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Monday, March 16, 2015

Music Heroes: Jessie Woletz

Posted By on Mon, Mar 16, 2015 at 8:25 AM

click to enlarge Jessie Woletz
  • Jessie Woletz

Jessie Woletz does three things. She's a nanny, first of all, and she looks and acts the part: soft voice, relentlessly positive attitude. Sweetness and calm rise from her in waves, and it's easy to imagine children adoring her sincere smile, while instinctively respecting her toned core muscles — she's also a yoga instructor.

But the main thing Woletz does contrasts sharply with her clear skin and get-up-early demeanor: She's the vast force behind Seaweed Sway, a scrappy post-punk rock/hippie production outfit, and I usually run into her in dark taverns amid crowds busy posturing, binge-drinking, and yelling. It always tickles me to find tiny Jessie, in purple jeans clutching a mason jar full of kombucha, inside a dive bar.

Apparently, the nanny thing doesn't always stop where it should; the sections of her day may not be as diametric as they first appear. "It's funny," she laughs. "Sometimes I have to go and find the bands when it's their turn to play. Sometimes it's their stage time, and they're kind of wandering around out front. So I go and find them and try to get them to come in, and see if they want to like, go ahead and get onstage." She has been doing this kind of thing formally for six years, informally for 11.

Like a lot of people in independent music production, she talks about support. Support for bands, support for venues. "Of course I want to support local stuff," she often says. And she does. She volunteers at organic farm work days, she offers low-cost restorative yoga classes, and then spends countless hours hanging up posters comissioned by her for concerts she organized and promoted, and which she will stage manage and produce.

So look, bands. I know you have to work weird jobs to pay the bills, and you have to buy instruments, rehearse, and pound hella beers. But just for me, since Jessie won't ask you to for her own sake, could you really just get onstage on time? Would that work for you? I believe you can do it. I believe in you! But not as much as Jessie does.

Running down the list of tasks involved with her life of microproduction, Woletz estimates hours worked and dollars taken in. It doesn't add up in her favor, but that's no surprise. Bands get $40 or $100, door people get a low hourly rate, and the bar gets the bar money and a percentage of the door. This is all standard. It's fine. It's just a weird way to spend your young life. Making culture is a weird way to spend any of your life.

She prefers smaller shows most of the time; for hanging out, for seeing the same faces again and again, and thereby creating the kind of community she loves. She sings in Conspiracy of Venus, a women's a capella choir, for the same reasons. Seaweed Sway is a cultural construction, not a profit-driven project, and she extols the simple pleasures of bringing people together. It has entertainment value, and fun is fun. But there's a more serious side, as well.

"For me it's a little bit of survival. In high school, I went to shows, and it was like this other world, that helped me get through growing up in Ohio and feeling isolated." And even after moving here, much of that continued. "I have been to so many incredible shows that I had nothing to do with, where I met lifelong friends, met housemates. When I first moved here I was going to a lot of house shows and a lot of smaller shows, very DIY."

Woletz describes herself as disorganized, and paints a picture of someone everlastingly behind the ball. And while it's true that she could potentially get more "butts in seats," as they say, by sucking up to media (just an example) she couldn't do it any other way without making a serious compromise in philosophy: "I like doing it in kind of an organic way. I've never really thought of bringing more 'officialness' into it."

Jessie Woletz takes care of people in many ways: She babysits children, she helps her friends organize clothing swaps, she ponders the merits of a raw diet for its lessened impact on the planet. And, vitally, she runs Seaweed Sway, which means she's the person handing out those few dollars at the end of the night, like a rock-hippie nanny for all of San Francisco.

Seaweed Sway's Spring Series is monthly through May at the Starry Plough. April's show is Natural Bridges, Collin Ludlow-Mattson & the Folks, and the Naked Barbies at 9 p.m. on Saturday, April 4, $8-$12. Jessie herself will sing "a couple songs" at Viracocha on April 11, as well.

Contact Hiya Swanhuyser at sfmusicheroes@gmail.com.


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Hiya Swanhuyser

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