I think it’s safe to say that NOT ONE OF US was prepared for the never-ending, often emotional, always irrational roller coaster that was 2016.
For many, it was an extremely difficult year, and it wasn’t easy to face the mortality of so many personal heroes in relatively quick succession. But I am an enthusiastic proponent of the power of positive thinking, and more importantly, positive action. Despite the tragedies that will make many eager to forget the year 2016, I’m going to reflect on why it was without a doubt the single most eventful year of life.
I — like you, I assume, since you’re reading this — have loved music for literally as long as I can remember and have actively incorporated it into my life as often as possible. In 2001, I saw my first two concerts: Sammy Hagar and The Waboritas at The Deltaplex and Ozzy Osbourne and Rob Zombie’s Merry Mayhem Tour at the Van Andel Arena, both in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The first season of The Osbournes was still filming, so Ozzy’s Prince of Fucking Darkness myth was 100% intact. Rob Zombie was still trying to shop House of 1,000 Corpses — nobody would release it, so the best he could do was play clips of it during his songs while a giant robot walked around the stage. My dad took me to both of those concerts, and although I couldn’t tell at the time, I’m pretty sure he was having just as much fun leading me around, my jaw gaped and my eyes wide, soaking everything in like a sponge.
This is the page of my scrapbook that contains my first two concert stubs, Sammy Hagar and Ozzy in 2001, Grand Rapids, MI.
Ever since, I have sought to involve myself with the live music scene as much as I can. I started convincing friends to buy instruments and we had a band in middle school. I would go to Skelletones (RIP) to watch punk shows and occasionally could make it to a big name at The Intersection, or the Van Andel Arena. But with a full slate of sports and activities, it wasn’t until after college that I was able elevate music into a truly dominant aspect of my life.
In September 2015, I decided the best way to do that would be to upend my comfortable post-college life in my hometown of Grand Rapids, MI and head west. On the first Monday of 2016, January 4, 2016, my girlfriend Amber and I packed as much of our lives as we could cram into a minivan and spent a week and a half crossing the country, visiting with friends en route to our new home in Santa Cruz, CA. It was the start of the greatest year of my life.
These photo albums are full of ticket stubs, set lists and handbills from as many memorable concerts and events as possible.
It is a surprisingly complete history.
Since January, I have had the privilege of attending no less than 89 individual concerts and 10 festivals, either working as a writer, photographer, volunteer, or simply attending for fun – because we can’t always be working all of the time, right? Between being the only person in attendance at an otherwise empty bar to one of thousands navigating Golden Gate Park’s massive landscape during a festival, I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of music that I’ve been exposed to in 2016.
But I can be a bit of a stats nerd, so let me break those experiences down a little further: Over the course of these 100 events, I was able to witness 193 individual acts for a total of 257 performances, because several artists I was lucky enough to catch more than once this year. That translates into roughly a 70% chance that I was seeing a show on any given day in 2016. I had only seen 30 of these 193 bands before making my move out here, meaning almost every other day I was seeing somebody for the first time in 2016. 163 brand new bands burrowed their way into my brain and stole my heart for at least one song a piece. Remarkably, out of all of this music, there was not one single act that I did not enjoy — I didn’t see a bad show all year.
Jenny Lewis and her positivity-powered punk band Nice As Fuck opened for M. Ward at the UC Theatre in Berkeley on July 8, 2016.
While the majority of these concerts required a four-hour round-trip to San Francisco and back, even the small beach town of Santa Cruz offered unforgettable moments: George Clinton sitting in with Sheila E. at the Santa Cruz Mountain Sol Festival or The Pixies deciding to kick off their world tour at The Catalyst. Not to mention the incredible wealth of local talent in bands like
I had the opportunity to see music used for different purposes, across politics, humor, and in connection with other art forms: Fantastic Negrito and Dave Matthews teaming up for Bernie Sanders in Golden Gate Park, or the hilariously thrilling life story of actor and musician Creed Bratton told to a room of 15 people or a screening of Adam Green’s Aladdin starring Macaulay Culkin at The Chapel.
Bernie Sanders speaks at a Crissy Field rally in Golden Gate Park on June 6, 2016. The event included music from Oakland’s Fantastic Negrito, Dave Matthews and more. This is one of my favorite photos that I took last year.
Bands that I had never heard of, let alone listened to beforehand, became instant favorites, whether they were local, obscure, or larger-than-life. The Redlight District, Hot Buttered Rum, ALO, The Mother Hips, and Dead & Company. While these bands have their own expansive histories, they were all new to me and contributed to making 2016 my Year of the Show.
Here are some lists:
Favorite Festivals That I Attended:
- Camp Deep End
- (tie) Hardly Strictly Bluegrass
- (tie) High Sierra Music Festival
- California Roots Music Festival
Camp Deep End was a first year test run put together by Bay Area favorites ALO and Hot Buttered Rum held at Camp Navarro in the Anderson Valley. I do not have official numbers, but I would wager that no more than 1,000 people attended. Numbers were intentionally kept low to iron out the process, but also to emphasize the family-oriented aspect of the event — it seemed that there were equally as many children as adults in attendance. The setting was serene and the music only added to the natural magic of the campground. A tie for second between Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and High Sierra Music Festival was followed by the latest interval of the Monterey reggae festival, California Roots.
The Bands I Saw The Most in 2016:
I went to at least 10 shows by The Redlight District since being introduced to their rowdy rock and roll one of my first nights out in Santa Cruz. I imagine I saw them more than that, but I really can only go by the records — the rare ticket stub, posters I ripped off the wall, a set list, or a folder full of photos. Umphrey’s McGee is a love that I brought from the Midwest and whom I traveled the most to see. In addition to their yearly stop in California, I went out of my way to catch them for two nights in Las Vegas where I reached my 50th time seeing the band since 2009, and I saw them three nights in Chicago to ring in 2017. To put it simply, they just keep getting better. Hot Buttered Rum was the very first headlining act that I saw in 2016 and they filled a Greensky-shaped hole in my heart. In addition to their CD release gala at The Fillmore in May, they helped organize my favorite festival of the year, the aforementioned Camp Deep End.
Favorite Venues in The Bay:
- The Greek Theater in Berkeley
- The Mountain Winery in Saratoga
- The Fillmore in SF
Honorable mentions to The Chapel in SF and The Fox in Oakland — this was hard. The Greek shattered all of my preconceptions, every time. It may have been the caliber of the artists they draw — contemporary superstars Tame Impala and The Avett Brothers both delivered unforgettable performances — or its storied history. In Saratoga, the Mountain Winery makes up for what it lacks in capacity with vast panoramas of San Jose and the Santa Cruz Mountains at sunset. Although I only saw three shows at the Winery in 2016, they made a lasting impression and I can’t wait to return.
Acts That Surprised Me The Most:
- Ween at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, October 14 and 15
- Ben Gibbard opening for Jenny Lewis at The Masonic, September 23
- Tommy Alexander at Bocci’s Cellar, Santa Cruz
- When M. Ward joined Conor Oberst and Jim James for a Monsters Of Folk reunion at The Fillmore, October 1
- George Clinton taking the stage during Sheila E.’s set the second day of Santa Cruz Mountain Sol, >September 18
I only had press credentials to cover Ween’s first night at Bill Graham, and fully expected to have more than I’d like with that, but I was blown away enough to buy a ticket for the second night. These guys are not for everyone, but I sure learned to appreciate them. Nobody could have predicted Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard and his surprise appearance supporting Jenny Lewis’ closing show on her 10th anniversary of Rabbit Fur Coat tour. My girlfriend and I had our own private Tommy Alexander concert at Bocci’s. We were the only people not with the band that were in attendance, but their performance blew us away.
Most Likely To Get Caught In Banter With The Crowd:
- Adam Green at The Chapel, October 4
- Nataly Dawn + Lauren O’Connell at The Chapel, November 16
- Creed Bratton (The Office) at The Catalyst Atrium, Santa Cruz, February 2
- Joe Pug at The Independent
- Blitzen Trapper at The Catlyst Atrium, October 24
Favorite Opening Acts:
- Ripe opening for G. Love and Special Sauce at McNear’s Mystic Theater, Petaluma on February 3
- MiWi La Lupa opening for Conor Oberst and Jim James at The Fillmore on October 1
- Rabbit Wilde opening for Nahko and Medicine For The People at The Catalyst, Santa Cruz on October 23
- Waterstrider opening for The Pixies at The Catalyst, October 25
Shows I Should Have Had Earplugs For:
- Guided By Voices and Broncho at The Independent
- Dinosaur Jr. and Heron Oblivion at The Independent
- (tie) Bad Religion, Against Me! and Dave Hause at The Warfield
- (tie) The Pixies and Waterstrider at The Catalyst
- Ween at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, October 14
The Independent has proven itself to be the go-to club for the loudest, hardest, straight-up rock and roll you could want (I’m looking at you, Dinosaur Jr. and Guided By Voices). In 2017, I will be better prepared for unrelenting audio.
Favorite Venue To Get Up-Close-And-Personal With The Band:
- The Crepe Place, Santa Cruz
- The Chapel, SF
- The Boom Boom Room, SF
- Moe’s Alley, Santa Cruz
- Terrapin Crossroads, San Rafael
When the sun goes down in Santa Cruz, the chairs in the front room of The Crepe Place go up and the band sets up five feet from the front door. With room for maybe 50 people to cram together, it’s an incredible experience. The Chapel is similar, even though there is actually a stage.
Bucket List/Bragging Rights:
- Dead and Company Free Show at The Fillmore, May 23
- Metallica at The Fox Theater, December 17
- Umphrey’s McGee UMBowl VII in Las Vegas, May 6-7
I saw shows that I never expected to have an opportunity to see: Metallica at The Fox Theater? Dead & Company at The Fillmore? Those might not have been much of a stretch decades ago, but last year it amounted to serendipitous fortune. Also, seeing your favorite band for the 50th time is a milestone no matter how you slice it, and they played both of the songs that I requested!
I can’t imagine what 2017 has in store, but I’m ready! I hope you stick around for the ride.