SAN FRANCISCO’S MUSIC SCENE IS NOT DEAD!
I’ve lived in San Francisco my entire life and have been a part of a number of different music scenes in a variety of roles (managing bands, poster artist, promoting shows, set production, stage manager). And while there’s a lot of truth in Andrew Wallace Chamings’ recent query, Is San Francisco’s Music Scene Dead?, I want to offer a glimmer of hope.
Yes, we’ve lost a lot of our local musicians and artists to the East Bay and beyond, and those that remain, struggle to make money performing, find affordable rehearsal space, or just pay their bills.
Yes, our fair city has been overrun by a lot really wealthy people, many of whom have no trouble paying $100 to see the latest EDM sensation stand on stage, fiddling with their laptop, or 3 times that for a single-day ticket to a big outdoor festival, yet don’t seem to see the value in paying $10–15 to take a chance on a local, unknown act.
I’m reminded of meeting a tech guy some years ago at a backyard barbecue, who told me he was launching a start-up that was going to revolutionize the music industry. When I quizzed him on what music he liked, he told me, “I don’t really listen to music much”.
Thankfully, there are people and forces at work to counteract this drain on the soul of our city. I’m here to tell you, that San Francisco’s music scene is most definitely not dead and offer a few reasons to feel more optimistic than pessimistic.
If you take the time to scratch beneath the surface of which touring headliner is coming through San Francisco, there are so many different bands and performers, here in the city, hoping to make your acquaintance.
In no particular order, here’s a small sample: The Sam Chase and the Untraditional, Lords of Seeland, Mad Mama and The Bona Fide Few, Vanwave, Ssleeping DesiresS, Abbot Kinney, Battlehooch, Emily Afton, Travis Hayes, Heart of Orion, Kelly McFarling, The Damn Fanatics, Giant Metal Crickets, Steve Egelman, Cuban Cigar Crisis, The American Professionals, Saint-Hills, The Muted Jewel Tones, Friends Without Benefits, The Wyatt Act, The Stang Band, Embleton, The Y Axes, and of course, the one I manage, Gutter Swan.
Now (with the exception of the last band), this is not necessarily a blanket endorsement of all of these acts, but I hope it gives you a sense of how many varied and vibrant musical choices inhabit San Francisco’s current music scene.
I could write a whole other essay about Balanced Breakfast, but I’ll attempt to convey in as few words as possible, how important Balanced Breakfast is to the life of music in San Francisco. Every Thursday morning, a collection of musicians, singers, bookers, publicists, and other music industry professionals meet in the Tenderloin at PianoFight, to wrestle with the issues that face our music community.
If you are attempting to do anything in San Francisco’s music scene, Balanced Breakfast will be your new best friend. Beyond the weekly, moderated discussions, they host Sunday afternoon showcases/mixers at Amnesia, a bi-monthly events calendar, and an online discussion group.
Led largely by co-founder, Stefan Aronsen, Balanced Breakfast fosters musical collaboration, gig opportunities, moral and immoral support, and much, much more. The concept is so popular, they’ve spread to other cities, including Oakland, San Jose, Los Angeles, Boston, Austin, Nashville, and Seattle, to name a few.
We have lost some great local venues, and many of us winced when Amnesia recently changed hands, but the new owners doubled-down on presenting live music by revamping both the sound system and the stage area.
Along with venues like The Lucky Horseshoe, Neck of the Woods, Bottom of the Hill, Brick & Mortar, The Hotel Utah, Doc’s Lab, Elbo Room, Hemlock Tavern, Milk Bar, The Chapel, and others, bands still have opportunities to play.
But I’d like to single out one particular venue, The Lost Church. This hidden gem of a venue is actually a 60-seat theater located in the downstairs of a private residence belonging to Brett and Elizabeth Cline. For over a decade, they’ve presented thousands of musical performers and bands, the vast majority of who reside in the Bay Area.
There’s occasionally live comedy, magic, and even original musical theater, but mostly The Lost Church is an invaluable resource to local musicians who can play their music to respectful, reverent audiences, and probably end up with some dollars in their pockets at the end of the night.
Brett is currently wrestling with the city’s byzantine planning department to ensure The Lost Church’s future, but with the continued support of San Francisco audiences, hopefully they’ll be here for a long time.
There are a lot of people doing good work in the local music scene, but I’m going to single out two gentlemen, who, in my opinion are doing more than their share.
If you’re a singer/songwriter in the Bay Area, you need to know the name behind KC Turner Presents. There’s his much sought-after monthly open mic nights at Doc’s Lab, or the myriad of house concerts and other shows he promotes on a regular basis in San Francisco and throughout the Bay Area. Not only that, but annually he presents “Bazaarstock”, an all-day benefit for the Bazaar Café in San Francisco’s Richmond district.
Another proverbial “good guy” in San Francisco’s music scene is Travis Hayes. When he’s not gigging with his eponymous band, Travis helps to book a completely revitalized Neck of the Woods, which had languished under previous owners. Then 4 times a year he presents Fog City Songwriters under his “Hayes Life” banner. Usually presented at The Lost Church, Fog City Songwriters is an embarrassment of riches, usually showcasing 4–6 of the regions talented singer/songwriters.
As I said, there are plenty of people doing great things in our music scene, but these two are making a yeoman’s effort. And while it’s true, that a lot of young folks are coming to San Francisco to work in tech, many of them do so to support their musical endeavors. They know that slaving over the latest food delivery or laundry app will never enrich anyone else’s soul like music will.
So, short answer: No, the San Francisco music scene is not dead. But if you’re living here and reading this, go see a local band! Skip waiting in line for the latest food fetish, walk by that generic whiskey bar, pass on the latest costumed pub crawl or flash mob light saber battle, and support the folks keeping it alive.