Pop Philosophy

Rock Out S.F.; Bart Davenport; Santa Cruz Lo-Fi Indie Music Festival

Should they stay or should they go now? It's getting tiring, all this nostalgia for a past I didn't like in the first place. But while I used to dread wading through all the skanky hippie kids offering kind bud every three steps on Haight Street, now I almost -- almost -- want to clasp the few remaining pot purveyors on the arm and thank them for giving this city personality.

Those were the kind of mixed feelings Rock Out S.F. engendered on Saturday, as musicians took over the city streets for one hour to protest the shrinking music scene. Sure, it was nice to see Storm & Her Dirty Laundry -- um, Mouth -- rant, rave, and rock out on Cole Street; even better was the jazz combo three doors down that nearly drowned her out. But as I meandered along Haight, past a hippie rock group, a funk duo, and a synth-and-banjo indie pop band, I was struck by why this public display of music was dangerous: Tourists might think this happens all the time and want to move here. Isn't that part of the reason we're in this fix in the first place?

Maybe that guy playing solo electric guitar on Baker Street should've made up a song about how crappy a neighborhood it is, instead of singing its praises.

Meanwhile, on Sunday night nearly 300 musicians gathered at the Downtown Rehearsal studios to try to decide whether or not to take the Koch family's offer of $500,000 to vacate the building. The meeting proved highly volatile, as many tenants used the opportunity to vent their considerable anger at building manager Greg Koch.

"There were six or seven people who said, "I'm going to ruin this deal,'" tenant Anton Reut said after the meeting. "Not for any good reason -- just "I'm going to do this for art.'"

In a way, it's nice that someone wants to take a stand, that a few Davids are willing to load their slingshots with drumsticks and fling them at Goliath. Of course, some of the bands seemed less interested in the common good than the coming displacement of their amps.

"Like [tenant] Anthony Bonet said, "Is this about the cause or just needing a practice space?'" Jim Greer remarked afterward.

While Greer agrees that half a million dollars won't solve the crisis, he thinks it's a decent start. "We have an opportunity to make a louder noise by taking the money," he said. "We can put it in a nonprofit and get a building with right of refusal on a sale [to negate future evictions]."

"People didn't seem to understand that we don't need all the money right away," Reut said. "They hear the building sold for $16 million and they think we need that much."

Supervisor Gavin Newsom, who attended the meeting and has been trying to help the two sides reach an agreement, was very blunt in his assessment of the situation. The musicians, he said, could expect no help from the city and Willie Brown; refusing the offer would leave them with no money and little public support. He told the assembly he has been searching for spaces on Treasure Island and elsewhere, as well as contacting possibly interested benefactors. A benefit concert with Metallica and Third Eye Blind is in the works.

Still, it's hard to put much stock in political promises in an election year. And by showing up in a half-tux with his trademark gooey do, Newsom didn't exactly endear himself to the musicians. But at least he appeared to care, something no one else has bothered to do.

Pretty much the only thing that was decided on Sunday was to have more meetings. As we went to press, a Tuesday night tenants-only meeting was scheduled for the purpose of drafting a counterproposal asking for more money and appointing someone to act as spokesperson for the tenants. On Wednesday, the musicians were to reconvene with Koch and the building's new owner, JMA Properties.

Unfortunately, after Sunday's meeting, prospects for any agreement seemed pretty dim.

"Several tenants demonstrated that they were unwilling to budge no matter what," said Greer. "I'm disappointed how musicians are ready to martyr themselves to the cause. I'm afraid the minority will force the majority to lose."

Aw, ratsBy now we should all be blasé about another musician fleeing the Bay Area; these days, someone should be passing out guitar picks at the county line. In fact, it may eventually prove necessary to put up a monument like the Vietnam Memorial, with the names of each musical former resident etched in gold, or perhaps some other, cheaper alloy.

Still, it's nothing less than stunning to learn that Bart Davenport is soon to join the ranks of ex-Bay Area musicians. Since his beginnings as frontman for the Loved Ones during the early '90s mod revival to his Bruno's residency days with the soul-jazz-funk combo the Kinetics to his recent folkier performances as co-host of Cafe Du Nord's Monday night hoots, Davenport has been one of the most rewarding musical entertainers around. While his bands' records couldn't quite capture his unique panache, Davenport never failed to amuse, move, and connect with a live audience.

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