On a rickety table behind Eli's Mile High Club in Oakland, Marcos Ribak displays a trio of bizarre objects. He has arrived with a candle bearing the patron saint of death, a deck of true-crime playing cards, and a tattered pulp volume of macabre Italian comics. His former bandmate passes by and nods at the objects approvingly, as if deeming them telling totems of Ribak's character. They certainly are this month: The lowbrow cultural artifacts speak to the primitive rock 'n' roll Ribak champions with his live music booking outfit Total Trash, and the death candle hints at his upcoming slew of shows for Halloween — a victory lap after Total Trash's most successful and ambitious year yet.
An East Bay native, Ribak founded the band Rock N Roll Adventure Kids in 1999 and toured exhaustively around the United States. Soon, booking shows locally became inseparable from playing in other cities. Returning favors for out-of-town musicians is a crux of independent touring, but Ribak's kind gestures eventually snowballed into a full-time vocation. He officially founded Total Trash in 2008 to host the Spits at now-defunct Oakland warehouse space Ghost Town.
In an acknowledgment of his tireless work, Ribak collaborated with noted Fullerton label Burger Records to bring headliners like Redd Kross, The Oblivians, and Jonathan Richman to Oakland's Mosswood Park earlier this year. July's Burger Boogaloo involved coordinating a police presence, food trucks, city permits, musicians, and security for the park's first music festival, which drew about 3,000 people over two days, Ribak says. It was a big success, but it wasn't his first. Last year's Total Trash Halloween inspired John Dwyer to re-form his pre-Thee Oh Sees group Coachwhips and headline the festival before a sold-out crowd. "If you ever come to the Bay Area, just remember — the real action is across the bridge in Oakland," crowed Vice magazine in a Total Trash BBQ recap, though it almost could have swapped out the city as a whole for Ribak's events exclusively.
In the last five years, Ribak grew Total Trash from a snappy tag for his warehouse gatherings to a potent booking enterprise, but the mission remains the same. Citing his upcoming Total Trash Halloween — which will unfurl over three days on both sides of the Bay beginning Oct. 31— Ribak says, "I always hope people will find out about a band like Wounded Lion because they came to see a band like the Sonics." Indeed, his approach pairs local figureheads Shannon and the Clams and canonical legends like the Sonics — a fierce '60s frat-rock band that profoundly influenced modern garage — with maverick newcomers like Wounded Lion and tuneful locals Meat Market. So Ribak's work still serves the young acts on shoestring budgets who galvanized him to book shows in the first place.
Total Trash demands Ribak's complete commitment, especially since it's only now beginning to yield a return. "Last year was the first time I profited," he says. That's partly because legitimizing his events to accommodate bigger headliners has created massive overhead. Permitting and staffing costs for Burger Boogaloo exceeded the fees paid to artists, and bills from it continue to arrive.
Still, 2013 has seen Ribak's most ambitious events yet. Despite the obstacles, he insists that "there is a greater good to come from all of this." He excitedly reveals unconfirmed headliners for next year's Burger Boogaloo, and resolves to continue booking festivals in Oakland's centrally located Mosswood Park, without the burdensome presence of corporate sponsors. His core motivation seems to be generosity, an unwavering commitment to aiding new bands. As it turns out, the curious objects he spread on our table at the interview were meant as gifts.