Three years ago, a Bay Area-born bass player named Joe Lewis launched Bluesix
, a tiny, mostly acoustic live music room in the Mission District. Creating an intimate, musician-run venue was a dream for Lewis, who had
previously booked shows in places like Revolution Cafe, and who plays in several Bay Area bands. The homey venue he started has since become a hub, hosting an eclectic mix of local music nearly every night of the week.
But while Bluesix has good billings and a steady following -- local favorites such as Honeycomb, The Blank Tapes and Mark Matos & Os Beaches have played there -- the club doesn't have something that all live music venues need to survive in the long term: city permits.
Though Lewis, now 31, says he had a basic business license, he never obtained a liquor license for Bluesix's bar, or the permits required to host live music there. A city inspector recently showed up at Bluesix and issued Lewis a notice saying he needed to apply for permits. But rather than go through that process, Lewis elected to close the club at the end of this month.
"We had a good run," Lewis tells me over coffee one recent morning. "I view it as a success, even though it's a bummer that I didn't have the proper permits."
Lewis says the reason for not getting permits was simple: He couldn't afford them when he started Bluesix, and he still can't now. Apart from booking shows and managing the club -- which pays its bills but isn't a profit center -- Lewis is the rare full-time musician. "It's beyond my means right now to get all these permits," he says.
Jocelyn Kane, deputy director of the San Francisco Entertainment Commission, says she has never spoken with Lewis about Bluesix. "We do this all the time -- we'll go investigate and see what's going on and tell somebody how to get into compliance," Kane says. "I'm supportive of what he's doing ... but he didn't call me. He just sent this e-mail that said, 'Hey, I'm closing.'"
Kane says the basic permit to host live music would cost $1,575. But it would also trigger inspections from other city departments that might require costly modifications to the venue. And that's saying nothing about the difficulty of obtaining a license to sell alcohol.
"Small, live music venues that nurture talent -- I want them badly," Kane says. "But you've got to be in compliance. I don't have a way to say, 'Here's your special favor.'"
I couldn't reach Lewis this afternoon to get a response to what Kane said. (I'll update this post if he calls.)
[See update below.] When I sat down with Lewis, he seemed resigned to Bluesix's closure -- although very unhappy about it.
"I think it's just retarded that somebody can come and give me the death blow," Lewis says. "I've been a full-time musician in San Francisco a little less than half my life. I work my ass off. It's not like I was putting one over on the city."
Lewis allowed, however, that there may be one upside to not having to run the club.
"Hopefully I'll be able to hold down a girlfriend after this," jokes the ponytailed bass player, who bounces to rehearsals in the day before gigging and helping run Bluesix in the night. "Because right now it's like, forget about it."
UPDATE: Lewis says he decided to close because the club simply couldn't afford to apply for the required permits. Part of the mission of Bluesix was to support musicians by giving them all the proceeds from the door, he says. The bar, too, was donation-based.Follow this blog @SFAllShookDown and its editor @iPORT