Music fans were rocked by the revelation earlier this year that the annual Coachella Music Festival is owned by a billionaire Republican who’s donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to anti-LGBT organizations. This week, that concern just hit a little closer to home, as that same conservative billionaire just inked a deal with two of San Francisco’s top music venues.
Slim’s and the Great American Music Hall announced in late January that their booking and promotion services would now be handled exclusively by Goldenvoice, the Los Angeles-based concert promoter that founded Coachella in 1999. But since 2001, Goldenvoice has been owned by a corporate sports and events conglomerate called the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), which itself is owned by conservative oil tycoon Philip Anschutz.
Phil Anschutz is not a typical billionaire. Forbes ranks him as the 35th-richest person in the U.S., and he spends plenty of his $13 billion net worth donating to far-right causes. In particular, he’s handed out hundreds of thousands to anti-LGBT groups, like the Family Research Council and National Christian Foundation.
Anschutz responded in a 2017 Rolling Stone interview that “recent claims published in the media that I am anti-LGBTQ are nothing more than fake news — it is all garbage.” Perhaps he’s in denial, however, because we have damning evidence in Anschutz Foundation tax returns showing that he did donate to those groups between 2011 and 2013.
Should a gay (or gay-friendly) patron consider avoiding his company’s concerts? Well to be fair, it’s hard not to support the myriad financial investments of Philip Anschutz. In addition to Coachella, Anschutz’s company also operates the Warfield and the Regency Ballroom. He even owned the SF Examiner from 2004 to 2011.
Anschutz’s Goldenvoice company does not own Slim’s or the Great American Music Hall; both venues are still owned by 1970s pop star Boz Scaggs. But Goldenvoice will be reaping financial benefits from their ticket sales, as it now handles the venues’ live-act booking.
From a fan standpoint, this could mean bigger acts playing these venues. And since Goldenvoice also runs Coachella, it’s likely you’ll see some Coachella acts booked at these halls in the days leading up to or after that festival.
But this concentration of ownership is also creating corporate monopolies in our live music scene. DNA Lounge owner Jamie Zawinski wrote a widely shared blog post last week complaining that “three national corporations control nearly all of San Francisco’s live music,” noting that Goldenvoice, Live Nation, and Another Planet Entertainment have cornered the market on “around 80 percent of all available ‘seats’ for live shows in S.F. and Oakland.”
(Another Planet, it should be noted, is an independent, locally owned company founded in Berkeley in 2003.)
“Let’s not blame Slim’s for doing what they felt they needed to do to survive,” Zawinski tells SF Weekly. “I have to emphasize the problem that these monopolies have so much control, and that San Francisco is such a hostile environment for independent small businesses.”
The DNA lounge itself has had trouble operating as an independent local venue. Zawinski had to close sister venues Codeword and DNA Pizzeria last June — though DNA Pizza still operates next door to the lounge — and the DNA Lounge has turned to a few hundred Patreon supporters to help keep the club operating.
“In purely predatory financial terms, a nightclub is a terrible investment,” Zawinski says. “That’s not why we do this. We do it to provide a forum for awesome art and to help make our city be the kind of place that we’d like to live.”
Zawinski says the DNA Lounge “would rather not be some national chain’s franchise,” and certainly not one owned by a right-wing billionaire. “If you enjoy any of the shows we have here, support them by showing up,” he says. “Don’t just assume that these options will be here ‘next time,’ because they won’t.”
And if you don’t want your nightlife dollars getting funneled to anti-LGBT organizations, then get your ass to Bootie (or another locally produced live event).