The World at WhiteHorse
The World at White Horse

I always hated the uncritical punk mantra that commands “support the scene”. As if “the scene” was some monolithic, benevolent sanctuary where a progressive community of cast-off weirdos, and, oh yeah, enlightened alt-music, was nourished — as opposed to being another hierarchical, careerist social club that, yes, occasionally produced enlightened alt-music and allowed otherwise hopeless misfits to thrive.

That said, going to Saturday shows in the ramshackle back room of Oakland’s WhiteHorse makes the dubious task of supporting your local scene a lot more palatable. The drinks are cheap. The regulars are friendly. Shows start around 4pm and get out before 9pm, a bonus for this 30-something scenester. There’s even a smoking room that doubles as a refuge for skipping the weak act in a lineup that can reach up to five bands.

But usually you won’t want to skip anyone. The (alt-music) scene is currently far more vibrant in the East Bay, and visibly so during a Saturday WhiteHorse show. The back room stage is yardstick deep, which means that it serves as an amp prop while the bands share the floor with the audience. Because Saturday WhiteHorse shows are more of an affair than a mere show, some creative stage decoration can be employed (The Mantles had a particularly memorable budget party store set for their album release show a few months back). All of the venue’s deficits (faulty PA, giant column that blocks the entire right side of the stage) only serve to enahnce its charm.

You’ll see bands that will probably never make it much further than West Oakland house shows (I won’t name names; I might be a member of one of them!). You’ll see bands that could easily command larger venues (of those I witnessed, Ventura-based Nic Hessler and glorious AOR savants Once and Future Band stick out). But mostly you’ll see a fantastically curated lineup of underground Bay Area bands whose most crucial performances will be in clandestine spaces like WhiteHorse.

Joel Cusumano is a passing guitarist and member of Talkies, Cocktails, and DSTVV. You can attempt to contact him at his blog: