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

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.

The Soft Moon performing at Cafe Du Nord. It and the Swedish American Hall are getting new owners and major renovations in 2014, but live music looks set to stay.
Ian S. Port
The Soft Moon performing at Cafe Du Nord. It and the Swedish American Hall are getting new owners and major renovations in 2014, but live music looks set to stay.

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.

 
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11 comments
sfmag1
sfmag1

SF needs less of a band scene and more of a music scene.

lobert
lobert

people aren't going because people living in sf nowadays do not care for live/local music. they have other interests, the city has changed we all know that. most people come from out of the city and that is usually for bigger bands. even some acts are skipping the city altogether and just playing the east bay and such. 

avatarofsleep
avatarofsleep

The problem isn't people not coming. It's the venues treating musicians like shit. You will never build loyalty to your bar by forcing pay to play schemes or repetitively asking "what's your draw". In either case the only people who show up will show up to support their band, and they will never come back. 


You want to be a music venue bar in SF? Stop treating the talent like scum that happened to shamble in. Be known for a type of music or two (it's called branding), pay your musicians well; make them compete for your attention. And turn off your fucking TV when the band plays. 

grumpy
grumpy

rent too high, move to east bay, sf shows are in sf, bart stops before band goes on, clubs go under.
still blaming shitty rich kids willing to pay anything to live here.
the "gimmie ....click generation"

Scotty Fell
Scotty Fell

This I keep supporting the scene. Been going to Slims since the 90's

Bill_Hansell
Bill_Hansell

Agreed! Live Music in the Bay Area is still going strong through dedicated clubs as well as house concerts and small creative venues.  Support the traditional places but check out the various new options or even offer to host a concert at your home (a terrific way to experience live music if you haven't been to one.)  I'm one of many volunteers around SF who produce them (FYI, search for Appleberry Jam Presents to help out or host.)

Kevin Moreson
Kevin Moreson

Brainwash Cafe has had some interesting talent this past year,,,

Michael Harms
Michael Harms

Making music better and something more to offer

Jonathan Armerding
Jonathan Armerding

It is already SO HARD to get out and see local bands...and I got twins on the the way! I will do my best!

conan-neutron
conan-neutron

Something to think about next time you choose netflix over a real life, vital live event.

avatarofsleep
avatarofsleep

@Bill_Hansell For sure. the offbeat venues play some rocking stuff. Shame only offbeat people know them though

 

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