“What’s the Interruption?” the Mormon asked me, referring to The Interrupters t-shirt I was wearing. I can’t say for certain if he actually was a Mormon but he definitely contained all the characteristics of a fervent believer that can make any atheist feel a bit uncomfortable – crisp white shirt, straight black tie, big smile, eerily polite. Even after grumbling some semi-coherent response, I wasn’t sure if the meeting actually happened. He was an apparition more than an actuality, a vision of some over-sanitized, caffeine-free alternate dimension, a place where my lot of nicotine-stained, struggling writers are confined to basements and laundry rooms, condemned to an eternity of ironing white shirts in penance for our sins. It was a surreal way to end my day at the SoFA Street Fair, but one that was strangely fitting at the same time. After all, it was a day full of strangeness and a Gonzo collection of musicians, artists, rockers, Rastas and everything in between.
Legitimate freakiness – that’s a hard thing to find at modern day music festivals, the Coachellas and Outside Lands of the world, mostly because they’re so expensive they price the true societal misfits out. Sure, you have an abundance of Great Pretenders, of college kids with disposable income who let their guard down in public three days out of the year, thinking they’re channeling the spirit of Woodstock after smoking half a joint and putting on a headdress. Those are just day-trippers, casual music fans who probably haven’t purchased an album since junior high. The SoFA Street Fair, completely free like the real Woodstock was, is a bit more democratic and inclusive, the only requirement being a concrete passion for music. It’s like the poem on the Statue of Liberty – give us your tired, your hungry, your weird. At least that’s how I think it goes.
This was my experience at the SoFA Street Fair, one I hope will be around for many more years to come.
Do you know the way…
I lived in Los Angeles for a year and a half, and nothing will make you more nostalgic for that SoCal city than speeding down the 680 South at 90 plus miles an hour, approaching San Jose in a hazy, smog-choked 11:30am light. Sunglasses on, Fishbone’s Truth and Soul blasting through my very worn out car speakers and anticipation steadily building up, a full day of music awaiting me. I came armed only with the essentials – water bottle, pocketful of Excedrin, notebook half-full of random thoughts and listless observations, pack of American Spirits and a cheap bottle of whiskey. Here’s my exit: San Jose, time to show me what you’ve got.
Noon to 1pm
Like any music festival, the SoFA Street Fair started off rather slowly. Of course no one, not even the promoters, actually expect you to show up exactly at the scheduled start time. Bands are still loading their gear and looking for parking, vendors have only half set up their merch booths, food trucks have yet to even preheat their ovens and volunteers are scrambling for directions and purpose. Only homeless people and wannabe music journalists arrive at noon. Enter the wannabe music journalist.
The first thing I noticed about the crowd when it started truly arriving was the sheer diversity: teenage punks with heavily patched vests and ripped jeans, aging hipsters sporting grey and tan fedoras and thick black glasses, dreadlocked stoners, families with small children who must’ve got lost on the way to Great America and ended up here, elderly couples wondering what the hell was going on in downtown San Jose. And none of those aforementioned day-trippers in sight – no obnoxiously cute girls dressed as forest creatures, no pseudo-hippie flower children taking selfies at every possible opportunity, no tank-top clad tech bros dutifully worshiping their smart phones even when surrounded by real life. An environment akin to the Garden of Eden before the Fall.
I thought/half-hoped the music would start off a bit mellow, maybe some low-key folk duo to serve as a build-up to the louder acts. Nope. San Jose, like Ike & Tina Turner, never do nothing ‘nice and easy.’ So they had alt-rockers Sloe kick off the San Salvador Stage and blow everyone’s eardrums out in the first five minutes. Despite the piercing loudness and aggression inherent in songs like “Waiting to Suffer,” chock full of epic drum fills and raging vocals, I could see ten-year-old kids dancing near the front of the stage. My brain was rattling in my skull and these brats were dancing. God I’m getting old.