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

Wednesday, Sep 27 2000
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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, rats By 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.

Alas, duty calls. The company Davenport works for, the former Redwood City-based Web site MongoMusic, was recently acquired by Microsoft and is being relocated to Seattle. Similar to Internet radio stations like Spinner.com, the site features technology that lets listeners punch in songs in numerous categories and receive other, similar songs that they might not be aware of. (I found, to my horror, that both the Clash and Roky Erickson had been placed in the new wave section.) The company is staffed mainly by musicians, which means that the local scene will also have to do without Deluxe Records co-owner and Electric Birds leader Mike Martinez, former Cars Get Crushed member Paul Koehler, Blake Davis of Papa's Culture, Tracy Chapman's ex-bassist Andy Stoller, and many others.

There is a smidgen of hope, however. Sources indicate that some of the musicians haven't given up their apartments yet.

A bang, not a whimper Turning from editorial hugs to banana slugs, the first annual Santa Cruz Lo-Fi Indie Music Festival, i.e., the Big Bang, begins on Thursday. For 10 straight days, our neighbor to the south will host three bands each night. The idea, organizer Oliver Brown says, is to showcase Santa Cruz artists, as well as take the usual festival notion of too many bands, too little time and spread it out over a week and a half. Many of the shows take place in unique venues like cafes, stores, and community centers.

"People came out of the woodwork to offer space," Brown says. "I don't even know how they heard about it."

San Francisco bands like the Aislers Set and Deerhoof will perform, as well as the granddaddy of lo-fi, K Records chieftain Calvin Johnson. Brown recommends the following: Lady Fingers & Laura Limes, two art students who practice an experimental form of hip hop using a Mattel Hot Licks plastic guitar and referencing Devo and Yoko Ono; the Four-Eyes, a bespectacled three-piece garage band whose members sing about giving bullies computer viruses and carrying around Dungeons & Dragons sets just in case; and Sin in Space, a college student's wet dream that, according to Brown, sounds like "the Pixies meet Radiohead meet the Cure."

"We have a really strong lo-fi scene here now," Brown says. "I've lived here six or seven years, and sometimes it's hot and sometimes it's cold. Now it's very hot."

Brown attributes the wealth of acts to the opening of a Streetlight Records. "People used to move to Seattle or Portland or Oakland," Brown says. "Now people don't have to go somewhere else after graduation."

All shows are $3 (a full festival pass is $20) and all-ages. "By all-ages, people think that means just young kids," Brown explains. "It also means 30 and above. We want to do this every year. I look forward to the day when there'll be a garage band playing with 50- and 60-year-olds in it, or a 50-year-old bass player and an 18-year-old drummer."

For more details, visit the festival Web site at www.kingturtle.com/bigbang.html.

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Dan Strachota

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