Judging by the volume of comments it has generated and the frequency with which it keeps popping up in my Facebook timeline, Ian Port’s “When Pork Belly Replaces the Punk Club: Fears About the Future of Music in Affluent S.F.” gave voice to a fear that many of us arts-minded San Franciscans had after reading the New York Times’ depressing coverage of San Francisco’s new tech boom and its prospective impact on the already-diminished local middle class. Port’s is a well-written piece considering how the continuing decrease in affordability here will negatively impact San Francisco’s musical identity, as artists relocate elsewhere and events increasingly cater to affluent residents:
So while it was once a respite for low-income creatives and real deviants, who would pay $5 or $10 to go a show or a party (at the Eagle Tavern, or Annie’s Social Club, or Kimo’s, remember those?), swill cheap whiskey, and watch something freaky and loud until early in the morning, San Francisco will slowly become one big pork-belly party, an amusement park for well-off residents to discover some new consumer good to become picky over, or for bridge-and-tunnel types to visit on the weekend, go to an overpriced club, and meet a hookup.
These are real, and, to those of us who care about a vibrant local music scene, important concerns. And, as Ian rightly notes, they are only really symptoms of a greater concern about the City’s seeming indifference toward the middle and lower class:
That the people in power don’t care as much as they should about preserving the kind of cultural vibrancy that only comes when people with less-than-huge incomes can stay here.
But unfortunately, that’s where his article ends, with that sad future painted (if only through the absence of optimism) as an inevitability. It’s easy to complain in generalities. It’s harder, as Ian has done, to identify specific problems that need to be addressed. But it’s even harder still, but all the more critical, to ask and answer the following question:
So what are we going to do?
Complaining about increasing rents, gentrification, the death of this venue or that, how the music today isn’t as good as it used to be, and how kids today don’t know how good things were back when — these are complaints everyone makes all the time here (and possibly everywhere). There’s nothing all that new or novel about any of them. Don’t get me wrong, I am just as guilty of making many of them. But if we really are at some make-or-break moment for San Francisco’s identity, complaints aren’t enough. And it’s a lot harder to actually work on solutions.
I think that’s why the article’s focus on Noise Pop’s new Noisette event seems so misguided, as is Port’s use of images of “bridge-and-tunnel types” pouring into overpriced clubs. Whether or not any particular event appeals to him, or to me, or to anyone, isn’t really worth much time or energy in the long run. What matters more is creating and sustaining the sort of place that we want to see exist.
For us at The Bay Bridged, that means creating cheap-to-free all ages opportunities for locals to see local independent bands. That goal is part of our mission statement, and has been the guiding principle behind our now-in-its-fifth-year Rock Make Street Festival, and our now-in-its-second year Phono del Sol Festival. I’m not trying to pat us on the back here, so much as I am trying to say that creating the sort of things you care about goes a lot further than just complaining about their absence.
Tech bubble or not, I remain convinced that the creation of a small to mid-sized all ages performance space could have a significantly positive impact on local musicians, who, as of now, remain largely inaccessible to local young people (and their disposable income) until they reach the level of popularity that opens up the city’s larger all ages venues.
Still, it’s easy to write that concern, as I frequently have, without doing anything more concretely to address it. Such is the challenge that all of us who care about this place must confront if we seek to fix SF’s well-understood, but difficult-to-solve problems. For a city that prides itself on being a hub for innovation, our government continues to fail to develop innovative approaches to the critical issues facing the city today. Instead, it’s on the rest of us to do so in whatever ways we can.
We can and should all be fearful of a San Francisco that caters simply to the wealthy, but if we don’t do anything about it, what kind of legacy can we claim when that fear comes true?