Joe Rathburn
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Joe Rathburn

San Diego, California, United States | INDIE

San Diego, California, United States | INDIE
Band Folk Acoustic


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos



"Joe Rathburn - Little Suns"

“Joe Rathburn’s music is hard to pigeon-hole…
he’s just really, really good.” - Jim Hoen - Milwaukee Journal

"Joe Rathburn - Little Suns"

“Four Stars”
“Joe Rathburn is definitely a man of sensibility.
His latest album, Little Suns, truly shines.”
- Tracy Page - San Diego’s SLAMM Magazine

"Joe Rathburn - Rockwells and Picassos"

"One of the top folk singer/songwriters rising up from America's Finest [City], Joe Rathburn, is back with twelve acoustic guitar-based songs in the vein of Croce, Henley, Cockburn and other greats before him. The thoughtful Americana themes underlying Rockwells and Picassos are the result of this positive thinking, possible ex-hippie, pouring his heart into his catchy, feel-good tunes. Rathburn has a broad range of sounds in his sincere storytelling folk-pop that has only gotten better with this album." - Blair Alley - San Diego's SLAMM Magazine

"Joe Rathburn - Rockwells and Picassos"

"I'm REALLY picky about what goes on the front page. We get about 40 new albums a DAY coming in here now, (about 12,000 total), and yours is one of the best I've ever heard.
A very cunning and lucid work of folk pop splendor."
- Derek Sivers - CDBaby

"Joe Rathburn"

"Polished songcraft... Story songs and metaphysical ruminations trade off in a balance of sophistication, wit, and folky charm… Articulate guitar lines, thoughtful lyrics, and earthy vocals crystallize together.” - John D'Agostino - Taylor Guitar's Wood & Steel

"Joe Rathburn"

“What is immediately striking about this music is it’s positive tone. Rathburn talks about the lack of spirituality in our lives, and togetherness… The music is top notch and he has a great versatility and breadth in musical knowledge...” -

"Joe Rathburn: Bringing People Back to Music"

Rhymes and Reasons

As the evening sun faded in Mission Valley, Joe Rathburn, one of San Diego's hardest working musicians, was making final preparations before starting his weekly Thursday night show: Folkey Monkey. Joe, who has been organizing this unique songwriter showcase since 2005, made adjustments to the sound, moved chairs, and talked with members of the audience as they tumbled in off the sidewalk and found their seats. Each week Joe invites a guest performer to share the stage at Folkey Monkey and each week the guest chooses an influential artist (this week's guest Jim Earp chose Neil Young) whose songs are covered throughout the night's set. Folkey Monkey is a sacred space for the performers and the audience where music is the main reason for everyone gathering under the dimming lights of Milano Coffee Company. Musicianship, fun, and good vibes are the end result.

These days Rathburn is focused on his music and performances for a lot of good reasons. But, his recipe is increasingly rooted in an advanced social ideology – that music can change the world, one listener and one song at a time. You wouldn't be surprised to hear that Joe plays music like most of us breathe – all day long, almost like a reflex. His creative output ebbs and flows through periods of quiet time, when he focuses on writing and composing, and through hectic periods of playing several different gigs every week. "Since I was very young I remember this feeling of having to create, my imagination getting the better of me at every turn, sometimes to my detriment," he says, explaining his compulsion.

In the old days, Rathburn made music for many different reasons. Growing up in Grand Blanc, Michigan, he got started trading guitar riffs with his buddies in eighth grade as a hobby. Hanging out in his friend's house listening to Beatles records and doodling on his fret board laid the foundation for a future interest (and, ultimately, career) in music. That's where part of this story begins. Somewhere along the way, however, Joe's musical compulsion led him down some uncommon roads toward some unexpected discoveries about music and himself.

Pure Magic

On a rainy Halloween night, Joe, his good friend Ray, and Ray's older brother had a date with destiny. Ray's older brother, who went to school in Detroit, bought tickets to a concert at Cobo Hall, downtown. He generously invited his little brother and his brother's buddy, Joe Rathburn. The headliners were none other than Simon and Garfunkel. Joe remembers the night as a pivotal point in his path with music. "Man, that was huge! Not just the concert, but also the whole experience. I mean just us kids and big bro going down to the big city," says Joe, recalling his stroke of luck. "It was October 31st, and it was raining. To this day there's just something about driving in the city in the rain that I love because of that night." Rathburn saw two greats of the time, live on stage, singing to a gigantic audience. He experienced the power of music to connect and move an audience – over 12,000 large – and he was hooked. The concert touched him and would change his life forever. "The show was pure magic," he says.

In the months after that fateful night, Joe began exerting himself a lot more, learning music theory and guitar scales. He spent more and more time learning how to make the music that was in his head and how to create his own musical compositions. As his knowledge grew, his skills improved and his imagination expanded. "[That process] began my true understanding of music," he recalls, "not just by memorizing chords from chord books or listening to a record a thousand times ... I could use logic to connect what I heard in my head to what I felt in my heart."

Part Musician, Part Jester

By the age of 17, Rathburn was playing bass for the local dive bar's band-to-see. The gig was at a shady locals-only spot, suitably called the Hideaway, and Joe was entering a phase in his musical career when he would be introduced to a broad range of local and touring acts that would further his own development and expand his musical horizons. It was at the Hideaway, during a gig, that he made the acquaintance of one Rob Namowicz – their relationship would introduce Rathburn to new bands and styles of music that he hadn't yet encountered and he'd come face to face with some of the era's greatest music legends. "I got to open for the Guess Who, James Gang, Chuck Berry, Kiss," recalls Rathburn, "and [we] even headlined over Rush on their first American tour. Those were heady days indeed!"

Over time, and as most rock and roll stories go, Joe's took a turn toward the less reputable. Armed with a collection of sharp guitar riffs, a well-rehearsed stage presence, and an extensive repertoire of cover songs, Joe found himself entertaining his audiences week after week, part musician and part jester. "It was all about just having fun and making a buck." But, Joe had more potential. "Things started to change the night I fell off a bar stool, drunk, on a New Year's Eve while singing Jimmy Buffett's 'Why Don't We Get Drunk and Screw?'" Having exceeded or matched the skills and talent of his peers at the time, Joe fell prey to the scope of his own initial vision – he needed to grow and he decided to grow up. "I was cheating everyone I met from encountering my full potential," he reflects.

By hook and by crook (and as the result of a love story that we'll leave for another time), Rathburn outgrew himself, shedding his jester skin, and in many ways took the best of what he'd become and began leveraging his talents to serve those around him through music and through intention. He'd always had his own creative drive, but he had also learned how to entertain – that was how he made his living. "I may have never set my sights [on a direction]; I just did what came naturally to me. [Music is] the only thing I know how to do, really."

Joe's creative side began to shine through more clearly as his mentality toward his career matured. He began to blend two distinct sides of himself in an effort to find a balance between his own creative drive and his ability (and need) to earn a living. The familiarity of cover songs has always served Joe well on stage by allowing uninitiated audiences an opportunity to easily connect with his live show. Over the years Joe has encountered a very broad cross-section of audiences and has drawn the conclusion that familiarity is a necessary ingredient for any performer's success. "I think people are losing a focus on music. They're focusing on other things and I feel that in order to bring them back to music, you've got to give them a certain amount of familiarity," he says.

A Better World

In the early 1990s Joe began performing at a cafe/shop/arts center in Mission Hills called A Better World. Joe became a regular fixture on their stage and it was there that he discovered the power of on-stage collaboration. "From 1994 on there was a sea-change in how I was approaching music and I was seeing the creative side of the acoustic scene in town, being led by people like John Katcher, Dave Howard, Jeff Berkley, and Joel Rafael." One night after his solo show, the stage manager suggested that Joe double up on acts as a possible way to bring more people into the show. "I was incensed. I was insulted," Joe remembers humbly. But, much to Joe's surprise, he found that sharing the stage was really enjoyable! Later on, this discovery would give rise to the format for Folkey Monkey, which blends both the familiarity of cover songs with the more engaging presence of multiple musicians on stage.

Folkey Monkey is a gateway for connecting to other musicians and expanding the audience's range of experience as well. As some of Joe's fans have transitioned from what Joe calls his "cover side" to his "creative side," there have been those who didn't transition easily. At one of Joe's gigs in downtown San Diego, a gentleman made a comment that took Joe aback. He tells the story. "A gentleman came up to me at the Tin Fish and said 'Hey, we went to the Folkey Monkey the other night and you weren't there.' And I said, 'Yeah, I was playing another gig.' The guy said, 'It was great, but it was two hours of music I'd never heard.' I had to say, 'That's what it's all about!'"

Joe remembers when his peers consumed new and original music like it was candy. "When I was playing back [as a teenager], people knew the lyrics to every song, they knew the liner notes to every album." He's seen that those old affiliations have slipped away. One reason for this phenomenon, in Joe's view, is that the radio markets focus on relatively narrow niches these days. So, listeners become very focused on one niche alone, which means that people have a less broad experience with music.

But, Joe is still very grateful for his work, his opportunities, and his audience. Folkey Monkey represents his commitment to moving us all forward through music we know and through music we have yet to discover. "What I try to focus on is music that brings people together and music that makes the world a better place."

Folkey Monkey is a strange name for a songwriter showcase, but the name has caught a lot of people's attention and for Joe's audience, the event is commonly a staple part of their weekly schedules. The event was originally created for Hot Monkey Love, an eclectic music venue on El Cajon Blvd. in San Diego's College area. Joe's guests were often of the folky singer-songwriter genre. Hence the event took the name Folkey Monkey. When Hot Monkey Love moved to a new location a couple of years later, Joe took his residency to Milano Coffee Company, in Mission Valley, and kept the name. The cafe's lantern-like interior lighting and bougainvillea-shrouded windows set an ideal stage for music fans to rest their feet and take in San Diego's more refined guitarsmiths. The first event with a guest performer (none other than Jim Earp) catalyzed a shift in momentum for the showcase. Joe remembers, "[It was a] magical moment. The magic is that chemistry between me and [my guest]. That's when the thing really kicked into gear and it hasn't stopped since."

The Positive Music Association

Lately, Joe has been writing and performing at home, in San Diego. But he's also discovering common ground within the context of the

Positive Music Association (, an organization that also views music as a force with untapped social purpose. Joe sees his music as one more way to spread alternative perspectives. "I see a world in which we fight, not each other, but the ignorance and fear that keeps us apart and stops us from achieving what we're perfectly capable of. A world where the economy is based on human knowledge and spiritual growth and not technological and military growth."

The Positive Music Association represents a viewpoint regarding music in society. Their website states, "The PMA is about seeing music not only as entertainment but as a means of creating positive change in the world." So far, Joe's work has tested his expectations of what music can do. Sometimes it was the audience who benefited and other times it was Joe, himself, who was transformed. The Positive Music Association represents a global direction while Folkey Monkey provides him with his own local voice. With future records still to be made, Joe is well grounded and clear about which way he's headed.

In preparation for his future albums, Joe has also begun building a comprehensive recording studio at home, so that he can increase the amount of time he spends being creative. In addition to hosting and coordinating the Folkey Monkey, he writes a weekly newsletter to keep his family of listeners up to speed on the world and his own creative part to play within it. He is neither impatient about his growing success, nor is he a slouch when it comes to blazing new paths for himself and for others. "What I've always known is that as long as I keep playing music and as long as I keep trying to grow, I'll have something to say and I'll have something to play and I believe there'll be people out there who want to listen to it."

Don't miss Joe Rathburn's Folkey Monkey every Thursday night at Milano Coffee Company, 8685 Rio San Diego Dr., Ste. B, San Diego, CA 92108.

Written by Will Edwards
- San Diego Troubadour


Solo full length CDs:
Little Suns - CD - all songs stream at
Rockwells and Picassos - CD - all songs stream at
Would You Please Welcome... Joe Rathburn Live at Dark Thirty - CD - all songs stream at

Compilation Joe Appears on:
Life After Debt
Thongs in the Key of Life Vol. II
Flamingo Gringo (The Artists of Cheeseburger in Caseville 2003)



A picture is worth a thousand words, a video is thousands of pictures strung together, so, for the full story on Joe click the link at the bottom of this page to see and hear him in performance. Keep in mind that the video may open in another tab or window, and may be hidden behind this EPK page. Once you're on the video page, look to the right side for the word Playlist and you'll see Autoplay/Play Next buttons and you'll have your choice of how to view the videos. Enjoy.

By all means, read on if you're so inclined.

Singer/songwriter/guitarist Joe Rathburn is a lifetime/full time musician, haling from San Diego, California.

Since October of 2006 he has hosted a weekly songwriter showcase in San Diego called Joe Rathburn's Folkey Monkey. It has garnered a reputation for being one of the best regular acoustic shows in town.

Joe won 1st place, Best Traditional Folk Song category, in the 2004 Just Plain Folks Music Awards for his light hearted song, The Dad I Had. It was picked out of 140,000 entries.

He's been nominated 3 times in the San Diego Music Awards as a performer and for his 2 recordings: Little Suns, and Rockwells and Picassos.

In December of 2005 he released his third cd, Would You Please Welcome: Joe Rathburn, Live at Dark Thirty, a double disc set containing concert performances of 10 previously released Joe tunes, and 11 previously un-released songs.

Joe has gained recognition for his deft guitar work, emotive voice, as well as his fine song writing abilities and wry sense of humor.

He has represented Taylor Guitars at two Folk Alliance Conferences, the 2003 Winter NAMM Convention, and on the Taylor produced Expression System Pickup DVD.

He was included on the history making MP3 compilation CD put out by Music Match and The Best of Independent American Music. At the time of it’s release it was the most songs ever commercially released on one CD (152) including other great artists as: Chuck Brodsky, Jack Williams, Dana Cooper, Janis Ian, Buddy Mondlock, and Tom Prasada-Rao.

He performs continuously and his vast stage experience includes: festivals, arenas, clubs, churches, and coffeehouses, headlining his own shows as well as opening shows for others. He has opened for Ellis Paul, Susan Werner, Dave Van Ronk and a list of others as diverse as Chuck Berry, The Guess Who, Ray Charles, and Kiss.

Joe's music can be placed in the genre called Positive Music. His tunes have purpose, and carry with them more than just changes and grooves and catchy melodies, and hooks for the sake of their cool factor. They speak to the heart and mind of the listener directly. They uplift the soul in an instantly tangible way, while remaining fun, interesting, and non-preachy.

Joe’s music can also be likened to the singer/songwriters of the 1960s and ‘70s: the Paul Simon, James Taylor, Cat Stevens variety, yet his has a quality all his own which, though paying homage, never copies.