At the Midway, Breakfast Is the Most Important Meal of the Year

Breakfast of Champions rings in 2018 at the Dogpatch venue with increasingly big artistic ambitions.

New Year’s Eve is when people go a little wild, pouring Champagne through the holes in each other’s oversized novelty glasses in the shape of a number. (Or, in the vein of a certain AbFab episode, it’s where people call it a night at 12:02 a.m.) Either way, along with St. Patrick’s Day, it’s one of the nights that true partiers sometimes disparage as amateur hour, a playground for people who can’t keep their shit together for the long haul.

That’s because New Year’s Day is for rock stars. Breakfast of Champions, the daylong, daytime party that started 18 years and several venues ago, packs some 6,000 people into The Midway, a relatively enormous Dogpatch venue with a fairly liberal policy toward bringing in your own drums (for this one, at least). Thrown by the Burning Man collective Space Cowboys, BoC has two indoor stages and enough street closures to warrant a third, outdoor stage — plus bars, food trucks, and a local designer pop-up, all of which makes it the biggest event on The Midway’s calendar. So from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., people who snatched a few hours of sleep from Baby New Year’s crib join the even-more-determined set who haven’t gone to bed at all for 12 hours of art, music, and general rowdiness. And the fact that it falls on a Monday morning this year makes it all the more sweet.

“I like to give people more than they’re expecting,” Midway founder and president Jeff Whitmore says. “When someone’s going to the Fillmore or the Warfield or the Fox, they know exactly what they’re getting. … With the Midway, we’re looking to give a lot of surprises.”

He notes that his team is still building out the venue, but this year’s Breakfast of Champions — or next year’s, technically — includes an “exhibition kitchen-slash-screening room,” for artists like Marpi (of Digital Obscure) to create immersive, interactive pieces. This evolution, from a proving ground for raves to a space with ever-higher artistic aspirations, took two leaps forward in 2017. Future Fires’ series Luminary, an “experiential arts and technology Happening,” took place twice this year, with artists like Can Buyukberber creating huge installations on the gallery walls that seemed to change the venue’s dimensions.

“I’m behind 200 to 300 people who are watching this mapped visual,” Whitmore recalls, “and you’re sure this wall shoots off a foot-and-a-half. I’m even looking at it knowing it’s a flat wall, thinking, ‘Wait a second, did something happen while I was gone a few hours?’ ”

Buyukberber, Whitmore adds, “produces beautiful things that aren’t there.”

Having grown up in Manhattan at the tail end of the 1980s scene, when punk and hip-hop coexisted in the underground and Jean-Michel Basquiat might paint a venue with Keith Haring then DJ the same night, Whitmore says he wanted to re-create the feel of clubs like the Purple Barge. That was an actual boat on which you could explore the nooks and crannies and find yourself facing the audience from behind a band as it performed. He and his partners opened up Mighty (now Great Northern) and, later, Public Works, before tackling The Midway. Of Mighty, Whitmore says the Utah Street location initially threw some people for a loop even though it was only a five-minute walk from DNA Lounge, and that “it was one of the first spaces that so many of these underground groups felt comfortable” in.

One act Whitmore would love to book is the Flaming Lips, and not merely because he’s a fan of frontman Wayne Coyne’s loopy antics, like entering a giant bubble on stage. (Whitmore did see them 30 years ago, however, when “they were this feedback-noise band, like The Jesus and Mary Chain.”) It’s also because Coyne is a filmmaker, and that cross-disciplinarity appeals.

“The Midway, we hope, becomes a space where we get a band like the Flaming Lips in there and have their performance, but also have them curate a whole day,” Whitmore says. “We’d have a mini-Flaming Lips festival one day, where we’ve got Wayne showing some films in the screening rooms. Somebody else might be painting in the band, and we’ve got nine artist’s studios.”

To that end, The Midway undertook Envelop, a 360-degree audio experience with an enormous and complicated soundsystem capable of separating any stereo recording into its component parts, effectively rendering everything into an orchestra. On Sunday, Dec. 17, it’ll become home to a listening experience with the art-nerd’s ultimate guilty pleasure: Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. (It’s long since sold out, sadly.)

“It was like a tornado around me,” Whitmore says of his first time in the room. “I was losing my balance, stone-cold sober, just because of the way they played with the sound.”

Meanwhile, on New Year’s Eve itself, The Midway hosts the Bay Area’s own experimental world-music group Beats Antique. So the next few weeks are big ones in terms of solidifying The Midway’s position in the scene. And Breakfast of Champions has morphed considerably since its inception early in the millennium at a long-gone restaurant-slash-club on Florida Street called Whisper that’s now home to Charles Chocolates.

“It’s graduated up through a few different spaces and I’m very lucky that it’s settled right now with The Midway,” Whitmore says. “I remember going to some of the early Breakfast of Champions, and it was the first daytime party I’d ever been to on New Year’s that wasn’t involving aunts and uncles and football.”

Breakfast of Champions
Monday, Jan. 1, 6 a.m.-6 p.m., at The Midway, 900 Marin St. $19.99-$45;

Check out more from our Holidays and Beyond issue here:

Holidays and Beyond: Art
From a retrospective on hip-hop style to an investigation into Hitchcock’s Vertigo, the season’s exhibits cover virtually everything.

Holidays and Beyond: Books
A new novel by Dave Eggers, essays by Zadie Smith, and Denis Johnson’s posthumous short-story collection.

Holidays and Beyond: Comedy
How bad do you want to see Bill Murray? He’s coming this Friday to the Masonic.

Holidays and Beyond: Film
Star Wars, Madeline L’Engle, and Daniel Day-Lewis’ last role. It’s so much more than Paddington 2.

Holidays and Beyond: Music
St. Vincent is coming! St. Vincent is coming!

Holidays and Beyond: Theater
From the Golden Girls (in drag) to Harold Pinter to Marga Gomez’s newest comic masterpiece, it’s a season of the highbrow and the lowbrow (but never the middlebrow).

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