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Arts + CultureMusic$20 million Music City aims to shoot SF back...

$20 million Music City aims to shoot SF back to the top of the charts

Rock impresario Rudy Colombini launches mega-studio, artist accelerator, and Hall of Fame for renewed glory days.

San Francisco’s Rudy Colombini believes his native city could again be a music capital. 

The Unauthorized Rolling Stones’ frontman and real estate developer is so convinced of this that he’s put his capital where his mouth is—to the tune of over $20 million—to revamp his “Plug N’ Play” rehearsal studio, Music City San Francisco, into a world-class star factory, music hub, and artist accelerator.

“I don’t want to aggrandize Music City, but Music City does something for an artist that no other institution I know of in the country does,” says Colombini.

What that is, he says, is putting everything an artist needs to thrive under one roof. 

At 69, the musician, can remember a time before bedroom producers and Spotify streamers—when performers and fans experienced the sweet sounds of music more communally, at concerts like Woodstock.

Growing up on Kramer Place in the Telegraph Hill area, his first introduction to music was seeing Elvis Presley’s electrifying Jailhouse Rock in a crowded movie theater. Exactly a decade later, he was fortunate enough to experience the Summer of Love in person. 

Colombini recalls those three sultry months when hippies paraded around half-naked—some even copulating in Washington Square Park. 

The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the aroma of incense filled the balmy air. Flower children were flashing peace signs and button shops were everywhere.

“I felt the awakened consciousness that was happening—people willing to tolerate each other,” says Colombini. “I remember the button that said ‘The Pill.’ I didn’t realize it was a birth control pill. I thought that was acid and wondered, ‘Where do I get it?’” 

A rehearsal studio at Music City

He witnessed vital local artists breaking through, like Sly and the Family Stone and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Once punk dominated the area music scene, he caught Avengers, Crime, The Dead Kennedys—and later, Green Day. 

Greg Kihn and Chris Isaak also left their mark on the self-proclaimed “classic rock guy,” who initially began playing music at 17, launching several bands including The Stragglers, Twist, and Divine Comedy, and scoring two Top 40 hits—“Message of Love” and “She’s Invincible”—off his 1999 solo album.

A year later, he decided to front a Rolling Stones tribute band. 

“I got the bright idea that if I’m not tearing up the world, why don’t I start a cover band?” he says.

After singing the blues onstage at a friend’s gig, his wife, who was in attendance, noticed his moves like Jagger and suggested he’d make a great Mick. 

“I did and we were an instant success,” says Colombini. “And now we’re pushing toward 25 years on and still gigging quite a bit.”

Even Jagger himself was impressed with Colombini’s sincerest form of flattery, sending him a framed picture signed “Good job, Rudy.” 

Opening for such blockbuster acts as Elton John, Chaka Khan, Journey, Train, and Sheryl Crow, he understands the power of getting one’s art in front of a larger audience—and wants to help other musicians do the same.

Launching Music City San Francisco (complete with 14 plug-and-play studios) at 1353 Bush Street in 2005, he aimed to provide budding local musicians with affordable rehearsal space.

But in 2018, he decided that wasn’t enough. The space needed to be bigger and better.

The main performance venue at Music City

Colombini has since expanded his 29,000 sq/ft facility in Lower Polk into 20 fully equipped state-of-the-art recording/rehearsal studios with live-streaming capabilities. He added educational, marketing, and networking programs; a music-themed hotel and hostel, featuring pod-style accommodations for $50 per night; four live music venues; and a bar and restaurant.

For inspiration, he built a San Francisco Music Hall of Fame boasting over 90-plus large-format prints of Bay Area icons on hallway walls, accompanied by original written tributes by local music writers like Ben Fong-Torres, Emma Silvers, and Joel Selvin, along with curated memorabilia exhibits throughout.

“The arts have a big heart, and the arts part of me is very loving,” he says. “I have a big heart for striving, willing, and accomplishing musicians.”

He regards the new and improved facility, launched last January, as The Factory, Abbey RoadCBGB, Chelsea Hotel, Berklee College of Music, and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame all rolled into one. 

“We’ve corralled everything that is music in one spot,” says Colombini. “If you go to Los Angeles, you’re in the music mecca, but everything is far away from each other. Where do you rehearse? Who do you meet? How do you get connected? Where’s ground zero? Music City brings those dots together in a big complex.”

He pictures your average band coming in to rehearse for an hour, play a gig in front of a live audience, and then network with others if they’re brave enough.

This is something he says is sorely missing from today’s remote-work culture, where music-makers are using ZOOM to rehearse, Dropbox to pass files back and forth, and YouTube to blast their tunes into the stratosphere.

“When I was out there, there was a music scene,” says Colobini. “There isn’t a music scene today. Music City is so cutting-edge, rich, and glorious because it’s a man-made, contrived music scene. I use the word ‘contrived’ on purpose. It’s got a negative connotation, but in this sense, you get five floors of mighty companions corralled together to make romance and magic. So it’s a big deal.”

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Joshua Rotter
Joshua Rotter
Joshua Rotter is a contributing writer for 48 Hills. He’s also written for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, SF Weekly, SF Examiner, SF Chronicle, and CNET.

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