San Francisco indie music blog and podcast The Bay Bridged will present a showcase of exclusively San Francisco bands at the SXSW Music Festival in March. We caught up with the guys from The Bay Bridged to discuss their excitement about the showcase, their blog and podcast, and the state of the SF music scene.
Story and photos by Tyler Callister
No self-respecting San Franciscan visits Texas, for fear of being hanged, shot, or forced to attend a hoedown. The one and only exception is the SXSW Music Conference and Festival in Austin. That's where hundreds of bands and music industry insiders converge for five days in one of the most important events in the industry, and that's where The Bay Bridged, in collaboration with Bay Area labels Three Ring Records and Tricycle Records, will host San Francisco bands-to-watch like Scissors For Lefty, Film School, Social Studies, Birds and Batteries, and Von Iva.
In an interview at their podcasting headquarters in the Mission District, The Bay Bridged editors Ben Van Houten and Christian Cunningham sipped on a couple beers and spoke passionately about their work in the thriving SF music scene.
Fifteen Bay Area bands will play the SXSW showcase but Cunningham said they have an egalitarian approach. "No one's saying, 'We gotta make sure my band's up at the top. It's all about how can we best represent San Francisco in this showcase."
Van Houten and Cunningham's SXSW showcase is the result of two years worth of networking through their indie podcast. They started The Bay Bridged podcast as a way to get more in touch with the local scene and eventually recruited writers and photographers to create The Bay Bridged blog.
By day, Van Houten is an attorney and Cunningham is a PhD student studying biophysics at UCSF. But the two find time to produce the local music podcast once a week, often recording and editing late into the night. "It started as, 'this going to be my hobby,' and then it became, 'this is going to be a second job,'" Van Houten said.
The Bay Bridged attempts to not only support, but unite the local scene. "You have bands that know other bands and they exist in these sort of pockets," Van Houten said. "One of the things that we try to do is to sort of bridge between those pockets."
Van Houten and Cunningham know first hand that San Francisco bands struggle with heavy competition for shows, not only competing with other local bands, but also competing with large touring acts who guarantee a sold out show. So should local venues follow Van Houten and Cunningham's lead and focus more on local bands rather than big touring acts?
They concede that it's just not that easy for larger venues to do that. "They have a lot of bills to pay," Cunningham said. "Overhead for them is enormous compared to something like us."
The Bay Bridged regularly puts on local band shows in the Bay Area and Van Houten and Cunningham spoke positively about the local venues, both large and small. "I think they're doing a good job for what they can," Cunningham said. "They're very open about it. We started putting on shows a year and a half ago. And we've developed relationships with a lot of venues in town now."
One of those venues is the Great American Music Hall where The Bay Bridged sponsored a local band show last summer. Cunningham said the Great American also hosted several other local band shows that summer. "The fact that the Great American could open up to a local show even though their capacity is like 800 people, is pretty incredible," he said.
But to relieve some of the local bands' struggles, Cunningham believes strongly in the magic formula: pair bigger touring acts with local bands.
Van Houten and Cunningham plan to apply this concept to The Bay Bridged site as well. In the coming year, they'll launch a second podcast that features out of town acts with bigger names. Cunningham said that there's a huge audience for national independent music and they can use that to attract more attention to SF bands.
In just two years, Van Houten and Cunningham have watched tons of bands navigate the local scene. So do they have any advice for young SF bands trying to make a name for themselves? Cunningham stressed the importance of making friends with other musicians. "My main piece of advice is, if you like a band, a local band, and you see them in a show, you should just go talk to them," he said.
Van Houten and Cunningham mirror Aaron Axelson and Emily Logan's thoughts about the San Francisco music scene. "There's so much camaraderie and mutual support between bands," Van Houten said. "Callaborative efforts like joint tours, joint releases, all sorts of things going on because people realize that there is something special going on here right now. That's a moment to be seized."