Thursday, April 15, 2021
Arts + Culture Music A year without live music—that still made a lot...

A year without live music—that still made a lot of noise

A music critic reflects on an era that heard local venues silenced and Black voices uplifted.


At the end of February last year I got to cover Noise Pop for 48hills.

Helado Negro, Angelica Garcia, and Tre Burt performed at the Great American Music Hall, where a very young, brown, and queer coffee-sipping crowd dug in on a date night. It was such a sweet evening, most of the patrons getting intimate and sexy, in a very nerd-geek SF way. You just don’t see that in other parts of the country. Makes you really love San Francisco. We still got that uniqueness about us despite tech money influence. No robots here.

With half the bar staff sent home, it became very apparent sobriety was the new black for this engagement. Most of these patrons were ordering tea and other hot beverages. No booze. The head bartender went out of his way to alert me of this situation while I was ordered a beer and a shot. I got speedy service.

Oh yeah, there was not one mention of COVID all nite. Then, the beginning of March kicked off the weird phase… that has yet to cease.

As the week progressed, emails and text messages about SXSW and numerous cancellations start to pile up. When I stopped over at a buddy’s house for lunch—he books bands all across the states—I watched him deal with various acts and venues, on the phone for six hours, as they backed out of contracts all over Austin, TX that day. Dude was not happy. 

SXSW was canceled the next day. Then on March 16, San Francisco got different. Catastrophe-level different.

Six Bay Area counties, which account for a population of more than 6.7 million, received “shelter in place” orders for all its residents. Mayor London Breed directed everyone to stay inside their homes and away from others as much as possible for the next three weeks in a desperate move to curb the rapid spread of coronavirus across the region. 

It was the strictest measure of its kind in the continental United States. Mayor Breed had been working with San Francisco hospitals and public health officials on a plan in advance of the announcement, calling on state and federal authorities for tools needed for the city to beat back the virus—and for residents to do their part and stay home. All venues were, rightly, closed. The local music scene would be facing another giant challenge.

In one year we collectively observed too many Americans die from COVID due to a White House Administration that put ego in front of service. We watched murals go up in SF and all over the world reflecting that travesty but also giving hope in seeing us all through in dark and uncertain times.

With numerous protests crying out rights for all, while half of the workforce was unemployed with no professional sports on television serving as a diversion, the ugly side of America—one that marginalized people live with and see daily—was exposed. Police brutality against the underrepresented, the voiceless, the ones with no recourse got played on MSNBC daily. Murder daily in time for the six o’clock news. It could no longer be ignored.

Conversations began, the real difficult ones. Matter of fact last July I was contacted by so many platforms, interested in my “Black Voice,” to discuss my journey as an African-American writer. Feeling fetishized, waist-deep in a white guilt moment, I held my tongue for a later day, when some of that guilt was pushed to the back burner.

Having difficult conversations about race is a continuum.

Understand, writing about all the good music still being released for a year straight, and seeing how musicians and labels have adapted to online life (and venues to GoFundMes and other desperate outreach), a dude is more than itchy to get out there and drop new vinyl wax jams—I’m traditional fool—on crowds more than ever. When this strident, soulful, freaky, tech-drunk, hustlers convention of a city opens back up like a lotus flower, y’all know what it is, I’m here for it. But we still got a long way to go. 

Get vaccinated. Mask up. Treat your corner store people like the gold that they are. Bring ’em a Christmas present in April. They earned it.

We still have a long way to go. Clubs globally are starting to ease up, which I’m not too sure about. Owners need money. I get it. Doing what I do, when I see publicists put touring dates for bands and DJs here and overseas on bios, when I see Outside Lands setting a date in October, I’m psyched and repulsed all at once. We are just now exiting the beginning phase of knocking out the virus. 

We all get it. Part of America is cocaine happy on Biden-Harris still (with what we suffered with, for four years, who can blame em). But we have to listen. Be grateful we have a President who knows when it’s International Women’s Day. Vibe on that for a second. I’m so thankful we have a beautiful woman holding down the Vice President position, with my skin complexion.

It’s a beacon of light. So until club-bar life is legit 100 percent back, keep on binge-watching “Bar Rescue” with John Taffer and his low-grade Anthony Bourdain energy. That’s all we got for now. 

But the end is coming, and the stage is warming up.

John-Paul Shiver
John-Paul Shiver has been contributing to 48 Hills since 2019. His work as an experienced music journalist and pop culture commentator has appeared in the Wire, Resident Advisor, SF Weekly, Bandcamp Daily, PulpLab, AFROPUNK, and Drowned In Sound.

More by this author

Christina Chatfield’s ‘Sutro’: ambient, but not for the micro-dosing set

Local electronic ace takes a turn for deep pastel textures and droney sound-worlds, absent trendy dread.

Get up and do your thing for local art at The Lab’s interactive Dance A Thon

The experimental arts space hosts a fundraising, 12-hour virtual dance-fest full of local star-power

New Music: Support these great local artists this week

Our picks for Bandcamp Friday: Seven Davis Jr, Sour Widows, Double Identity, more recent releases

Good Things: Hiatus Kaiyote’s healing ‘Get Sun,’ more newly released gems

Great listening from Afrikan Sciences, Loraine James, more. Plus a tribute to the inventor of the cassette

New Teena Marie remix comp celebrates a woman in total control of her art

'John Morales Presents Teena Marie—Love Songs and Funky Beats' polishes unstoppable Lady T jams.

Most read

Radical right group is trying to attack public-sector labor in SF

Anti-union mailers are going to workers home addresses -- but really, this group is looking pretty desperate.

How To Reopen Nightlife: Enough with the boys’ club, make room for women

DJ femmelectric and promoter Alex McGeagh speak about equity, access, and safety for women and nonbinary folks.

Black Freighter Press sails in, boosting writers of color and radical imagination

The revolution will be published, with the help of SF Poet Laureate Tongo Eisen-Martin and Alie Jones' new outlet.

City College students fight back against brutal faculty cuts

Firing teachers could also mean the end of a lot of treasured programs.

You might also likeRELATED