The San Francisco Music Scene

SF Weekly recently posted an article about the neo-psych/rock scene in SF. But, really, the article makes the point that I often make: SF lacks a scene.

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I go to a lot of shows. Like, a whole lot. And the genres I cover fall mostly under the rock umbrella. But there is no place I can go where everybody knows my name. Granted, I do have the unique ability to blend into the crowd, but if I have a 3 show week, all rock bands, I can easily be at Bottom of the Hill, then Great American Music Hall, and then The Fillmore. There’s no go-to place, no bouncer nod, no bartender-doesn’t-need-to-ask-what-my-drink-is-anymore business. I can’t decide on a random night when I don’t have plans that I can go to Slim’s and see a good rock band. They have as many metal shows as punk shows as hip hop. There isn’t a common thread. And, no, hipster does not count, Rickshaw Stop.

Another reason the city lacks a scene is that there are no starving artists in San Francisco. It just can’t happen. It’s too expensive for an up and coming band to make it living in this city. They have to move overseas to East Bay, which has it’s own crop of clubs, not to mention a nearby college town. So either the band has to hold down normal day jobs (total creativity kill), or they have to tack on a trust fund baby member as a sugar daddy (how uninspiring). A struggling artist often breeds a brilliant artist…you’ve heard the Cinderella stories.

The residency issue that the SF Weekly article brings up is also a good point. Out of town bands often come and plop down at The Fillmore for a stint of shows. Rarely do any local bands do this. It’s like the city is afraid to promote its own bands too much, for fear of overshadowing the touring acts. I don’t understand what the whole diversification is doing for our venues. Do they really believe that we only go to the one that is closest to where we live or something? Like I wouldn’t go drive across town to Bimbo’s to see Honeycut, so let’s put them at Bottom of the Hill next week so that I’ll be able to go. I think it actually would lend to the band’s credibility if they could consistently play a venue that supported a genre. Perhaps I just always dreamed of having a Pamela Des Barres at The Whiskey thing, or like Legs McNeil at CBGB’s. I aim high.

Don’t get me wrong, we get great live music here. If we didn’t, HardRockChick wouldn’t exist and you’d all be so sad. But it always feels like it’s missing something.

3 Comments

  1. Raymond Ahner

    10.14.2008

    Reply

    With all due respect, I have to disagree with you on this. I hit a ton of shows as well, and have made friends with bouncers, bartenders, and doormen. Granted a lot of people know me because of my big bald head and camera, but they still know me. And as far of lack of scene, S.F. has a great scene. If you went to three metal shows @ Slim’s in three weeks I guarantee you that you would see the same group of die-hard fans at every show. Same with punk rock shows at Annie’s or Thee Parkside. And yeah, a lot of bands have left the city, but they still play here on a pretty regular basis. I think the problem is that there are just too many casual fans that don’t really support local bands, and would rather go to the big touring band shows rather than go see Honeycut, or The Grannies, or Hellhunter, etc…

  2. Eryn

    10.15.2008

    Reply

    hmmmm. I respect Raymond’s defense of SF music scene (there’s no doubt I’m lucky to have access to all the SF provides) but as far as the two arguments that are made, HRCs seems more fact based. More about cause & effect. The effects of SF cost of living and the venue diversification trend are more persuasive arguments than one that denotes Bay Area music goers for some strange reason aren’t devoted enough or are more influenced by the sparkly lights of big tours.

    Still, it’s an interesting point of view. I think this calls for some consumer research …

  3. Kimi

    10.15.2008

    Reply

    Although I think there is something definitely lacking in the San Francisco music scene, I don’t think that it’s necessarily NOT lacking in places like LA or NY.I mean, talk about expensive, New York basically makes you sell your soul to live there, and even LA is getting expensive, what with the gas prices soaring like crazy. And sure, you have great places like Portland and even some Canadian cities, but in the end, there’s not really and AMAZING music scene anywhere. I think the state of music is in a disarray, there are so many genres and sub-genres, record labels are folding left and right, and the internet has kind of taken over.
    So, I think your argument has a lot of valid points, but they should probably be applied to every music scene with a history.Things just aren’t like they used to be.

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