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Jello Biafra on SF City Hall's 100th Birthday 

Wednesday, Jun 17 2015
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San Francisco City Hall celebrates its centennial with a free music festival featuring two stages, dozens of notable San Francisco musicians, and an innovative LED projection on City Hall's façade on Friday, June 19.

A parade of San Francisco musicians, directed by singer-songwriter Chuck Prophet and emceed by famed music journalist and DJ Ben Fong-Torres, will perform "100 years of music" with backing from a full band, choir, classical string octet, and horn section. The lineup is a veritable who's who of San Francisco musicians, including everyone from Tim Bluhm of The Mother Hips to Sly Stone's daughter, DJ Novena Carmel, but one performer is not like the others: Jello Biafra.

The Dead Kennedys frontman, who ran for mayor of San Francisco in 1979 (and came in fourth with 3.79 percent of the vote) on a platform that included requiring businessmen to wear clown suits within city limits, and has been a poster child for antiauthority sentiment and rabble-rousing left-wing politics in San Francisco ever since, promises to bring the revolutionary spirit the City by the Bay has always fostered to City Hall's 100th birthday party.

Biafra will perform "Let's Lynch the Landlord," a tune off the first Dead Kennedys LP, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables (which features a picture of a burning SFPD squad car on the cover), that is sure to ring true to San Franciscans who have seen their rent increase, neighbors evicted, and neighborhoods gentrified.

"My hope for this festival, zillion-dollar light show or not, is that it's a celebration of the vibrant art and culture that makes San Francisco such a destination for other people. It's a shame the rent has gotten so expensive that people don't keep drifting in here from all over the country as teenagers, or a little older, all chasing a dream — that's what I did. Many important bands who were based here moved here as a complete band, chasing a dream," Biafra, who will be speaking as well as performing at the event, said. "You don't see people do that now. They're far more likely to try to leave their little hometown for Portland or L.A. — not even Oakland — because it costs so damn much. In other words, I hope they get some actual culture instead of just seeing old Fillmore posters under glass for a thousand bucks that only a jerk with too much money can afford."

The festival is as diverse as its host city, offering performances by representatives of various music communities. There's Lavay Smith, known as "Queen of Classic Jazz and Blues," hosting a jazz and blues stage that will showcase Fillmore District-styled improvisation, Roy Loney of The Flamin' Groovies to represent the '60s San Francisco sound, the San Francisco Symphony, the Opera, and so much more.

The original City Hall crumbled in the 1906 earthquake and fires that killed 3,000 people, destroyed 80 percent of San Francisco, and cost an estimated $500,000,000 in damages (in 1906 dollars), according to an essay by Gladys Hansen, one of the city's foremost experts on the 1906 quake. From that rubble rose the City Hall we have today, which at the time was a symbol of hope and renewal for the flattened metropolis.

"It's a grand, majestic building not unlike what you would find in the Danube river in the great capitals of Europe, so it's a symbol of many good things, but because of the skullduggery that goes on behind closed doors it's also a symbol of rampant corruption," Biafra said. "People in San Francisco don't usually think of the way the city is run in terms of Boston, Chicago, or some of the notoriously corrupt ones, but all you have to do is look at how the city bends over backwards for predatory companies like Uber, and is doing everything they can to grease the skids for predatory rent hikes and more and more yuppie kennels being put up in the Mission while the people who make the Mission what it is keep getting bulldozed out. It really freaks me out when I hear about people in their 80s and 90s who have lived in their homes for decades being thrown out into the street just so some Airbnb or tech yuppies can move in, and that, my friends, is corruption."

In true San Francisco style, there will be a "silent disco," with sets by Hard French's DJ Carnita and Triple Threat DJs' DJ Apollo, and a roaming caravan of entertainers including everything from contortionists and sleight-of-hand magicians, to break dancers and sword swallowers. When the sun sets, there will also be a burlesque revue, which had Biafra joking.

"To properly reflect San Francisco's history they should have people dressed as cops run around arresting the burlesque dancers like Feinstein was trying to do to the Mitchell brothers, then have someone dressed up as Warren Hinckle, or Hinckle himself start walking a basset hound through the square, then have the cops arrest him for having a dog without their permission. I mean, he got taken down to jail for that simply because he had written articles in the Examiner criticizing Mayor Feinstein and her attacks on the Mitchell brothers," Biafra said.

The main event, a $2 million projection system that will transform City Hall into a giant, living piece of public art for everyone to enjoy, had Biafra thinking about other ways politicians might want to rebrand "The People's Palace."

"Since our baseball stadium is named after the phone company, why not just rename City Hall Twitter hall and go from there?" Biafra said. "With the current regime, it's coming, folks."


About The Author

Matt Saincome

Matt Saincome

Matt Saincome is SF Weekly's former music editor.

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