Feature Stories

The Day the Music Died – COVID’s Invisible Casualties

Volume 1: The Impact on the Bay Area Music Community

Will I ever see a live show ever again? Seriously, was the acoustic show Feb 26 at Berkeley’s Cornerstone (to see William DuVall and Sacramento’s rising star Katie Knipp) the last local live music show I will ever see??? The thought fucking freaks me out.

It has been over 6 months now since live music was abruptly put on hiatus, and like many traumatic losses in life there is a delay in fully grasping the magnitude of what exactly just happened. After seeing the country temporarily succeed at abating the COVID-19 virus through April and May, we seemed poised for a return to what was once considered normal.

However, like one hit wonders (fill in the blank) Right Said Fred ….Vanilla Ice…Tommy Tutone (gotta keep it local), success soon evaporated, and we subsequently flailed and failed in the deep waters of impatience and denial.

Now, as the country gets numb to leadership’s failures and gets more and more divided, the reality sets in….music as we had come to know it may never return. Frankly, like most things in today’s instant gratification society, we took it for granted.

Particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area, where we were fortunate enough to see virtually all major acts , a multitude of nationally touring up and comers, and droves of local talent, the ability to go out and experience the visceral power of live music was treated like it was disposable.

Live music in the Bay Area was already struggling before the pandemic. A previously thriving music community full of vibrant talented bands and supportive fans and venues was choked out by a soul crushing tech boom that brought with it skyrocketing rents and venue closures. The ensuing squeeze stripped the Bay of the very personality that made it a mecca for artists and musicians in decades past.

Long gone are the days when Haight Street was a hotbed for San Francisco music, with venues like the I-Beam, and Nightbreak hosting great bands nightly. The Bay Area underground was big and boisterous. Whether it was heading to Broadway to see bands at The Mab, or The Stone, or Morty’s, crossing the Bay to go to the Omni (hey Jimmy A!!) or Ruthie’s, or heading down south to the Cactus Club, fans supported venues, venues supported bands, the scene supported the scene.

I recall going to the amazing Berkeley Square to see Tupac and Green Day playing on back to back nights in March of 1992. It was that type of fertile bay area musical ground that grew the likes of Metallica, The Tubes, Dead Kennedys, Digital Underground, Papa Roach, 4 Non-Blondes, Death Angel, Faith No More….there are too many to list, but you get the idea.

The point is that these bands would never have had a platform on which to thrive it if weren’t for the local venues and fans supporting them. Right now, COVID has its fingers around the throat of the bay area local music community and is slowly applying pressure.

Even before the world stopped, we only had to look at the iconic DNA Lounge to see a local live music venue gasping for air.

With the tech boom transplants that replaced the diehard locals tending to be more reticent and lethargic when it comes to supporting local music, getting folks to come out to see live music on a weeknight became such a challenge that it threatened the very existence of the DNA Lounge.

This same existential crisis also put other symbols of the Bay Area music scene in the intensive care ward. And when COVID-19 froze society in March, it struck the death knell for live music halls such as (among others) Slim’s and Oakland favorites The Uptown and the ultra-cool and divey Stork Club. RIP…spill a little.

Sure, new music spots will eventually open to replace them but if the tendency pre-COVID continues, they will cater to DJ music and the hipster lounge culture that largely values profits over showcasing innovative local musicians.

What venues will be there to support the Bay Area local music scene when it organically grows back from between the cracks in the concrete?  It will…it is resilient. Once the light again shines on us to go back out to be the social beings that we are, who will be there to will creep out on a Wednesday night to see whoever is playing at the Make Out Room, or at Bottom of the Hill, or at The Ritz or The Caravan in San Jose??

Man, what I would give now for a random weeknight of local rock at The Hemlock Tavern…oh wait…. that place was torn down. Like I said if you love local music and can do so, support the places that are still open. They really need our help.

Go see live outdoor comedy at The Milk Bar. Give what you can to the Starry Plough GoFundMe. Check out the virtual events put on by the DNA (Bootie Mashup anyone??) and contribute to their Patreon profile. Local music went down in the pit and needs a hand to get up.

If we want these places to stay open and still be there once the pandemic groundhog’s day repeat cycle ends, we need to support them through these tough times. The foundation of local music is only as strong as its community. Time to show that the Bay Area music community is still alive and kicking.

Milk Bar

Starry Plough GoFundMe 

DNA Patreon