Some friends were visiting from LA a couple weeks ago and I took them to Rickshaw Stop, the venerable indie venue on Fell Street. Footwork-pop producer Jessy Lanza was headlining a POPSCENE show on a Friday night and while I love her new album, I really just wanted to introduce them to and hang at one of my go-to local venues—something to give them a sense of the live music scene is like in the city. And stepping outside of my own shoes and watching them soak up the evening from multiple angles that night, it really opened my eyes to what it is that makes this place so special.
I’d recently been reflecting on a number of standout SF venues and trying to pinpoint what it is that makes each of them great. At Rickshaw, I’ve always considered the ability (and accessibility) of feeling confident that on any given night that I popped in, there’d be reasonably priced drinks, good bands with tight sound, and maybe a solid local act or two to discover.
But my friends were enamored by the rotating classic show posters and lists projected on a sidewall of all of the artists that had played POPSCENE at the Rickshaw Stop (probably the most important ongoing local club night, and one of the oldest, in the city). From Billie Eilish, Flume and Sam Smith to Blood Orange, Charli XCX and Big Thief, their jaws were dropping at the Coachella-esque lineup images of the club’s history. That’s largely a credit to POPSCENE maestro DJ Aaron Axelsen for whom these lineups are a well-deserved source of pride. He makes it a point to let people know more about who’s walked through the same doors as you.
So now that Rickshaw Stop is preparing to celebrate its 20-year anniversary in January, it’s time we give the venue its flowers. While some spots have spent big bucks on Muni bus ads touting themselves as the place to check out bands before they make it big, Rickshaw has actually been that place since day one, and with a fiercely independent spirit to boot. No corporate promoter overlords greasing the wheels here, just a straight workhorse mentality from people like Axelsen and Rickshaw Stop Talent Buyer and Head of Ops Dan Strachota.
“I love being on the ground floor of seeing somebody for the first time and thinking that this person is gonna be huge,” Strachota says. “Like, when we had tUnE-yArDs as a local opener way back and she was so great and unique. I remember thinking to myself that I hope she blows up. Now she’s even soundtracking Boots Riley’s films.”
With the month-long “20th Anniversary Bash” on deck for this coming January (see the calendar here, grab a “VIPPP” pass here) , Rickshaw Stop has announced a rousing slate of anniversary shows, most of which feature headliners with local ties and all of which feature local bands on the bill. Oakland-forged garage-pop queen and Americana luminary Shannon Shaw headlines on January 13, with locals Mae Powell and Mayya as support—the show is even an album release for Mayya, and I love that.
San Francisco’s inspiring glam-poppers Planet Booty are headlining on January 19 with local hip-hop and funk outfit Smoked Out Soul opening up, plus a DJ set from some guy named DJ Brother Grimm (spoiler: it’s Strachota). A post-punk-a-palooza of sorts goes down on January 18 with Oakland’s Fake Fruit co-headlining with LA’s Dummy.
There’s also other gigs on the growing slate from bands that have come up in the Bay Area scene like The She’s, Hot Flash Heat Wave, and Pardoner. Plus a few out of town bands who’ve come to revere Rickshaw Stop as a legit stage that gave them a shot as an early touring act, like LA’s Cheekface, who plays on January 6 with locals Juicebumps.
All in all, the anniversary curation is a swell nod to the bands that have shaped our local scene for the past two decades, and they’ve all cut their teeth on stage here. That’s because Rickshaw Stop has been an integral part of keeping music in the Bay flourishing. “I love providing a space for local bands to thrive and get better,” adds Strachota. He’s been with Rickshaw Stop since the very beginning and reflected on what keeps him and everyone at the venue coming back to do it again every night.
“It’s like chasing the dream. You’re chasing that perfect show… that night where everything goes right. You want everyone to walk in there, be excited when they walk in and happy when they walk out. You want bands playing great music and the energy to be booming and people to be having the time of their lives.”
You can peep the whole lineup of Rickshaw Stop’s 20th anniversary January lineup shows and get tickets here and there’s more to be announced soon. Rickshaw Stop is even selling a limited availability VIPPP pass that gets you into every single January show for a cool hundred bucks.