enrique’s Restaurant & Cantina, where Garland Campbell, a marketing communications manager at defense contractor Northrop Grumman, had been singing and playing saxophone with professional pianist Dave Goldstein and percussionist Nova James. Within the first few weeks, David Zabalaoui and Jeff Grant stopped in to support their colleague and were invited to sing a song or two with Garland’s band.

“I wouldn’t do it [at first],” says Jeff. “David and I had played music together, but it was only for fun. Playing in front of people at this bar … oh God, [suddenly] we have to be good.”

David was no stranger to the fine arts. He fondly reminisces about road trips he took in the ’60s when his mother—a member of an all-girl rock ’n’ roll band in her high school years—taught him how to carry harmonies. Since then, music has suffused practically every corner of his life, personal and professional.

He developed a reputation for the musical verve he brought to an otherwise conservative aerospace industry beset by government regulations and silos. In 2012 he performed his end-of-year wrap-up before Jeff and other Northrop Grumman executives with an original parody of Train’s “50 Ways to Say Goodbye.” His version, “50 Ways We Helped Your Business Thrive,” earned a standing ovation.

Back at Enrique’s, their gig was short-lived. When California COVID-19 mandates abolished live entertainment in March 2020, not only did the restaurant cut its performance schedule, but the owner also lost the business outright.

This was where the band’s big comeback story began. In June 2020, restless with the COVID-19 constraints, Jeff invited David to sing a few songs for his newly established “Thirsty Thursdays”—an attempt to reinvigorate a neighborhood retreating into itself. The duo invited Garland and Dave, as well as new faces like professional drummer Gary Ferguson (a 29th Street neighbor and close friend), guitarist Darren Halford (an Enrique’s frequenter and former U-2 pilot) and media-buyer-turned-conga-player Larry Poindexter.

For their first performance, they congregated on Larry’s porch without a PA system and played from a set list of five songs to a crowd composed of their spouses. They dubbed themselves The 29th Street Band.

“The bottom line is Hermosa Beach is full of people who have been here for many, many years. They enjoy each other’s company, and they enjoy getting together and meeting new people. That’s what happens [here].”

By summer, their fanbase would swell to as many as 70 in one night, filling 29th Street every Thursday with folding tables and chairs. The band released original songs like “Looking Back,” a tribute to NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, which some of them helped create. People took notice, including Dean Francois, a Hermosa Beach city council hopeful (now mayor pro tem) who borrowed the stage during his 2021 campaign.

Before long, this jaw-dropping turnout attracted visits from local law enforcement. The band curtailed their shows with an 8 p.m. cutoff. When that didn’t work, Jeff—ever the engineer—invested in a decibel meter to prove to officers their volume was within legal limits.

In addition to music, the band regularly performs acts of kindness. Gary remembers well the fifth grade boy who would sit on the sidewalk with his mother. Every week he brought a pair of makeshift drumsticks and played along with the band, making the curb his instrument. Sensing the boy’s enthusiasm, Gary dug around in his studio, unearthed an old drum set and gifted it.

This is the legacy 29th Street leaves in its wake, something Zabalaoui likens to a “source of light.” Setting out to produce good music, the band unexpectedly created a neighborhood fixture where none are turned away.

“The bottom line,” says Jeff, “is Hermosa Beach—like most parts of the South Bay—is full of people who have been here for many, many years. They enjoy each other’s company, and they enjoy getting together and meeting new people. That’s what happens [here].”

On the night of December 8, the band was prepping for their holiday special. The air was a brisk 60 degrees, and the gathered audience was all sweaters and smiles.

Gary laid down a groove on his Ludwig drum set, while Garland descended an illuminated railing of stairs with saxophone in hand. Jeff sipped a cup of Hitching Post merlot, his Epiphone Casino slung over his shoulder as he sidled around greeting guests. David adjusted his mic stand and moved into the band’s signature rendition of Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places.”

“Yeah, Thursday night’s the best night of the week, when I slip on down to Hermosa Beach / Yeah, I got friends on 29th Street.”

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