When Lauren Espina founded Sea Witch Productions in the fall of 2015, she knew her efforts would be perceived as a fool’s mission.
“When it started, it was a really bummer point in San Francisco,” she says. “Every publication was saying, ‘San Francisco is dead, blah blah blah.’ ”
It wasn’t a creed she subscribed to, nor one she let get in the way of her determination. Motivated by what she remembers as “selfish” reasons, Espina decided to do something about her frustration over the gaps she perceived in the San Francisco music scene.
“I was like, ‘I’m not seeing the shows I want to see in San Francisco, so I’m going to make them happen,’ ” she says. She tested the waters with small shows: an Elbo Room performance featuring Coo Coo Birds, then a blue Valentine-themed gig at Rickshaw Stop with local indie bands Down Dirty Shake and The She’s. They were small but significant successes.
But what truly set the precedent for Sea Witch’s then-uncertain future was Espina’s encounter with a homeless woman asking for change. Upon noticing a few tampons tucked in Espina’s bag, the woman asked if she could spare a few. Espina agreed. The woman grabbed them and ran off in the opposite direction.
“I realized, ‘Oh my God, she probably hasn’t had a tampon in months.’ She was embarrassed!” Espina recalls.
The encounter stuck in her mind, so she called up two local shelters and asked about their tampon drives. The response? No one was interested in throwing one due to “the nature of the product.”
Emboldened, Espina set out to make Sea Witch’s third concert into an unapologetic tampon benefit.
“I was like, ‘I’m going to do it and make it super in-your-face. It’s going to be called Let It Bleed, and we’re going to make it a thing,’ ” she says. She booked Gothic Tropic, Everyone Is Dirty, and Peachelope at Rickshaw Stop, invited local vendors, and told people to bring boxes of tampons to donate.
It was at the inaugural Let It Bleed show that Espina properly met Haley Scofield. The pair already knew of one another, having dated the same man at different points.
“I knew who she was. I was like, ‘She is so cool. I know I’m going to like her,’ ” Espina says. “So I just waited until they broke up, and then I was like, ‘This is meant to be.’ ”
“I don’t know how happy he is about it,” Scofield says.
Espina and Scofield connected instantly, and shortly thereafter ran a joint mission to deliver all the donated tampons.
“When I brought the first round to the shelter, they were like, ‘You’re fucking kidding me. We’re good for the year,’ ” Espina says.
“And there was more coming,” adds Scofield.
The entire endeavor took two SUVs to carry it all.
With Scofield officially on board, the pair committed to capitalizing on the company’s activist potential. They raised money and campaigned on behalf of Prop. S, a measure that would direct funds raised by the hotel tax toward arts programs and homelessness services. They presented another Let It Bleed benefit in February of this year, which Scofield remembers as “the most incredible night of my life.”
From the start, intersectional feminism lived at the heart of Sea Witch’s efforts. As such, protecting victims of sexual assault and denying platforms for abusers became paramount, especially in the post-Harvey Weinstein world.
“It’s seriously an honor for people to trust us with certain types of information,” Espina says, referring to occasions when people have contacted her about the inappropriate and abusive conduct of bands she is planning to book. “There have been times where we’re like, ‘Done, exiled, never again, we will not work with this band.’ ”
“This is such a big thing. I’m so happy people are speaking out,” Scofield says.
“It’s an honor,” Espina agrees. “But it’s also really hard to operate a business around it.”
They’ve committed to a case-by-case basis, evaluating the source — is this a victim coming forward, or a friend-of-a-friend? — but in each instance, they’re intent on protecting women first.
“We would be fighting these fights if we weren’t doing Sea Witch. It’s who we are and it’s what we want to do. I feel like that comes across when we throw these events,” Scofield says. “It’s our whole life.”
It’s also growing beyond Espina’s initial ambitions. The pair hosted the inaugural Sea Witch Fest this September, a three-night extravaganza with local and touring bands. It wasn’t without its hitches: when headliners Death Valley Girls found themselves stranded in Oregon, Espina and Scofield managed to book psychedelic-rock outfit Asteroid #4 at the last minute. Halfway through the band’s set, frontman Scott Vitt told the crowd that it hadn’t been a difficult decision to say yes.
“When the Sea Witch girls call,” he says, adjusting his guitar, “we answer.”
Sea Witch Productions presents QTY and Ryan Wong, at Rickshaw Stop on Sunday, Nov.19; Matthew Logan Vasquez at Neck of the Woods on Friday, Dec. 1; and The Fresh & Onlys and Friendless Summer at Rickshaw Stop on Friday, Dec. 8; seawitchsf.com.