While San Francisco restaurants whipsaw between phases of open and closed, and bars build elaborate castles in the street to lure you out for a margarita, another treasured component of city life has been almost entirely left to wither on the vinyl: independently owned live music venues.
As with mom-and-pop retail, the immediate pre-pandemic times were hardly a golden age. In SoMa alone, Mezzanine shuttered in 2019 after a complicated dispute with its landlord, and Slim’s shut its doors forever this March for long-simmering reasons, according to owner Boz Scaggs, that had nothing to do with COVID-19.
In the absence of federal, state, or city assistance, roughly a dozen venues (Halcyon, 1015 Folsom, Public Works, The Stud, among others) have banded together to curate a three-day festival of underground dance music called Revive the Night (Dec. 4-6). Its aim: to direct donations to struggling operations this weekend while elevating the profile of the city’s venues (which lack a well-connected lobbying organization, the way eateries have in the Golden Gate Restaurant Association.)
The lineup is, as Emperor Palpatine might say, “impressive, most impressive!” Big names like Giraffage, Ardalan, Mikey Lion, and Tiffany Tyson commingle with a diverse set of well-known local support acts, like Carrie on Disco and the incredible La Frida. Are you one of the countless people who misses Hard French? Well, Brown Amy will be there. Has it been awhile since you’ve seen the Peaches Crew? Umami is on the roster. And all of them are performing for free.
Co-organizer Bailey Greenwood says everything about Revive the Night fell into place quickly.
“I’m actually a booking agent and I’m furloughed right now,” she says. “Obviously, the venues had a lot to do with the lineup, but some of these connections to Dirtybird and Desert Hearts came from my ties to the industry.
“It’s a really good representation of the underground dance music community, but it does showcase a lot of cool things that are happening in the Bay Area,” she adds.
If anything, the lineup feels a little like a revival — if you will — of Treasure Island Music Festival, the much-missed, not-quite-boutique institution that flamed out one stormy weekend in 2015 and returned for one final hurrah in West Oakland a couple years later. Except in lieu of a Ferris wheel, there will be three to four hours of programming for each venue, with multiple avenues to assist the clubs you love.
“On our website right now we are linking all the venues to their direct donation pages and encouraging people to donate a couple different ways,” Greenwood says. “The merch sales we’re doing, all the proceeds are going back to the venues, split equally between everyone who’s participating, and we’re doing donations through Dice.fm, who’s partnering with us and waiving all their fees — and again, we’re splitting it equally. We also have prizes, including Outside Lands tickets, and gift cards to incentivize people.”
As far as Greenwood and her co-organizers are aware, no other city has done this yet in response to COVID, and it holds more potential than the comparatively symbolic “Red Alert Restart” in September where venues nationwide lit themselves in red to signal their level of existential danger.
“The biggest message that I wanted to bring to people is that the government isn’t helping, so we need to step up and do it. Ethically, most venues don’t have a way to open up safely. It’s sad that they want to lockdown and have us support these businesses — so these venues, which are normally competitors, are coming together to yell, ‘We really need help!’”
Representatives from each club, which can allocate the proceeds however they want, agree.
“It looks like we’re in for a long, interesting winter,” says Jeff Whitmore, the founder of Public Works, which has been using its location on a dead-end alley to its advantage all this summer and fall with outdoor shows on afternoons and evenings. “The timing couldn’t be better for Revive the Night to help save an industry that’s in code blue. Any donations that Public Works receives will go towards the basics: staff, rent, and utilities. We’re fortunate that Erie street allows us to orchestrate some cool little distanced-dining soirees. Donations can help us to offer more of the same in the coming months.”
Not all the venues participating currently exist, either. The collective that owns The Stud, the oldest LGBTQ+ bar in SoMa, made the painful choice to close entirely earlier this year — a decision that now looks prudent in retrospect. Drag queen VivvyAnne ForeverMORE, a member of the collective, is glad to be able to book La Frida and her erstwhile co-worker/co-owner John Fucking Cartright.
“This fundraiser will support us as we hunt for a new forever home,” Vivvy says. “Not only have we been closed since March, but we vacated our home at 399 Ninth St., where we had been since 1987. … As stewards of our past, we are committed to keeping the Stud open for future generations of queers.”
“Folks can also support us by joining our Patreon where they get exclusive access to Stud Vault recordings, and early access to our podcast,” she adds.
Even in the age of social media, nightlife has always had an evanescent quality to it, a heady quality that comes from dressing up to go out and see where the evening and its fleeting energy take you. Revive the Night and its participants want to preserve that evanescence, rather than see it swallow them up forever.
Revive the Night
Fri.-Sun., Dec. 4-6