As Bay Area native Desiree Cannon croons a sleepy country ballad from a tiny stage, a hat filled with dollar bills passes around a cozy, wood-paneled room at Oakland’s Starline Social Club. It’s warm inside, and it feels kind of like an Okie Dust Bowl church.
“Shiny boots, yellow string, trade it in for finer things / But what you get ain’t what you choose, so what’s the point of tellin’ truths,” Cannon inquires from behind her acoustic guitar.
For the past year and a half, the folks behind The Long Road Society, a new-ish Oakland music label, have thrown its signature monthly — Run With The Moon (RWTM) — in a satellite space at Starline called The Explorer’s Club, and they appear to have attracted a loyal group of parishioners. The place is packed, but the vibe is notably intimate — and that’s just the way the event’s organizers want it to be.
“We started Run With The Moon because we saw a hole that existed in Oakland for roots music, for music that carries tradition and songwriting in a high-quality sense. It fulfills what we see as a critical need for people to gather on a regular basis around music,” says Lisa Pezzino, who cofounded RWTM with musicians Kit Center and Cannon.
Appropriately, RWTM happens every month on the full moon. Most evenings begin with a performance by hosts Center (of Kit Center & The Hollow Bones, a roots music band) and Cannon, and also feature a few special guests who play the blues, soul, Americana, and traditional music, along with whimsically named neo-genres like dream folk and cosmic country.
Tonight’s featured guests include West African folk musician Zena Carlota and Josiah Johnson from The Head and the Heart. Carlota, accompanied by a cellist and violinist, meanders through a collection of tunes exploring her private life and the world today, and Johnson wrapped up the evening with a series of (mostly) love songs, aptly sung from his heart, via his head.
“Run With The Moon is like church to me,” Center says. “It’s a sacred place, or a safe space, or whatever you want to call it, that’s created by the audience members, where artists come and bare their soul, and get really naked in front of us, in an emotional way.”
Tonight, he spoke to the significance of the shared altar in front of the stage before playing a handful of spooky folk originals.
“If you want to go up there and burn some sage and smudge yourself off, you can do that,” he says. “If you have someone that’s recently died, you can put their picture there. If you’ve got something that comes from a loving place in your heart that needs to be on that altar, you can go put that there. That’s your altar.”
Starline Social Club is housed in a former Odd Fellows hall built in the late 1800s, and Cannon, who was part of the original waitstaff, believes that the history space itself engenders what they’re going for at their gatherings.
“It feels alive, and it has this history of community. I think that Run With The Moon has really been fostered by that. It wouldn’t work somewhere else,” Cannon says. “To me, the Starline is like a town hall. It’s the place I came to after the Ghost Ship fire. It’s the place I came to to watch the election.”
“Starline offers you a platform to become an artist and kind of create your experience, and that’s definitely the case with Run With The Moon,” she says. “It feels like we can create the performance space however we want to and not have to worry about food and booze.”
With a good chunk of the logistics taken care of, the trio has been able to focus on attracting artists that bring the night to life. Pezzino says that while Starline pays them an organizer’s fee for putting on the event, 100 percent of the money collected in the hat — and it’s an actual hat — passed around after each performance goes to that artist. As a result, they’ve cultivated a strong, elaborate network of people who enjoy the freedom they’re afforded creatively as well as the compensation they deserve.
“We’ve found that system to be really successful. Performers are really happy, and they feel like if they bring a lot of people, or if people love them, they can see it financially. It really connects the audience with the musician in a more direct way,” Pezzino says, adding that any money they make for themselves at Run With The Moon is put toward making a vinyl compilation of past performances.
The compilation will ultimately be put out by the Long Road Society, which is headed by Pezzino and Center, along with partners Morgan Nixon and Carlos Julio Gonzalez. Although they officially incorporated in January 2017, Pezzino says owning a record label with all her buddies has been a lifelong dream.
“After we started Run With The Moon and we started feeling that energy, we decided that now is the time,” Pezzino says.
At the moment, the label consists of a handful of artists, including Kit Center & The Hollow Bones and Desiree Cannon. Other folks include singer-songwriter Aviva Lipkowitz and afrobeat jazz project Sitka Sun, both of whom are from Oakland.
Center, who is currently on a West Coast tour with Desiree Cannon, stresses the group’s mindful curatorial eye with all its endeavors.
“The purpose of both the Long Road Society and Run With The Moon is to showcase somebody who isn’t going to just smack you in the face and say ‘I’m here,’ but who is still a beauty of a person and a magnificent artist,” Center says. “They just need to be handed to you in a certain way so that you can see them and appreciate them.”
Run With The Moon, every full moon, 8 p.m., at Starline Social Club, 2236 Martin Luther King Junior Way, Oakland. Free; longroadsociety.com