It's no secret that Oakland's music scene has taken off over the past half-decade. That's due, in part, to a jolt of new blood from musicians who might once have moved to San Francisco — or those who used to call San Francisco home — choosing instead to plant roots in the East Bay.
And yet: "I've lived in the East Bay since 1996, and especially since the first dot-com boom, there has always been a huge creative class living here. It's just that they were going out and spending their money and time and playing venues in the city," says Cortt Dunlap, the owner and manager of Awaken Cafe
, a music venue/restaurant/beer and wine bar in downtown Oakland.
"I think what's happened is the infrastructure is catching up: The businesses that people want to spend their time in have popped up, and we're right in the middle of that," he adds, noting that Oakland's long-standing, smaller music venues like the Stork Club cater specifically to a punk and harder rock 'n' roll crowd, with few options for more melodic indie rock, folk, or the singer-songwriter set. "The minute we started booking bands, we were getting requests to book half a dozen a week."
And yet, outside the tight-knit scene, Oakland's music never quite gets the hype it deserves. Enter Mayhem: Now in its second year, the annual Oakland Mayhem
competition and music festival is the lovechild of Dunlap and Oaktown Indie Mayhem
booker/promoter/woman-who-seemingly-never-sleeps Sarah Sexton.
The duo hatched Mayhem, says Dunlap, as a way to "put a name to the music scene, to show the greater Bay Area, and the world, that the Oakland music scene is vibrant and happening and really full of talented musicians....and to celebrate the bands that have been grinding it out, working hard at this for a while. We wanted a real celebration of our music scene."
And that's what they got. For the month of September, the public was invited to nominate songs in categories like "Best In Show," "Best Video by an Oakland band," "Best Song by an Under-18 Oakland Artist," etc. This year brought in some 1400 different nominations, narrowed to 25 finalists by a jury of music professionals (folks from Pandora, Bandcamp, the Bay Bridged, Fantasy Studios, Balanced Breakfast, the East Bay Express).
Ten winners receive paid feature sets over three nights — this Thursday, Nov. 13 through Saturday, Nov. 15 — at the festival at Awaken.
While this year's winning artists include some familiar names (we've been trumpeting the indie-electro crew The Seshen
, who just released their EP Unravel
, since way before they were opening for tUnE-yArDs, and Waterstrider
's already bright star has risen considerably through singer Nate Salman's recent work with the Toro y Moi side project Les Sins
), there are also a good number of fresh faces: Ted the Block
, who won "Best Song by an Oakland Solo Artist" with the sinister, funky "Cocoon," is singer Winston Goertz-Giffen's side project for when he's not making songs in Saything
You can check out all the finalists and winning songs over here
, and buy tickets for individual nights of the festival — but a pass for all three is just $15.
"I think we in the Bay Area spend a lot of time talking about buying local — well, consuming local music is a great way to do that," says Dunlap. "It doesn't cost $75 like a show at the Fox would. And here, after the show, you can can actually talk to the band."
The Oakland Mayhem Festival runs Thursday, Nov. 13 through Saturday, Nov. 15 at Awaken Cafe. $8-$15; awakencafe.com.