San Francisco - the forever changing city that changed my life forever
In the Western World, San Francisco has always represented the heart of the Gold Rush. First we excavated this gold deep in the hills, then in the 60’s we explored the far reaches of consciousness through psychedelics and music. Just this past decade, many flocked to seek fortune and opportunity in Technology. Let us remember the indigenous people of this area, Ohlone tribes. They celebrated the golden sun which rose in the morning and set in the evening, as the source of life. It was honored through ceremonial song and dance. I wish for us to renew these sacred ways and pray we will not stray too far from Source.
Rapid changes have ignited conversations by “locals” around the theme of techie take-over, greedy landlords and high rent, city corruption, art and minority displacement. The list goes on. I don’t mean to deny or diminish the validity of these concerns. I empathize with the struggle. My intention now is to re-polish those glorious golden nuggets nestled deep in my memory banks, to brighten the forum. I hope to paint a colorful picture resembling the way I remember San Francisco, the city I fell madly in Love with.
I remember San Francisco as the Disneyland for adults and, unlike my spells in Las Vegas, it actually felt real and authentic. In the year 1996, I was 15 years old and my East Bay posse would venture across the bridge to explore this magical, mysterious, fantasy land of weirdos and wonders. We would frequent a swing dance club called The Metronome Ballroom where there’d be live bands, DJs and beautiful people of all ages and colors dancing. They were twinkly and twirling, dressed in the theme of the 1930’s. One thing I always admired about San Franciscans is the level of effort put into “playing the part.” There was no such thing as over-the-top. We’d pass around the cherry, California home-grown blazing at its finest to enhance the experience. We believed we were transported inside the whimsical world of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” In fact, we often referred to SF as “Toon Town.”
When I officially moved to San Francisco in 2000, the thing to do was spend night’s venue hopping at hole-in-the-wall live music clubs. We had a thirst for spontaneity and there was no better way to quench it. The unique plethora of bands, be it style or talent, was undeniable and every venue had its own charm (even if it smelled like last night’s regurgitation). We loved underground spots like Beale Street, Voodoo Lounge or Kimo’s. They would host an assortment of “fresh out of the garage” bands and the occasional touring act that would blow your mind (and your ears)! These clubs always had their own personality and the owners were often bartending, managing and booking/paying out the bands all at once. More dependable mid-sized clubs were often my preference - some of my favs being Cafe Du Nord, Red Devil Lounge, Tongue & Groove and Paradise Lounge. One of the larger halls that stands out in my mind was The Maritime where I got to see Outkast open for Lauren Hill. After that show ended we ventured to a different level of the same building, straight into a massive Trance rave which ploughed on until 6am! You never knew what you were getting into in this town!
There were some solid local jams, like Jazz Mafia at Bruno’s or the hype cyphers in North Beach’s Royale, followed by Afrolicious at Elbo Room. You had to know about these shows because they weren’t advertised much beyond word-of-mouth. The crowds were classy and eccentric. Something worth noting, I'm talking about a pre-social media culture here. People weren't completely inundated and overwhelmed with options and invitations. This was a beautiful thing for San Francisco in my opinion. You could walk down the street and pass out fliers for your show and 20 extra people would actually come out! A few of them could easily become your new fun friends. Sadly all of the aforementioned venues are either gone or on their way out, to be replaced by fancy restaurants or condos. I won't venture down that rabbit hole. Talking about the vanishing subculture is like beating a dead horse to pulp. Needless to say, I feel extremely fortunate to have experienced a collection of special moments in time and space. The music community was expansive, engaged and slightly unified, probably due to the reasonable cost of living at the time. When you walked down the streets of Mission District, it was very common to bump into friendly, familiar faces from the scene. The city was way more gritty back then, but it felt very authentic, diverse and raw.
Nights out were loaded with variety. Between band’s sets was a good time to hit the local liquor store, followed by a nearby stoop session, within earshot of nearby street musicians. Often times, especially in the Haight, we'd stumble across a crackin’ house party and march right in like we owned the place! As long as you came equipped with a few good jokes, inspiring conversation and didn’t look like you were gonna slip out with a new trophy, the party hosts would warmly welcome you to stay. In those days, house parties went late and would sometimes have DJ’s or even live bands in living rooms. The neighbors, well, instead of complaining about the noise, were there hanging out too. Around 3am it was off to Orphan Andy’s for some late night diner shenanigans!
There were many spices of personality, and some were extra spicy! One of my favorite SF memories was when a group of our friends were hanging out and barely flinched as a Marilyn Monroe cross-dresser was in the middle of street screaming “Horse Killer!” (a premonition I realize now, apropos to this memoir). It was a funky place where you could let your freak flag fly high, be who you are and most people would accept you so long as you weren’t an asshole. Not sure if it was just a fleeting sensation, but the line between dream and reality was wonderfully blurred. Occasionally when walking around town in a half-aware state, someone would take notice and then leap straight into your personal bubble wielding a high five or random dance move. I soon learned to pay close attention - someone's flipping the light switch for me! From Halloween in the Castro, uninhibited dance parties in Dolores Park, to the nudists of Baker Beach, it felt like Burning Man was all around us and not just a party in the desert. We found comfort in the uncomfortable. Vulnerable, open and connected - a whole city thriving on the Love of its limitless beings.
During my SF time, there were amazing achievements and milestones reached. Besides the accomplishment of actually living there for 17 years, I was blessed to meet my soulmate on a fateful night out dancing. Somehow I was able to co-produce 300+ shows and 6 annual music festivals with the invaluable and gracious support of my Bay Vibes and ULUV Music teams. Together we successfully executed local music concerts at Yoshis, 111 Minna, Independent, Mezzanine and many many more esteemed venues! The Bay Vibes crew would go on to become my nearest and dearest friends. The “vibe” was truly infectious and a testament to the power of ego-free collaboration. I performed as a frontman of my own group over 200 times, recorded 4 albums, managed restaurants, engaged in community activism. So much rich experience it’s incredible!
Someone once said, “all you can hope for in life is to look back and say it was a good ride.” Well, it was a truly epic ride! Thank you San Francisco and catch you on the flip side. The golden treasures that you have gifted me will be fondly cherished - and nobody can take them from me.
Bless. Bliss. I Reminisce.
The Undeniable Transcending Power of Music
My first B&R gig was with my former band Naked Soul for a drug rehabilitation center. I was a bit nervous, thinking to myself, "this is going to be the toughest crowd imaginable." Our first song finished with a long sustaining chord and the silence that followed could be cut with a knife. The moment after that deadly silence was to my surprise, met with the most exuberant applause, bright eyes and super wide smiles. The room was suddenly filled with warmth, as our sound was amplified by the kind beating hearts of these shining souls eagerly seated before us. Each song to follow was echoed with deeper attention and bolder applause. They were hanging on every word and I was hooked on their vibe! This was the kind of audience performers dream of!
Since then, I've had the privilege and pleasure of playing for 3 drug rehab centers, Alameda County Juvenile Hall and worked my way up and into Marin County Jail. My show at the Jail was a group of superfriends and talented songwriters Chris Bryden, Adley Penner and myself, accompanied by Andy Kallick on cajon. That familiar nervousness had set in again. We were to play for 2 groups of inmates in different wards. After making it through the excessive security measures and impenetrable barriers, we found ourselves right in the lions den. Directly in front of where we were playing were 30-40 chairs filled with bodies in orange uniform. Some of the inmates were not allowed out their cells for some reason or another, but they were still gazing down attentively like vultures as we struck our first note. It was an ominous feeling.
Once the music was in motion, that fearful feeling melted away and was beautifully transformed. Hard edges were softened, grins became laughs, unmovable bodies were bobbing around and clapping to the beat. Even the people in the cells were dancing along and shouting encouragement out of slits in their massive doors. It was pure magic! They were fully engaged, singing when we offered the opportunity and connecting with the vibration of each song. It was as if the physical bars were dissolved for a moment, making way for the boundless imagination. Gratitude was shared on all sides, as the guards complimented our performance and observed that the inmates are in much better moods and easier to deal with after receiving uplifting music. Outside the jail, Adley laid his arm around my shoulder and reflected "that was a truly spiritual experience man."
If you're a gigging musician, you are probably familiar with the common bar gig, where the only moment your screaming guitar solo goes noticed is during the game's half time. Or the corporate event, in which your heartfelt lyrics and vulnerable delivery blend right in with the wallpaper. Then there's the occasional venue show, where you promoted your ass off for 3 months and still played to a near-empty room. If you are jaded by these gigs and are looking to put some wind back in your sails, contact Bread and Roses. Your music deserves an audience who is going to receive it, appreciate it and send that energy back to you! You might even bring some much needed healing and hope to someone. Believe me when I say, that gift is mutually given and received every time I play a Bread and Roses gig.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to San Quentin...
Truth. Love. One.