The SoFa Street Fair

Before reading Jody Amable’s fantastic “In Defense of San Jose,” I had forgotten that city even existed, let alone existed with a thriving music and arts scene. San Jose, in my mind, was merely the place where tech bros went to watch Sharks games.

Then I read about the SoFA Street Fair while listlessly scrolling through my Twitter feed one day. Over 50 artists on three outdoor stages for seven solid hours? And Fishbone is headlining? And it’s free??? How could something this cool be taking place in San Jose?

Well, the fact is San Jose just may be a whole lot cooler than I originally gave it credit for.  When SoFA first started way back in the ’90s, it was definitely cooler than I was, with my stupid junior high school brain classifying Blink-182 as real punk rock and TRL as the cultural highpoint of my generation.  Fortunately, the musical directors/coordinators of the charmingly ‘reupholstered’ event — South Bay music scene veterans Gary Avila and Jimmy Arceneaux -– embody that underrated sense of cool the festival, and not I, contained.

“It’s like a high school reunion for us,” says Arceneaux, discussing the return of the festival, which had been shut down in 2001 for a number of reasons. “I don’t know the official story,” Avila adds, “but around that time San Jose was trying to figure out what it was doing with live music. They needed to improve the way they handled large outdoor events with huge crowds, and the inefficiency was really eating into the business of nightclubs around the area.” But it’s back and seemingly just as beloved as in its heyday, and the showrunners couldn’t be more excited about what they call “a shot in the arm for the local music scene.”

The Bay Bridged: How would you describe the San Jose music scene for those unfamiliar with the territory?

Jimmy Arceneaux: There are a ton of great, talented young bands in the region that are kind of hidden, because of their location, to the greater Bay Area music scene. The problem is there are so many bands and not enough venues for them to play, especially if they’re underage. Most of the venues here are twenty-one plus, and it’s really tough for the kids to gig when all their friends can’t come to a show.

Gary Avila: I agree.  The live music scene is definitely improving around here, but the kids do need some venues of their own.  I think SoFA may help kickstart the push for more all ages shows in the area.

TBB: Would you say the San Jose scene is overlooked in favor of other scenes in the Bay Area, especially San Francisco and the East Bay?

JA: I would totally say that we’re the red-headed stepchild of the Bay Area music scene. No disrespect to San Francisco, but I think we’re a bit overlooked because the bands out here aren’t as willing to follow the trends dominating that city. For example, there’s a huge punk market out here, a genre alive and well at places like The Blank Club. The edgier feel of our scene doesn’t neatly fit into the SF market that, I believe, is a lot more commercial in nature.

GA: I agree again. Get out of my head Jimmy! (Laughs.) It’s hard for bands here to bring people out to shows in San Francisco, and that’s another reason this place is so overlooked. A band that can sell out a venue here could, if they were lucky, pull half that audience in SF. Our scene is so diverse and eclectic and so difficult to categorize, and those aren’t exactly the easiest traits to market.

TBB: Speaking of diversity, I noticed how eclectic the lineup for SoFA is. How did you decide on the bands for this event?

JA: The goal for me and Gary was to bring out the heart of SoFA because SoFA was, and is, essentially an eclectic showcase of art and music. It was Lollapalooza before Lollapalooza. This is about art, and we wanted to showcase all styles of art the region has to offer. If you check out our record collections, they’re all over the map, and I think a lot of music industry guys underestimate the intelligence of their audience. They’re smarter than a lot of people give them credit for, and I think if you checked out their record collections, they’d be as diverse as ours.  We want people to come to this festival, or any bill we book in San Jose, and experience all kinds of music.  There could be a thrash metal band on one stage, then you could turn around and dig some folk act with just as much enthusiasm.  That’s what SoFA is all about.

There are certainly a lot of bands we didn’t get to include that we would’ve liked to, but I feel we’ve captured the spirit of SoFA from the ‘90s.

TBB: Who are some of the artists you are most looking forward to seeing and who would you recommend attendees check out?

GA: Definitely Major Powers & the Lo-Fi Symphony, Sloe, Insolence, Salmon of course, Year of the Dragon, and Michael Lee Firkins who I’m sure is gonna blow the audience away…There are too many to mention. There’s not just one I can say you have to see more than any other artist. The lineup is solid enough that something incredible will always be happening on a stage. Just try to see as much as you can!

TBB: I’m assuming that SoFA is back for good now?

GA: If this year is successful, we’ll definitely bring it back. Actually, I’d be shocked if we didn’t have it next year or the year after that. There has been just too much excitement generated by this one.

JA: Yeah, the way people have been reacting to the announcement was incredible. It took off so fast and exploded online, so I’m confident about this year’s turnout. It’s a homecoming of sorts, like a friend who’s been away a long time and finally comes back. You didn’t realize how much you missed them until they returned.

The SoFA Street Fair
Fishbone, Monkey, Insolence and so many more…
September 14, 2014
12pm, all ages, free!