Get SF Weekly Newsletters
Pin It

Want a Vibrant Music Scene in 2014? What Are You Doing Tonight? 

Wednesday, Jan 1 2014

By now the pattern should be familiar: Some post online sadly breaks the news that one small part of San Francisco's vast constellation of clubs or music-friendly bars is going away. Either it's closing, or the building is going up for sale, or the club is being remodeled into oblivion (which in this town involves a lot of exposed lightbulbs and $12 cocktails).

We all know what happens next: shares, reblogs, retweets. Lots of 140-character sighs and hand-wringing Facebook statuses. Maybe someone musters up a think piece, or even just a couple thoughtful sentences on Tumblr, musing resignedly on what this closure means for the scene, for the music, for the city.

It's a regular occurrence at the beginning of 2014, in an era where it seems San Francisco is changing so fast that nothing, not even the city's decades-long reputation as a mecca for live music, is guaranteed to survive. Fans of musicians and the places that host them understandably feel threatened. You can see it in the hostile comments that instantly appear on any blog post suggesting even a whiff of change.

And yet, we, the music fans, must know that we influence what happens here. We need to understand why places we think we love have to close or undergo vast changes — places like Viracocha, Savannah Jazz Club, Cafe Du Nord, and Rassela's Jazz Club, to name a few examples from 2013.

It's not the techies, whoever we think they are. It's not gentrification, of which nearly everyone reading this is probably guilty in some sense. It's all of us. Clubs close because you and I didn't go to them enough.

A lot of venues fail because they're doing something — or a lot of things — wrong. Conversely, the ones that stay open are doing something right. Even in 2014 San Francisco, when it seems everything is up for sale if the price is high enough, many of the best places are still here, and still going strong. Yes, the Mission's beloved secret venue Viracocha is looking at big changes in as it goes legit, and, yes, Cafe Du Nord is temporarily closing for a remodel. But at least Viracocha's future is drawing serious interest. At least the new owners of the lovely 107-year-old building that houses Cafe Du Nord and the Swedish American Hall say they plan to keep live music in whatever new thing they're building.

This year, two of the city's best small clubs will celebrate their 10th anniversaries. Both Rickshaw Stop and the Independent, when founded a decade ago, must have seemed like long shots. Now they're cornerstones of the local music scene, the places where you go to hear the next Vampire Weekend or M.I.A. — or your co-worker's punk band on a Tuesday night.

And they have excellent competition, new and old, in places like Slim's, the Chapel, the Fillmore, Brick and Mortar, Public Works, and many more. (We're as guilty of complaining about the current state of Valencia as any flannel-wearing Oh Sees fan, but if this new influx of money inspired restaurateur Jack Knowles to lavish millions building a mortuary into that resplendent new venue we call the Chapel, well, it ain't all bad.)

The point is this: There is still a lot of good stuff here.

The point is also this: It won't stay here unless you keep going to it.

As longtime local rock fan and DJ Parker Gibbs recently reminded us, you either use your music scene or lose it. The clubs and the bands and the bartenders rely on your support to hold fast to this pricey, windy, crowded slab of land next to the Pacific. That's doubly true in a time where every nook of habitable space in San Francisco is being eyed for its revenue potential. Everything may be up for grabs. But places that are crowded every night generally stay open.

There's been too much hand-wringing and line-drawing in this town about so-called gentrification and so-called techies, too much us-vs.-them. A lot of the start-ups are here because of the nightlife, not despite it. No one wants San Francisco's music scene to wither, certainly not your new neighbors who pay $3,150 just to live here in a tiny one-bedroom. But bitching about Google buses on Facebook, or even throwing rocks at their windows, isn't going to keep your favorite S.F. dive with a stage from becoming another overpriced furniture store. Only going there is.

About The Author

Ian S. Port


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed
  1. Most Popular


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"