Music Heroes: Marc Ribak

Marc Ribak's middle name is rock 'n' roll.This is well-known to Bay Area garage/girl-group/alt-rock/surf-punk fans. He and his long-running Oakland outdoor minifest Burger Boogaloo are famous for booking not only the best local bands in those genres, but for having brought the one and only Ronnie Spector to Mosswood Park. No one else has ever done that before.

Significantly, Ribak is a hipster; I'm a little surprised he's even agreed to talk to me, this being a pretty dorky publication and all. It's clear I'm being held at arm's length; this is what hipsters do, they keep you out. It's why people love to hate them. His online resume lists his profession as “Coordinator” with “T.T. Productions;” even someone who might want to hire him must first prove cool enough. When I ask, he glosses over his many years in massively underground-popular band the Rock N Roll Adventure Kids with allusions to “being a touring musician,” in the if-you-know-then-you-know tradition.

[jump] I'm stymied. I want to talk work and meaning, while he sends endless photos of his festival and talks about “friends” and “fun.” I know that part already. But he's doing his thing, and not about to scuff up the surface of what he's really been doing for the past 10 to 15, or why. Eventually, I realize this is understandable.

And it reminds me of my policy on hipsters, developed long ago: They're frustrating, and often worse, elitist, and that's why I never wanted to be one. But on the other hand, hipsters inevitably, with a group-seizure, pheromone-level instinct of the kind that animates an ant colony or starling murmuration, create good live music. Music is inside the literal meaning of the word, as nearly as it can be studied: To be “hip” to new music. I have a personal theory that the term goes back much further than the documented 1902 moment during which white Americans are “getting hip” to African-American ragtime. I think it goes back to old English's “hip” for “hey!” as in “hip hip hurrah.” We call out to each other, in our own ways. And for this music, all the music of so much of the world, I love them, need them, am grateful. They have to be clannish, they have to dress a certain careful way, or the music won't come out right. I want to ruin a meme: I want to say Look at This AMAZING Hipster, who brought us all this fucking music! Thank you, hipster! 
To reiterate, Ribak says he pretty much organizes a big complicated outdoor concert, with liabilities and security and fencing to be put up and taken down and Hell only knows what kind of alcohol and bathroom-related complications, because it's fun. And in all honesty, it looks like it's insanely fun. The Burger Boogaloo is named partly after its enormous dance contest, which, in an early version of the festival, was clearly inspired by the most ridiculous film of the 1980s (which is saying something), Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo. You know — fun. Jonathan Richman is often onstage, ditto Redd Kross, and Kreayshawn's mom's garage band the Trashwomen. Fun.

“Being a touring rock and roll musician,” Ribak says, “rarely lends the opportunity to play gigs outside of nightclubs, and I thought Mosswood Park might be able to shed some light on that situation.” One of the lights that shines extremely brightly from the Mosswood stage is Shannon Shaw, and Ribak the enthusiast wants to talk about the woman with the giant, incredible voice. “I fell in love with Shannon Shaw's voice when I heard her play a warehouse party in 2009 with my band Rock n Roll Adventure Kids. The room had very tall ceilings, and her voice reverberated through every inch of the warehouse that night. I had never experienced anything like that before, and I knew she would be inspirational to fans the rest of her life.” (This is absolutely true. Drop everything if you get the chance to see Shannon and the Clams.

At long last I remember to ask Ribak about that claim-to-fame moment with a bona fide star, when Ronnie Spector, girl-group survivor goddess, came to Oakland. What was I expecting? The response of a hipster, probably, something needling about having to have been there, or a cryptic insinuation about future collaborations. I mean, clearly I am an expert on hipsters, see above.

“It was the most touching music performance I've ever witnessed. Something about seeing so many people at Mosswood crying with joy when she was doing her classics with the lights down low in the redwoods and covering Johnny Thunders' 'You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory.' But when she was singing 'I Can Hear Music' and changed the lyrics to 'the sound of Oakland baby, seems to disappear' it was really moving because people really believe in Oakland. It's a place that folks feel very strongly about, and when Ronnie gave us a shout out we felt it!”

Marc Ribak, ladies and gentlemen. Middle name rock 'n' roll.

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