astronauts, etc.

These days, San Francisco isn’t really known for its free events. Ticket prices have swelled, festival costs are up, and you can’t buy a pint at a show for less than $5. The music industry in the city is stressed, and a night out will set you back more than it ever has before.

Free concerts—let alone ones that feature professionally curated local acts—are almost mythical.

And yet, Wood Shoppe, a nonprofit production collective and free monthly music series, has been able to stage a free monthly show for the last three years. Formed by local industry vets from High Road Touring and Ticketfly, Wood Shoppe has hosted acts like No, Foxygen, Tim Cohen, Kevin Morby, Cold Beat, The Bilinda Butchers, Noah Gunderson, The She’s, Cocktails, Pure Bathing Culture, Papa and more.

This Tuesday, Wood Shoppe will celebrate their third anniversary with a party at Brick and Mortar, headlined by wistful, always soulful composer Astronauts, etc.

We talked to Wilson Zheng, one of Wood Shoppe’s founding members, about booking local acts and how far the free monthly music series has come.

Get details on Wood Shoppe’s third anniversary party here.

The Bay Bridged: Who is behind Wood Shoppe? How do you all know each other?

Wilson Zheng: Robin

[Kim] moved to Seattle so now it’s four of us. Abby [Sprague], Zach [Cepin] and I know each other from High Road Touring: I’ve been there for six years, Abby has been there for seven years, and Zach has been there for about eight years. Acacia [Newlon] works at Ticketfly, and we knew her just through kinda going to shows and stuff like that. Robin was working at Goldenvoice at the time.

TBB: Is your monthly free show always on a Tuesday?

WZ: Every month, first Tuesday. We work with the Brick and Mortar—if they have something they really want to do on a Monday [we’ll try to do it], but for the most part, the bands that we can get on on Tuesday, we’d like to make it a part of our nights. That happened with Lightning Dust. It was a band with Secretly Canadian, and their agent really needed the band to be there, so we just folded their show into ours. The most important thing for us is to continue this thing, because there’s not a lot of free events that are consistent and that’s kind of our goal—to keep it all free so everyone can attend.

TBB: How did Wood Shoppe come about?

WZ: I think initially Zach came to me with the idea, like we should put this night on. At that point, the Brick and Mortar had only been open for six months. It had been the Dakota Jazz Club. We knew Michael and Barry and some guys over there from booking shows at the New Parish. We’re really inspired by what Aaron Axelsen has been able to do here with Popscene for years, so we wanted to start a series where we could kind of build an audience [like that]. So we just got coffee one day and said, here’s this idea. We talked to Acacia and she said she had a similar idea, so we just put the five of us together and said, let’s try to do it. We approached the Brick and Mortar, which was the number one venue we wanted to work with (we had a list of five), but we really didn’t think a venue of that size that was starting to do well [would be interested]. We didn’t expect them to say, here you go, here’s a little bit of money, and we’ll see how it goes the first few months. Initially, there was a little bit of a struggle to get the first few bands, but there were also a lot more garage bands back then so we were able to fill the bills.

TBB: How is the dynamic between the four of you, coming from a touring company and a ticketing company?

WZ: We’re a really solid team. The three of us work in the same office so we bounce ideas around. This isn’t associated at all with High Road but we communicate by email all the time and we have meetings maybe once every two months so we go over ideas for bands. Some depend on timing and some we try to get before they get bigger. Every month it just depends. Acacia has a lot of connections through Ticketfly as well. We just come up with a headliner, and then we build around that, but everyone [at Wood Shoppe] has to vote yes before we confirm. That’s something that’s important to us. We don’t want it to feel proprietary. We don’t want Acacia to feel like excluded, especially now [that Robin has left]. It’s important that she doesn’t feel pressured into booking a band she doesn’t want. We all have similar music tastes, but outside of the easy indie rock we try to book a variety of [music]. Abby knows a lot of grunge bands here too, so it’s all over the place.

TBB: Has the show always been at Brick and Mortar?

WZ: It’s always been at Brick and Mortar. First Tuesdays. We’ve never tried to change the day. We wanted to keep it consistent.

TBB: How has Wood Shoppe evolved since your second anniversary? Or even your first?

WZ: I think when we first started there were a lot more garage bands out. A lot of the musicians who were making music in 2012 that we’re living in the Mission aren’t here now. It was really easy for them to just show up and play, and we didn’t really have much of a budget to pay the bands. It will be good promotion, you can play in front of an audience, you know. The climate of San Francisco has changed a bit. We’ve been putting this on for three years now, and there’s three bands and a DJ, we haven’t repeated any bands yet. The pool now is a little smaller. It takes a little bit of time for a band to get to a place where people know who they are. And it’s a fine line because once they get too big, they can headline Bottom of the Hill, they can headline their own show and make a lot more money. So we’re always trying to find that band right in that sweet spot. So, for example, we got Painted Palms our first anniversary. We want to have one local band on every bill, but it’s a little bit of a challenge. We have to do a little more research. We scour The Bay Bridged, a bunch of blogs, just to find local talent. That’s how we found NRVS LVRS<, for example (ed: NRVS LVRS are playing Wood Shoppe March 3 with Gavin Turek).

TBB: How has your work with High Road enabled you to make Wood Shoppe work?

WZ: We’ve developed pretty good relationships [that way]. Zach and I, we book tours for a living, so we work with a lot of booking agents. When we’re stuck we’ll send an email out to booking agents and that’s using our work resources a bit. Some of the agents that we like trust us too—because we wouldn’t put their bands in a situation we wouldn’t put ours in—and so we’re able to get some of our headliners that way.

TBB: What have been some of your favorite shows so far?

WZ: One of my favorite nights was our Colleen Green night. It was a funny night because she’s so badass and it just so happened that it was the July Wood Shoppe on July 3, so no one had to work the next day. So we turned it into this really big party. The first band that was on was called The Splinters, from 2008 or 2009. So everyone was going to go really big. But we get to the venue and Colleen was on tour with this band White Fang, who was supposed to play. So we get this call, their van broke down in Bakersfield, and find out at 6 o’clock. We only have two bands but we need to fill the time. So we literally just texted a bunch of people, and we ended up finding this guy named Nick who lived down the street and he just came down with his guitar and played a 30 minute solo and acoustic set. That night was really well-attended. Sometimes it’s a struggle to get people to come out on a Tuesday, because it’s a weeknight, but that was a good one. We did Foxygen’s first ever show in SF. To this day it’s…you know.

The best night though was probably the Fool’s Gold night. I’ve loved them since my days when I was DJing at Cal. We got them to play and I couldn’t believe it. I think we got them in a period where, they were off for a while, and there was a line down the block. There was a moment where it was like, wow we’re really doing it. Our smallest shows will have 100-150 people. We make it easy because it’s free. For a night like that though, where we have friends texting us to get in and we’re begging the door guys to let people in, and they’re like no, this is a fire hazard—we couldn’t believe it.

TBB: So tell us a little bit about the bands you have booked for the third anniversary show. Why did you book them for such an important milestone?

WZ: This one is kind of a family affair a little bit. Zach and I are the agents for Trails & Ways. So they’re a lovely Bay Area band. They played Outside Lands, and they headlined the Independent two years ago. The first band that played that show was Astronauts, Etc. so I knew they were friends. I thought the music was really incredible, sultry. It was a little while ago, but we got in contact with his label and people because we thought it was a good fit. I think he plays in Toro Y Moi’s band so there’s a local connection. And he put out an EP last fall.

Caroline Smith is an artist from Minneapolis. I’m her booking agent and she does really well there. She’s never been to the West Coast; I’ve been discussing it with her for a while now. She’s coming out to L.A. to record her album, so I told her to come here, because timing-wise it’s great. It just kind of lined up the way it worked. She’s really great, she’s a voice for women and she does a lot for the women’s foundations there. She’s a strong feminist and someone to look up to.

The first band is Harriet Brown. I saw them open for Trails. It’s kind of this sexy R&B thing. I think Harriet and Astronauts know each other too, so once we had that built we were just like, ‘hey Trails, want to come spin records?’ and the band was down. So it’s a family affair.

TBB: Where do you envision Wood Shoppe will be this time next year? Do you have plans to expand?

WZ: No, not really. I think part of it is we like where we are. We put in our own time. We haven’t made a dime off of this, and we don’t expect to. As long as we can keep putting on bills that will draw people, we’ll do it. I don’t think there are too many aspirations to get any bigger. Ultimately, we do this as a labor of love.

Wood Shoppe THREE YEAR ANNIVERSARY with Astronauts, Etc, Caroline Smith, Harriet Brown, and Trails and Ways DJ Set
Brick & Mortar Music Hall
February 3, 2015
9pm, Free (18+)