Designer Dexter Simmons’ new ‘Wavy’ line was born in SF clubs

From the Dextrose 'Wavy' collection. Photograph by Kristin Cofer

Earlier this month, breakout Oakland-born fashion designer, celebrity stylist, and “Project Runway” alum Dexter Simmons launched his first-ever website. It will serve as a one-stop-shop for his eclectic fashion lines, Dexter and Dextrose.

The FIDM graduate, who once styled shoots for SOMA Magazine, 7×7, and the San Francisco Bay Guardian but now calls LA home, has populated his online store with items from his “Wavy” summer collection—rave-inspired camo hoodies screen printed with alien heads, gothic tunic dresses, and psychedelic tie-dye tees—which he recently debuted at Beverly Hills Fashion Week.

For Simmons, the seemingly disparate styles, which merge in many of his broad-based designs, are reflective of a moment in time, almost 20 years ago, when the then-teenaged club kid was a fixture at the Bay Area’s most fashionable nightlife venues. There were the all-ages punk shows at 924 Gilman that bled into raves at underground clubs and later electroclash parties at Arrow Bar. It was a time when style was less prescribed, scenesters were cross-pollinating, and the weeknight warriors didn’t just dress to impress. They came out to slay.

“I was running around San Francisco and taking in all the culture,” Simmons told 48 Hills. “That moment is why I’m the designer that I am now. Those kids and those outfits and not giving a fuck. We knew we were it at the time, so we did what we wanted.”

I spoke to Simmons about his formative years in San Francisco that would go on to shape his design aesthetic, leaving the City by the Bay for greener pastures, and becoming the black genderqueer choice for a new generation.

From the Dextrose ‘Wavy’ collection. Photograph by Kristin Cofer

48 HILLS What was it about early 2000’s San Francisco that continues to inspire you as a designer today?

DEXTER SIMMONS I guess I’m trying to pull from my favorite period of living in the Bay Area. There was a variation of us that bounced through all genres, who existed through all of those. There’s something about that rave culture, psychedelic culture, and goth culture that got picked up and took off. That period synonymously set off more fashion than I’ve seen a period set off in my entire time as a designer.

I’m just putting them all in one place, so people, like me, who have a stronger more eclectic understanding of fashion, where you can wear camo and all black but can also wear the pink on the weekends, can do that. So I recreated it in a way that’s still current in 2019 without being literal. Some of the outfits, if you look at them carefully, can be worn in all three scenes and it wouldn’t matter.

From the Dextrose ‘Wavy’ collection. Photograph by Kristin Cofer

48 HILLS If San Francisco was so great, then why did you leave?

DEXTER SIMMONS  It wasn’t that bad before, because I was out there in these mean streets, doing cool stuff with a bunch of cool kids. But now they’re all gone and the new people haven’t thought about fashion or culture yet or what was there before. They’re just doing what’s functional.

Fashion in San Francisco has died and it’s just become an athleisure town, where everything is comfortable. Designers don’t want to create in that market, because everyone just wants what works, not what’s cool.

In cities like New York and LA, you know where to find your fashion. But San Francisco shouldn’t even have the same name, it’s so different. So LA is better for me because I’m still a Cali baby.

From the Dextrose ‘Wavy’ collection. Photograph by Kristin Cofer

48 HILLS You’ve done so much since leaving the Bay. You competed on “Styled to Rock” in 2013 and “Project Runway” in 2016, interviewed music artists at the Billboard Music Awards for XFINITY in 2017, and showed in LA and New York Fashion Week(s). 

DEXTER SIMMONS I’m becoming less of a designer and more of a mogul right now, which is not what I was supposed to do. I never wanted to go on TV. I never applied to go on “Styled to Rock” or “Project Runway.” I never had delusions of grandeur. I never wanted to be a famous reality TV person. But you get that phone call one day and get tired of the San Francisco rent and things not totally turning over there.

I would work for all these companies and they’d keep trying not to pay me, so that’s why I decided to take the shows. I wanted to prove to all those companies that I am that good and worth paying. Pay artists and you’ll have more artists in your city as it gentrifies.

From the Dextrose ‘Wavy’ collection. Photograph by Kristin Cofer

48 HILLS What was it like competing on “Styled to Rock” and “Project Runway?”

DEXTER SIMMONS “Styled to Rock” was wild. I met some of the biggest celebrities in the entire world in the period of three months and got to the top 5, but it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. It’s like being in finals week for three months—no phones, no Internet, and working all day without music—and it’s a very humbling experience when you have to go against that many people and figure your shit out day by day.

“Project Runway” was harder because they wanted to make me more stressed out, but I think “Styled to Rock” was more real. You have to realize that every week on that show I had to be good enough to have my stuff pulled to even have someone look at them. A stylist would look through our stuff and pull for the actual celeb we worked for—Khloe Kardashian, Kylie Minogue, Kelly Osborne, Neo.

On “Project Runway,” it would be someone from “The Vampire Diaries,” whom I’d never even heard of. So I wanted to be with the celebrities from the last show.

From the Dextrose ‘Wavy’ collection. Photograph by Kristin Cofer

48 HILLS Now that you’ve had so much time in front of the camera, have you thought about acting?

DEXTER SIMMONS I just signed a modeling contract with Slay Model Management, the first transgender agency. I’m the first genderqueer person on the board and my agency’s trying to get me to go on more acting auditions. I’m not personally looking to be an actor, but if I get cast in something because I happen to be weirdly queer and perfect for the spot, then that’s cool.

From the Dextrose ‘Wavy’ collection. (Dexter Simmons on right.) Photograph by Kristin Cofer

48 HILLS I am loving the fact that a Black genderqueer person is in demand in so many different areas in 2019. 

DEXTER SIMMONS I just had this conversation with my best friend. It’s really trippy because I have always been the same way. If you know me from the Bay, I’m the same. If you’ve seen me on TV, there’s no TV acting. It’s just being normal.

It’s crazy to me that now these femme queer creatures who don’t necessarily need to identify are now becoming the “it factor” in fashion, which is pushing them in everywhere else. Yeah, people have been wanting me for things more. I just auditioned for a Netflix series, where they wanted me to learn fight choreography for a show about two queer superheroes.

Ever since high school, I always found a way to win in my small scene, so the idea of my scene being the larger scene—I don’t even understand that. I’m so used to creeping around behind everyone else. But the world’s changing and people are opening up. It’s still a dark place, but I smell revolution.

See more at

From the Dextrose ‘Wavy’ collection. Photograph by Kristin Cofer

Matteo Lane gets Clusterfested

Photo by Alex Schaefer

ONSTAGE Out New York-based comedian Matteo Lane didn’t dream of a career in comedy, growing up.

In fact, the “Moving On” (2015), “Crashing” (2018), and “The Comedy Lineup” (2018) star told 48 Hills that stand-up wasn’t even a draw for him, initially. That is until he discovered more inclusive, gay-friendly comedians like Kathy Griffin.

“I didn’t watch stand-up as a kid, because it didn’t feel like it was speaking to me,” Lane said.

“So I didn’t become interested in it till I saw Kathy Griffin, because she was the first comedian I saw who didn’t make fun of gay people like we were the butt of the joke. We were in on the joke. I was lucky to have women like Kathy Griffin, Margaret Cho, and Joan Rivers lead me to comedy.”

As part of this weekend’s Clusterfest, Lane will be paying tribute to comedy queens Lisa Kudrow, Mira Sorvino, and Alan Cumming with the Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion Live Read alongside RuPaul’s Drag Race alums Trixie Mattel and Katya Zamolodchikova.

“I’m playing Alan Cumming’s part where they do the interpretive dance at the high school reunion where I think Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Time After Time’ is playing,” he said. “So I have to learn the dance.”

At the annual comedy and music festival, now in its third year and featuring Amy Poehler, Fred Armisen, Neal Brennan, Issa Rae, John Mulaney, Leslie Jones, The Roots, Chelsea Peretti, Courtney Barnett, and My Favorite Murder, among many others, Lane will also appear in Todd Barry’s Crowd Work Show, Saturday’s Chi Guys, and Sunday’s Patton Oswalt show.

I spoke to Matteo Lane about coming out with humor, relating to Alladin’s Jafar, and why he refuses to make Trump jokes.

48 HILLS Matteo, you went from being an opera singer and oil painter in Italy to a stand-up comedian. Do you ever imagine what your life would have been like had you pursued those other talents?

MATTEO LANE I just don’t think about it that way. Your life just happens as it happens and stand-up has allowed me to do all sorts of things including drawing because I have my comic book with Bob the Drag Queen called “Kickass Drag Queen” that we’re going to hopefully get made into a cartoon, and I’ve been able to do my own singing show, which I tour the country with.

I feel like none of those would have been possible had I not done stand-up, so in a way I don’t look at it as separate. I look at it as other ways to explore my creativity, so if anything it’s helped me be more of a singer or artist than I ever was.

48 HILLS You have a bit called “Every Disney Character is Gay.” Do you really think so, or are you just trying to piss off conservatives?

MATTEO LANE I’m just trying to write material that makes people laugh. If we wanted to have an existential conversation about those types of characters, I’d say, “Yeah, usually the villain in a Disney movie doesn’t bend to the male or female roles, like the prince or princess. They’re somewhere on the outside, look different and feel different. They’re some sort of an other.

I think that gay people growing up often fall into that experience of being the other, at least in my experience. So I feel like I’ve always latched on to the villain, as most young queer kids do. I don’t relate to Princess Jasmine and Aladdin. I relate to Jafar.

But I don’t write my material to say, “Who am I going to get?” Or to do a bigger conversation about something. I’m doing it, at the end of the day, to make people laugh.

48 HILLS You also talk about growing up on the same block as your 22 cousins in your act. When you came out, was your family supportive?

MATTEO LANE I am very lucky because my brother’s gay and my cousin’s also gay, so we’re all gay. [Laughs]  I’m very lucky to have a very supportive family.

My mom had a very difficult childhood and my grandfather grew up in an immigrant family, went blind at the age of five, put himself through law school, and became a judge. So my family was able to see that there are bigger things out there than just being gay. So being gay was like, “OK, cool, pass the butter.”

My family communicates through humor, so I used humor to make it not this taboo subject we couldn’t talk about, and, as a result, I feel just like the rest of my cousins.

48 HILLS You’ve said before that while you don’t discuss Trump directly in your act, your “material in itself is a stand against Trump.” What did you mean by that?

MATTEO LANE What I mean by that is a technical thing. I’m not the kind of comedian who writes topical jokes about what happened or what I saw on MSNBC yesterday because the news cycle is going so quickly that even if I do a joke that’s funny about what Trump said yesterday, it’s forgotten the next week. So it doesn’t serve me or an audience in any way, because they’ve forgotten because he’s done something else that’s stupid since.

So I have some jokes that are political but I’m not a comedian who’s only interested in talking about Trump. So yeah, if I’m onstage in Ohio and I’m gay and talking to voters who may have voted for Trump, by me not living my life apologetically or editing or censoring myself to hundreds of people I’m performing for daily, that’s something. It’s better than me just sitting at home and tweeting about it.

48 HILLS Gay material makes up a lot of your act. Do you feel like you’re a comedian or a gay comedian?

MATTEO LANE I don’t think about it as being a gay comedian. I think about it as doing good work and being as funny as possible.

But I probably am in the last generation who grew up not having the Internet and not having the easy access to a gay community. So now that it’s so prevalent, the only thing I think about is that it’s cool that young kids can look at the TV and see me or other gay comedians and it’s just normal.

48 HILLS Can you envision a day when your sexual identity won’t matter to audiences?

MATTEO LANE When I started stand-up, I would have thought, “I just want to be a stand-up and not have my sexuality determine who I am.” But now that I’m doing it and onstage and talking around the country, I’m proud of it.

I don’t care how anyone reads me — that’s a gay comic or that’s just a comic — because it doesn’t matter what someone else says. I know who I am and I’m proud of being gay and proud of being a comic.

I think where we start to go wrong is when we start labeling everything. So however you want to describe me, I don’t care. I think as we have more diversity onstage we can start having the idea of stand-up not being just for straight men. But I think it’s happening right now.

June 21-23, $119-$1250
Civic Center Plaza
Tickets and more info here.

Remembering Kevin Killian, 1952-2019

Kevin Killian. Photo by Dan Nicoletta.

Editor’s Note: Word came Saturday from his wife and fellow writer Dodie Bellamy that essential SF queer writer Kevin Killian—poet, teacher, playwright, gossip, Kylie Minogue super-fan, heart of the New Narrative literary scene that electrified SF in the ’80s, and Amazon Hall of Fame reviewer—had passed away. Here, Alvin Orloff of Dog-Eared Books remembers the prolific writer. (Read a short, vital essay Kevin wrote for the Bay Guardian’s “SF Stories” issue in 2012 here.)  

Kevin Killian. Photo by Dan Nicoletta.

I met Kevin Killian by taking writing workshops with his wife, Dodie Bellamy, some 20-plus years ago. Climbing the stairs to their third floor South of Market apartment, I always felt anticipatory tingles for the fun and stimulation ahead. Dodie and Kevin’s small living room, cluttered with cats and books, felt like a refuge from the dull, mercenary forces that were (even then) erasing the old bohemian San Francisco, and the writers I met there were uniformly clever and charmingly offbeat. Many are still friends today. Within that enchanted bubble, wit, good manners, and the tough-minded analysis necessary to inculcate literary talent reigned supreme.

At the time, Kevin was workshopping a novel in progress that became Spreadeagle, a wryly twisted and rather noirish tale of literary celebrity, criminality, and perversion. I loved it so much I immediately read his earlier novels, Arctic Summer, Shy, and Bedrooms Have Windows, as well as his short story collection, Little Men. All terrific! (He published a lot of poetry too, which I’m told is also great.) It confused some people that Kevin was considered a queer author because he’d left his louche, homosex-y youth behind him and married a woman, but he and Dodie had transcended the constraints of such mundane, petty classifications.

Once I’d befriended Dodie and Kevin, I discovered a cultural milieu I hadn’t known existed. They and their friends were constantly rushing around between book release parties, poetry readings, and art openings. At such events one could always count on Kevin for a friendly smile, spicy gossip, or some delicious tidbit of information about Australian pop phenomenon, Kylie Minogue, with whom he was obsessed. Just the sight of Kevin, always ever so slightly disheveled with bangs falling boyishly over his forehead, was enough to raise my spirits.

Kevin was also prone to writing and producing hilariously wacky and absurdist plays for the Poets Theater using literary and musical celebrities as characters that he and his friends would play. I wasn’t alone in being mystified as to how Kevin, who worked a full-time office job, managed to regularly stage plays, attend seemingly all of his numerous his friends’ events, and still find time write.

More amazing yet, Kevin also found time to be a tireless promoter. He was forever introducing one to new authors, talking up someone’s latest work, and booking out-of-towners to read at some bookstore or gallery. As if that weren’t enough, he co-edited My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer and, along with Dodie, Writers Who Love Too Much: New Narrative Writing 1977 – 1997. He gave me a lovely blurb for my third novel and spoke of my writing in terms flattering enough I not only felt embarrassed, but tempted to question his sincerity. Kevin’s tireless championing of LGBTQ writers is justifiably the stuff of legend, and he (along with Dodie) acted like a social glue, bonding San Francisco’s more adventurous, if less commercially successful, writers into a community.

For all his myriad virtues, what I enjoyed most about Kevin was his mischievous sense of humor. For example, when he was recovering from a heart attack and too doped up to write, Kevin (at Dodie’s rather brilliant suggestion) tried to get back in the swing of it by penning Amazon reviews. These quickly progressed from a few words about books, music or movies to amusingly off-kilter mini-essays about random items like plaster pineapples or Lycra thongs. The reviews were eventually collected into a pair of zines that (who knows?) may well end up becoming the foundational texts of a new literary genre.

As the years rolled by, Kevin gradually began to get the recognition he’d always deserved. City Lights put out his hilarious collection of erotic short stories, Impossible Princess, which won a Lambda award, and Semiotext(e) reissued his out of print early works as an anthology titled “Fascination.” He got to quit his office job, began teaching creative writing, and started jetting off to attend panel discussions and symposia in distant cities.

Everyone was glad for him. Then, suddenly and unexpectedly, came word came that Kevin, a mere 66 years old, had died. My Facebook feed instantly filled with more heartfelt tributes than I’ve ever seen, all of them extolling his talent, generosity, kindness, and good cheer. Kevin was, and I am being quite literal here, universally beloved.

In the days ahead, I see three duties for Kevin’s friends and fans. First, we must offer whatever support we can to Dodie. Let her know that the massive outpouring of love for Kevin belongs to her as well. Second, we simply must work to see that Kevin’s books are given their rightful place of honor in the queer literary canon. And third, we must try and be more like Kevin, allowing our lives to be guided by the love of writing and writers. None of these things will make up for the lack of Kevin in our lives, but they’re the least we can do to honor his memory.

Alvin Orloff’s memoir Disasterama: Adventure in the Queer Underground 1979-1997 comes out in October from Three Rooms Press. Learn more at

Stern Grove Festival changes family hands—but not its free music mission

Indie favorite Mitski plays the Stern Grove Festival, July 4.

When Dr. Douglas Goldman went to the Stern Grove Festival as a child, he remembers cherry trees in the concert meadow with tables arranged in the shade under them, and women wearing hats and white gloves. When his great-grandmother started the free music festival, it featured only classical music. One thing Goldman doesn’t remember is San Francisco’s notorious chilly summer weather. 

“It was more formal and more staid,” Goldman said about the concerts. “The interesting thing is I remember sunshine, not fog. Maybe we were going to the first concerts in June and probably got the pre-fog pre-summer weather.”

Goldman’s great-grandmother, Rosalie Meyer Stern, bought the land in 1931, and had an acoustics expert from University of California, Berkeley, come and test it, pronouncing the acoustics spectacular. In 1938, to honor her late husband Sigmund Stern, she created the Stern Grove Festival, which offers free concerts on Sunday afternoons in summer.

“The country was still in the throes of the Depression at that time and classical musicians did not have year round contracts,” Goldman said. “So it was summer employment for musicians. And for an audience who couldn’t afford to go see music, they were able to go because it’s free.”

Goldman, who worked as an emergency room physician at Mount Zion before he founded the software firm Certain Inc., is the fourth generation of his family to be involved with the Stern Grove Festival Association. For the last 23 years, he has stewarded the festival, diversifying the offerings with performers like Janelle Monáe, Fantastic Negrito, Smokey Robinson, and Rufus Wainwright, along with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the San Francisco Symphony and the San Francisco Ballet performing. 

Goldman has made other changes to the festival, including a significant renovation of the concert meadow with the late landscape architect Larry Halprin.

This summer, with concerts including Toots and the Maytals, Digable Planets, The Isley Brothers’ “Big Picnic,” and Los Van Van, will be Goldman’s last spearheading the festival. Next February, his twin sons, Jason and Matthew Goldman, will take over, becoming the first ones under 40 to lead the festival. 

Douglas Goldman.

The family has a deep commitment to philanthropy beyond the festival, with Goldman running the Lisa and Douglas Goldman Fund, which supports democracy, civil liberties, education, literacy, and the environment. Goldman is also president of the Goldman Environmental Foundation, which awards the $150,000 Goldman Environmental Prize for grassroots environmental activism every year.  

Growing up, Goldman remembers his parents talking about the nonprofits they were involved with over dinner. His great-grandmother had a deep commitment to her community, he says, and that has been passed down through the generations. Some of it he attributes to Jewish values, and he says the family feels proud to be able to do it. 

Beloved Cuban musicians Los Van Van play the Stern Grove Festival June 23.

“I like to think I’ve improved it in some ways,” Goldman said about the festival. “Now my sons can impart their version of it and find ways they can improve and expand and make it more relevant. 

Jason, who, like his brother, has a Bachelor of Arts from UC Berkeley in Interdisciplinary Studies with an emphasis on Nonprofit Management and Philanthropy, says they have learned from their father’s example of the time, effort and passion he put into running the festival. They won’t be making any huge changes right away, he says. 

“We’re not going to come in and rip the whole thing out,” he said. “We might possibly look at updating or modernizing, but we’re very much tied to what’s already worked well.”

Stern Grove

At Berkeley, the brothers started a course where the students gave away money, Matthew says. They’ve also done consulting for nonprofits, so they had more than theoretical experience into how philanthropy works.  

They’re excited to bring their experience to the festival, which after eight decades still provides something important, Jason says. 

“Not a lot of things in life are free, especially experiences, and people are really into experiencing things,” he said. “Music is universal, and here we’re experiencing it in nature with others rather than listening to it on AirPods.”

His father agrees that listening to music outside in a grove as deep as a 14-story building is high, surrounded by eucalyptus and redwood trees, is exceptional.

“You’re hearing beautiful sounds in a gorgeous natural setting,” Goldman said. “You’re in the middle of an urban setting, not off in some wilderness. It’s a unique and special experience, as if you removed yourself from the hustle and bustle of the city.”

Sundays, June 16-August 18, 2pm, free
19th Avenue and Sloat, SF. 
More info here.

Broke-Ass Stuart is on ‘Shaky Ground’ in spot-on new web series

Jared Swanson and Broke Ass Stuart's new series "Shaky Ground" takes on that special brand of San Francisco tussle. Image by Shayna Yasuhara

This was going to be a really mopey essay about moving away from San Francisco, and coming back to visit, and being sad and feeling lost and maybe like I didn’t have a hometown anymore. You can thank writer, editor, and person-about-town Stuart Schuffman for sparing you that tearful account of an $11 Sixth Street Taqueria Cancun super veggie burrito (sin crema.)

Broke-Ass Stuart, as he is better known to the strife-filled City By The Bay, has long channeled the standard moans about the city’s precipitous tumble into hyper stratification into rueful yucks. Here, a climactic point to this milieu, of sorts; a web comedy series named “Shaky Ground” that Broke-Ass created alongside Jared Swanson, and that debuts today on a YouTube near you.

It seemed like a good opportunity to postpone my inevitable “you can’t go home again” missive. Yes, let’s interview Stuart.

A stalwart in the city since he moved up from points south (San Diego and Santa Cruz, in that order) 15 years ago, Broke-Ass has been my dependable voice for outrage and municipal musings in his SF Examiner column. Remember when he ran for mayor against Ed Lee? With “Shaky Ground”, we see Stuart’s vision of SF—a kinky, challenging, tragic, but ultimately comic land of vivid characters and wacky misadventure. He also acts as the series’ decided bad guys, one of whom offers—let us say—an extremely camp housing situation to a hapless city newcomer.

The first episode debuts today on the series’ YouTube channel. It introduces viewers to a chap (again, played by our whimsical bard himself) and his rather troubling relationship with a Siri-like digital entity, on steroids. Of the remaining four episodes, Broke-Ass promises, “weird roommates searches, a hilariously dead-pan dominatrix, and a man who renting out his apartment to tourists—but the apartment isn’t exactly what he advertised.” It never really is, is it? *sob* *guffaw*

48 HILLS What was the motivation behind making this show? Are we in a “laugh so you don’t cry” type situation regarding the state of San Francisco?

BROKE-ASS STUART I just had to make this show. There’s so much to make fun of, I mean really, there’s so much fuckery in this city and nobody was quite doing it the way I wanted to. This place has absolutely broken my heart more times than I can count, so the least I could do was give it a proper roast.

48 HILLS The show deals with San Francisco problems in a light-hearted way, but I know you and know there are some real frustrations with the city that you have to deal with. Is there a moment you can point to and say, “Yes, that is the most depressing SF thing that has ever happened to me”? 

BROKE-ASS STUART I mean there’s so much, really. Every single day I see something that really bums me out, like some poor person shitting in the street because they have nowhere else to go. Or some rich douche riding by on his hoverboard, weaving between people shooting up. But then I’ll come across something that makes me say, “You know what, I still love this city more than I often admit.” Just the other day I saw someone dressed as a flirty Easter Bunny for no particular reason other than you know, San Francisco. And no, it wasn’t on Easter.

“I’ve built my whole career around thinking, talking, and writing about San Francisco,” says writer and gadfly Broke Ass Stuart. Photo courtesy of the artist

48 HILLS But what gives you hope for the city? You’re still here, so I know there’s something that moves you still.

BROKE-ASS STUART What gives me hope about San Francisco? The fact that Republicans hate it so much 🙂 For reals though, I think about leaving, but I don’t know where I’d go. I’ve built my whole career around thinking, talking, and writing about San Francisco. I worry about how I’d make a living if I left. Plus, although SF does get me down sometimes, I am such a lucky person. I live a pretty incredible life and SF has given that to me. I just wish all my friends were still able to be in SF and share in that life too.

48 HILLS Do you think it’s possible that the city will ever go back to a time when rents weren’t a crime against humanity? What would that take? 

BROKE-ASS STUART No, I don’t think rents will ever go down and I don’t think we’ll ever get San Francisco back. I mean maybe if there’s a natural disaster and people flee or maybe if all the VC companies leave Silicon Valley and go to Iowa. Right now it’s just about fighting to keep what hasn’t already been lost.

Shaky Ground” premieres Wednesday, and starts with a total of five weekly episodes. 

Call the ‘Please Force’: Wavy Gravy revisits Woodstock in new doc

Still from Barak Goodman's 'Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation.' Image courtesy of Doug Lenier.

Plagued by site issues, limited construction time, a surplus of attendees, heavy traffic delays, inclement weather conditions, a scarcity of food and medical supplies, and an all-out sanitation crisis, the Woodstock music festival could have very easily devolved into violence or been shut down by health officials in the summer of ’69.

Heightened conflicts between hippies and law enforcement over sexual politics, civil rights, and the Vietnam War, earlier that year, had already made a mess of similar festivals in Miami, Denver, and Los Angeles.

So Woodstock’s producers felt that in order to keep the three-day music and art fair—which from August 15 to August 18, 1969, saw such legendary rock acts as Santana, Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Sly & The Family Stone, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young—peaceful, they’d need to try something different.

To handle security, they’d bring in one of the crowd’s own, entertainer-activist Hugh Nanton Romney (better known today as Wavy Gravy) and members of his Hog Farm commune, who already demonstrated an ability to handle large crowds at their own shows across the country.

Dubbed the “Please Force,” they took a very different approach to crowd control than traditional law enforcement. Instead of barking, “Hey you, do this,” they’d ask offenders, “Would you please do this?” They’d also set up freakout tents, where attendees experiencing bad acid, mushroom, or mescaline trips could chill out, till the drugs wore off.

Wavy Gravy reminisces about the three historic days of peace and music at Max Yasgur’s Farm in award-winning director Barak Goodman’s new documentary “Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation,” which features never-before-seen footage and interviews with organizers, performers, and attendees.

I spoke to Wavy Gravy, who today divides his time between his home in Berkeley, where he continues to support his Seva Foundation in its fight to treat reversible blindness around the world, and Laytonville, where he runs his Camp Winnarainbow, an all-ages circus and performing arts camp, about keeping the peace, love, and understanding at Woodstock.

48 HILLS When you think back on Woodstock, what are the first thoughts that come to mind?

WAVY GRAVY Max Yasgur’s farm was a beautiful bowl. We had been looking and looking and saw this place and it was wham, that’s it, absolutely positively it, and that it was able to accommodate half a million people.

I remember walking the property and there were probably 20 to 30,000 people come in and sat down and we got the word that they wanted us to clear the infield to start taking tickets. And I immediately said to them, “Tell them, ‘Do they want a good movie or a bad movie?’” because I knew that they had just sold the movie rights to Warner Bros. for six figures. To their credit, they came back almost immediately and said, “You’re right. We’ll make it a free concert.”

48 HILLS We always hear that there was no violence at Woodstock. Is that true?

WAVY GRAVY Well, there was a couple of cowboys that started punching each other, but half a million people went, “Peace,” and they just about shit in their pants and then shook hands and then everybody cheered. And that was the one violence that I recall.

48 HILLS How was your Please Force able to keep almost half a million people peaceful for three days?

WAVY GRAVY When we were putting things together, and we had decided to use these red armbands with a stencil of a flying pig in white on the armband, the promoters said, “Well, how many armbands do you need?” Ken Babbs from the Merry Pranksters asked, “How many people are you expecting?” and he said that it could be over 100,000. Babbs said, “That’ll be sufficient,” and they just about shit a brick.
We settled on 500 and made a thing with a potato to stamp the pig on the different arms. We just kept turning them out.

We’d throw a pile into our pocket and go out into the crowd. Every time we saw someone act responsibly, we’d give them 10 armbands, until, by the end of the concert, a lot of people were wearing those armbands. God knows how many we unleashed.

But here’s the deal. People had come from all over the free world, from little villages and towns and cities, thinking they were the weird thing. Suddenly, there was a half-million weird things against the war and wanting to surf the music and the good vibes — what Abbie Hoffman called the “Woodstock Nation,” and it truly was.

48 HILLS As part of the Please Force, you helped attendees going through bad drug trips in freakout tents at a pop-up Hog Farm.

WAVY GRAVY I went to where people were having trouble with their chemistry and there was this guy just laying on the ground, just screaming, “1944, Joyce, Joyce, Miami Beach.” This 300-pound Australian doctor is laying on top of the poor guy, saying, “Body contact. You need body contact.” The guy is going, “Miami Beach,” and this psychiatrist leans in and says, “Just think of your third eye, man.”

And I was thinking it’s time for me to make my move, so I said, “Excuse me, let me try a little something.” They backed up, thinking, “What’s this little hippie gonna do?” And I leaned in and said, “What’s your name, man?” He said, “Miami Beach, Joyce,” and I said, “No, what’s your name?” And he said, “Bob.” I said, “Your name is Bob.” He really liked that and you could see him calm down. I said, “Your name is Bob. Guess what, Bob, you’ve taken a little acid and it’s gonna wear off,” and he said, “Thank you.”

And then, when he was near normal and ready to rock ‘n’ roll, I said, “You see that sister coming through the door with her toes in her nose? That was you four hours ago and now you’re the doctor, so take over.”

In the same way with the free kitchen, we just woke up and saw all these volunteers. We were passed out in the bushes exhausted and other people came in and did it. It was amazing.

Still from Barak Goodman’s ‘Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation’
Image courtesy of PBS Distribution and American Experience Films

48 HILLS Speaking of the free kitchen, your “What we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000″ announcement from the stage is legendary.

WAVY GRAVY That was picked up by “Entertainment Weekly” as one of the top entertainment lines of the 20th century.

48 HILLS Could you have imagined that we’d be talking about that line 50 years later?

WAVY GRAVY Fuck no. I was just trying to get information out, that we were about to bring granola in dixie cups to people that were enmeshed in mud.

48 HILLS Seeing how you helped create this functional mini-utopia that supported almost half a million people, in the film, is inspirational.

WAVY GRAVY It was a miracle, and this is something I think the universe wanted to do, to create this amazement. And there was an energy there that if you surrendered to it, you could be miraculous. The minute you thought you were Joe Cool doing shit, you could fall on your ass in the mud. But when you surrendered to this energy, you could flow with it and be amazing. That’s what I discovered.

48 HILLS Which Woodstock performers impressed you the most?

WAVY GRAVY I didn’t get a chance to witness that much. I brought my wife who was running the free kitchen along with Peter Whiterabbit and Lisa Law, and I was able to take her onstage to see The Incredible String Band that we adore.

I guess my great moment was at the end of the concert when I was wading through debris, and Jimi Hendrix played “The Star-Spangled Banner.” I was like 50 feet from the stage and it was gate, gate, beyond, beyond.

48 HILLS What is Woodstock’s legacy?

WAVY GRAVY Half a million weirdos who were anti-war and for rock ‘n’ roll all coming together solidified that they were not alone, and it empowered everybody.

Opens Fri/31
Various Bay Area theaters
Tickets and more info here.

Queering Psychedelics conference aims to expand definitions, minds

magic mushroom

Psychedelics are having a moment that’s turning into a movement. Shrooms are being decriminalized. MDMA is being (re)approved for post-traumatic stress therapy. Ketamine is being investigated as a viable anti-depressant. Microdosing LSD is all the rage in the work cubicles to keep mental energy up. The cannabis legalization ball is already rolling, right around the corner lies a psychedelic revival.

With all this heightened interest in the therapeutic effects of psychedelics—not to mention their cultural explosion as part of the exponentially expanding music festival scene, which traces its roots back to that original Lucy in the Sky miasma, Woodstock—there’s been a contemporary re-examination of the history of psychedelic usage and development via U.S. colonialism (the co-opting of sacred aboriginal psychedelic practices for recreational use) and institutional racism (the imprisonment of disproportionately large amounts of Black and Brown under unjust drug laws.) Both are hot, worthy topics, as is the deconstruction of the traditional straight, male hippie experience as the cornerstone of psychedelic development.

In fact, some of the biggest public names in psychedelic exploration in the last half of the 20th century were queer: Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Ram Dass. Or, as Erik Davis puts it in his introduction to his talk at the highly anticipated Queering Psychedelics conference (June 1 and 2 at Brava Theater Center), called “A Brief History of Queer Psychedelia”:

“Psychedelic experience in the modern era has always been queer—not just in the sense of being enchanted, wayward, and weird, but in the more concrete sense that queerfolk have fundamentally shaped the substance, style, and spirituality of the psychedelic underground. The mass arc of the counterculture, from the ’60s to today, is inconceivable without all manner of psychedelicized style queens, love-bomb DJs, and Dionysian mystics, including Hibiscus and the SF group the Cockettes, Loft party progenitor David Mancuso, the Radical Faeries, and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, who helped establish the social mores of Burning Man.”

Thanks to queer exploration, transcendence, and marginalization, the freedom (and necessity) to experiment has been wrapped up in queer identity since forever. At one of the seminars at Queering Psychedelia, Kanyon Sayers-Rood offers an “indigenous, two-spirit perspective on the ecology of the land we stand on” in the context of sacred sites and respect for the plants from which some psychedelics are derived.

Other fascinating parts of the weekend include “A Queer Critique of the Psychedelic ‘Mystical Experience,'” which looks at the narrow range of experience represented in the popular imagination; a queer view of how music has been important throughout the history of psychedelic usage; a seminar on how psychedelics can help cure HIV that considers strategies that queer people and people of color “have used to survive, before anyone realized we were left out of clinical research,” plus panels, social meetups, and more.

The speakers are a diverse set of experts in their field, and the subjects range from pop culture to the highly technical. Legendary Grateful Dead historian Steve Silberman will speak about coming out as queer in jam band communities. HIV advisor consultant Dee Adams will talk about addressing the needs of gender and sexually diverse people in psychedelic medicine. Ethnobotanist Claudia J Ford addresses “Gendered Knowledge and the Decolonization of Etheogenic Plant Medicines.”

“This is the first conference like this of its kind. It’s very exciting,” said Dr. Bia Labate, who is organizing Queering Psychedelics. I met Labate, a queer Brazilian who has spent years in the psychedelic community, at Quetzal Internet Cafe on Polk Street in March. She specializes in the study of plant medicines, drug policy, shamanism, ritual, and religion, and is the executive director of the Chacruna Institute for Psychedelic Plant Medicines.

The idea for the conference came about when Labate was attending a seminar that was part of the well-known Horizons psychedelics conference in New York. “There was a breakout session that involved issues that affected the queer psychedelics community,” she said. “They said, anyone who wants to talk about queer issues further, please move to this side of the room. Well, almost the entire room got up and moved over there.

“That really pointed out the need for a queer-specific conference where we could explore and address psychedelics history and current developments in a queer context, in a queer space,” Labate said. She sees some unique opportunities for connection within the community about shared traumas and how psychedelics can be useful in addressing the bullying and stigma queer people face.

“We have been persecuted throughout much of the history of the world, and yet we’ve managed to thrive and make our own spaces. This includes mental and mystical spaces, which have been seen as forms of both transcendence and escape,” Labate said. “We talk a lot about gentrification and losing physical spaces, but as psychedelics become more mainstream, there’s a risk of losing the other countercultural spaces we’ve created in order to survive as well.”

LSD blotter Pink Flamingos: “This print depicts 40 hits that were originally issued circa 1987. A celebration of 10 different personality types on these magnificent four-ways.” (Mark McCloud,

She has concerns about the rise of psychedelic therapies in a mainstream psychiatric context that doesn’t specifically incorporate queer identities. “Psychiatry and therapy have often been the enemy of LGBT people. Conversion therapies, the historically gendered binary of medical treatments, the erasure of our history—these have been harmful things for us. As therapies are being developed using psychedelics, we want to ask, Who is doing the training? How are they including this vast repository of queer knowledge? Are they using it responsibly?”

Labate herself has used ayahuasca systematically for 22 years. “It’s central to who I am, and I am deeply grateful for this medicine,” she says. She has watched as ayahuasca has become trendy, and the changes that has brought to indigenous communities.

“These are the kinds of things we need to talk about in a queer context. We’re bringing new voices and different experiences together across the spectrum of what we experience, to share our own knowledge—and of course have fun. That’s definitely a dimension of psychedelics, too,” she said.

June 1 and 2, 9am-6pm
Brava Theater Center, SF.
Tickets and more info here

Queer medalist Adam Rippon talks youth advocacy and post-rink living

Adam Rippon: "Sometimes you feel that taking a risk is just going outside and being yourself." Photo by Stuart Locklear

After figure skating star Adam Rippon came out publicly in the fall of 2015, he became the first openly gay U.S. athlete to qualify for a Winter Olympics. Through his ensuing LGBTQ activism, he’s become a hero to queer youth around the world.

And since hanging up his skates, the two-time national silver medalist and 2018 Olympics bronze medalist has received even more accolades for his LGBTQ advocacy. Most recently, on April 27, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus (SFGMC) honored Rippon with the Trailblazer Award at its 41st Season Crescendo Gala, an evening of performances and awards recognizing this year’s agents of change, who use their public platforms to uplift and support LGBTQ youth.

Other honorees at the gala, which took place at The Fairmont San Francisco and benefited SFGMC’s anti-bullying program RHYTHM and the It Gets Better Project, included Tony Award-winning actress and singer Kristin Chenoweth and Zendesk CEO Mikkel Svane.

48 Hills spoke to Rippon, whose YouTube show “Break the Ice” debuts this week and whose memoir Beautiful on the Outside is due out this fall, about being a trailblazer on and off the ice, the bullying he experienced growing up, and how it can indeed get better after coming out.

48 HILLS What does it mean to you to be the recipient of the Trailblazer Award tonight?

ADAM RIPPON It’s a little surreal. I’m just feeling really lucky to be here, especially to be honored by the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. They’re the original trailblazers and continue to do such great work around the country. So to be honored by them tonight is something that’s so incredible that I’ve been looking forward to for such a long time.

48 HILLS One of tonight’s beneficiaries, SFGMC’s RHYTHM, works to eradicate bullying, something that many of us in the LGBTQ community have experienced. Is bullying something you suffered in your own life?

ADAM RIPPON When I was young, of course, I got bullied and teased. I was always the smallest kid in my class. Then when I started skating, I was in school just a few days a week, because I’d be traveling to go and train, so I was so focused on skating that it never bothered me.

Now, I know that’s not the case for a lot of kids growing up and it can be very intense and very stressful. But the older that you get, you find people who become your extended family or your additional family or just your family. When you find those people — sometimes it takes a few years and making mistakes and learning more about yourself — but when you do that, that’s what really embodies the “it gets better” part.

Brian Boitano (l) presents Adam Rippon with his San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus for supporting queer youth at the group’s April 27 gala. Photo by Stuart Locklear

48 HILLS Speaking of the It Gets Better project, how has it gotten better for you over the years?

ADAM RIPPON I think it got better when I finally realized that I had nothing to lose because I took more chances and more risks.

And sometimes you feel that taking a risk is just going outside and being yourself. But when I was able to do that, that’s when I was my best in my personal life and in my professional sporting career. So that’s when I really started to embrace who I was and just be the best version of myself.

48 HILLS The choice to come out is a very personal one. But for those who are currently grappling with living more authentically, can you talk about the pros?

ADAM RIPPON I think coming out is really personal, but I believe that if you’re comfortable and feel good in your own skin and you come out, you’re giving permission to someone who’s in a situation where they don’t feel comfortable, where they feel like they’re gonna be excluded or lose people in their life that they love, to be themselves, too.

It’s so powerful to see somebody like you being successful, doing good things, and achieving their dreams. When you see that, you almost feel like it’s possible for you.

I was inspired by people who came out before me in sports and I watched so many coming out videos on YouTube back in the day. Watching those inspired me when I was young and wanted to do the same thing.

48 HILLS You have a YouTube show premiering this week and a new book coming out this fall. What can you tell us about these latest projects?

ADAM RIPPON I just launched a YouTube channel and my favorite part about it is that starting May 1st, I’m gonna be premiering a show called “Break the Ice” that I produced at Portal A.

Basically, the concept of the show is that I bring someone onto the ice for the first time and interview them. While I’m interviewing them, they get a skating lesson, and at the end of the episode, they have to put together a performance for me. So we had so much fun and I was lucky for our first season that I got some really incredible people like Billy Zane, Manny MUA, Gus Kenworthy, and the Ziegler sisters.

I have a book that’s coming out on October 15th called Beautiful on the Outside. The book is about me, the thing I know best. But I think it was so fun to write because, in this period of my life where everything is so different and changing, it was like therapy. If you can get therapy and also be paid to write a book, it’s a win-win.

Arts Forecast: The week’s best moments to honor Momma

The 48th annual Stanford Powwow gathers the Bay's Native communities for dance, music, and camping this weekend Fri/10-Sun/12.

ARTS FORECAST Every day is a good day to show Mom love, but this weekend is an excuse to go in big. Mother’s Day is on Sunday! You can take her to a sunrise tour of Muir Woods, a sumptuous feast, an all-women mariachi concert (see Flor de Toloache below), the Doris Day Festival at Stanford Theatre, to breeze through aisles of roses at the Hall of Flowers. Alameda is the site of entire springtime fest this weekend for outdoor wanderings ’n’ mimosas, flagging in the park is a fabulous place to be festive, SoMa has a matcha fest — you could even entice Mom into checking out the beloved Beach Blanket Babylon on last time before it shuts down, or to scout for treasures at Inner Sunset Flea, or to celebrate heritage at the Stanford Powwow (see below.)

Or maybe Mom just needs a stiff drink and a laugh this year? (Hear you, Mom.) Lisa Geduldig (she of Kung Pao Kosher Comedy) is hosting another super holiday line-up of stand-ups on Thu/9 and this time it is 100 percent madre. Diane Amos a.k.a. the Pine Sol Lady headlines the Mother’s Day comedy show, and Flirting With Laughter comedian Emily van Dyke is even taking a moment off of caring for her newborn to hit the stage. Just the ticket if your doting Ma needs a laugh about the complexities of raising your ass.

Plan, book, have a homemade card at the ready. You know she’s well worth it. Here’s a list of other great excuses to see Mom and have a little culture while you’re at it.

THU/9 TALK/DESIGN ON DISPOSSESSION Four graduate student projects from UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design will be presented. We’re talking power relations, late capitalist surveillance states, and the way in which these forces manifest in displacement and misuse of art in urban development. Thu/9, 7-9pm, free. LGBT Center, SF. More info here

THU/9 MUSIC MUSH CONCERT SERIES We stan for community station, and its new free concert series in Jack London Square is gonna be a gas. Today is Same Girls and Samplelov with DJs Miles Otway and Transfiguration — come back May 23rd for Bay chanteuses Ah Mer Ah Su and Maya Songbird. 6:30-9pm, free. Jack London Square, Oakl. More info here.

THU/9-SUN/12 MUSIC FLOR DE TOLOACHE This all-female mariachi group is giving the genre a good stretch when it comes to gender roles — and is a phenomenal intro to traditional Mexican musical genres for those just coming to the sounds. Thu/9 shows at 7 and 8:30pm, $30-45. SFJazz. More info here.

THU/9-SUN/12 STAGE ABRAHAM IN FLAMES It isn’t often that you get a chance to see an all-new opera delivered, and this piece inspired by Iranian poet Ahmad Shamlou’s work and featuring the Young Women’s Chorus of San Francisco looks like it could be a welcome breath of fresh air. 8pm Thu/9-Sat/11, 4pm Sun/12. Z Space, SF. More info here.

THU/9 COMEDY VERDI WILD THINGS ARE Nato Green of The Whiteness Album is one of the Bay’s comic gems, and here he takes the stage at a 100 year old Italian social club with a lineup of other yucksters. 8pm, $10. Verdi Club, SF. More info here.

FRI/10-SUN/12 COMMUNITY STANFORD POWWOW All ages are welcome at this important gathering for Native communities in and around the Bay. Hand drumming, traditional dancing, on-site camping — even a fun run — make it an important moment, and the 48th year that the event has been hosted on this site! Starts Fri/10, 5pm until Sun/12, 6pm, parking fee $20, camping fee $35. Eucalyptus Grove, Stanford. More info here.

FRI/10 PARTY AS YOU LIKE IT Call Super, Dr. Rubenstein, and Jason Kendig headline this offering from one of the Bay’s superlative electronic club posses. 9:30pm-4am, $25. Monarch, SF. More info here.

SAT/11 HISTORY TENDERLOIN MUSEUM FOURTH ANNIVERSARY Vietnamese folk dancing, hip-hop, spoken word poetry at this commemoration of four years of exploring the history of one of SF’s most tumultuous yet vibrant neighborhoods. 10am-8:30pm, free. Tenderloin Museum, SF. More info here. 

SAT/11 VISUAL ART BRIAN ENRIGHT The West Oakland sculptor presents his new show, “Neither Created. Nor Destroyed”, which looks to refashion society’s artifacts into relics of hope. Opening reception 7-10pm. Exhibit runs through June 11. Lost and Foundry, Oakl. More info here.

SAT/11 TALK FUTURE CULTURE SUMMIT If exploring the possibilities of future work in community is your thing, you may want to drop in for the panel discussions and networking sessions at this afternoon event. 12:30-4:30pm, $25. Asian Cultural Center, Oakl. More info here.

SAT/11 FOOD + DRINK/MUSIC ART & WINE FESTIVAL Is this … your Mother’s Day adventure? Live music, over 20 NorCal wineries offering tastings — and all to benefit the Oakland Montclair Lions Club. Noon-5pm, $40-80. Jack London Square, Oakl. More info here

SAT/11 VISUAL ART THE NEW EAGLE CREEK SALOON Sadie Barnette’s father created SF’s first Black-owned queer bar back in the ’90s — this spring, the talented artist will create a version of its magic, which will eventually roll down Market Street as part of this year’s Pride parade. Check out a schedule of speakers and other activations of the space. Opening reception 5-9pm, free. The Lab, SF. More info here.

SAT/11 STAGE 140 LBS: HOW BEAUTY KILLED MY MOTHER Susan Lieu premieres her play examining the Geary Boulevard plastic surgeon whose shoddy work killed her mother and other women. Show today 9:10pm, runs through May 19, $13-14. New People and The Marsh, SF. More info here and here.  

SAT/11 PARTY HARD FRENCH FAMILY REUNION Do you miss the days when afternoon soul dance party Hard French raging every month through the sunny seasons on El Rio’s palatial back patio? So do they — hence this get-together with all the HF gang and guest DJs Dizzy Miss Lizzy (Black Rhythm Happening, SF) and Cinnamon Beans (Nicole Whitten, SF). 2-8pm. El Rio, SF. More info here

SAT/11 PARTY POUND PUPPY Town’s best puppy fetish rolls into SoMa’s friendly neighborhood queer bar. Featuring DJs Carrie on Disco & Kevin O’Connor. Wear your collar, make sure you’re house trained before entering. 9pm-2am. The Stud, SF. More info here.

SUN/12 DANCE WALKING DISTANCE DANCE FESTIVAL Three different programs taking place over eight days await you at this exciting lineup of dance productions. Check works by Mary Armentrout, d. Sabela grimes, and Barak Marhsall. Through May 19. Various times and venues, SF. More info here

SUN/12 MUSIC RAICES BENEFIT SHOW Your mother will be so proud if you take her to this lineup of bands playing their hearts out for RAICES, an organization doing essential work protecting immigrant children from the predatory clutches of ICE. Featuring tunes from Frightwig, Chaki, and The LadyKillers. 5-9pm, $10. Oasis, SF. More info here.

SUN/12 MUSIC DIANA GAMEROS Best believe the transcendent singer-guitarist is celebrating Mother’s Day — her own mom Altagracia Estupinan, and Leonarda Renteria, her grandmother, will be present today accompanying Gameros on vocals. 7pm, $20-45. Brava Theater, SF. More info here

TUE/14 MUSIC PRINCE WITH SYMPHONY Or perhaps Mom is more into “Purple Rain”? If so, surprise her with tickets to this symphonic rendering of The Purple One’s greatest hits. 8pm, $49.50-160. The Masonic, SF. More info here

TUE/14 TALK SYSTEM FAILURE: DISPLACEMENT A key presentation by arts exploring the failings of tech, and the ways these result in displacement, featuring superlative data visualization the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project. 6:30-8pm, free with RSVP. Minnesota Street Project, SF. More info here.

TUE/14 TALK ANI DiFRANCO Stellar local music journo Emma Silvers interviews your favorite feminist rocker. DiFranco will be chatting in particular about the lessons learned via her new book No Walls and the Recurring Dream. 7-8pm, $20-35 (with copy of book). First Church, Berk. More info here

Candymaker Michael Recchiuti on how music inspires his luscious treats

In chocolate, candymaker Michael Recchiuti has found his ultimate freedom to improvise and experiment in the same way that gives him the most joy in creating music. All photos courtesy Michael Recchiuti

Chocolatier Michael Recchiuti hears music in everything. It’s in some of the machinery he uses to assist in the production of his luxurious candy confections which must follow a certain rhythm to work properly. A corner of the Dogpatch building that houses his kitchen is dedicated to jamming and making songs.

Classically trained with significant experience in jazz and experimental music, Recchiuti continues to push himself as a drummer — and the consistent pursuit of that creative outlet also helps him with ideas for his 22-year-old candy company.

“Sometimes when I’m playing, I get into that trance-like state where I can start thinking about other things because the groove is so repetitive,” he explains. “You have to concentrate on what you’re doing, but it’s not like I’m playing live with anybody, so I can kind of drift off if I need to. Ideas always pop into my head and then I’ll write them down. I’ll have a little book next to me, I’ll write down ideas, or sometimes I’m thinking about something before I start playing and when I go in there and play it helps me crystallize that idea. It’s just like, ‘Oh, I didn’t think of that, let me write that down.’ And a lot of times if I go out to see music, sometimes the music inspires me to think about what I’m doing in the confectionery world.”

“I was playing certain types of music to help me inspire the creative process of creating new chocolate concepts and desserts,” says SF chocolatier Michael Recchiuti. Photo by Tom Seawell Production

That helps to explain the rather melodic beauty of Recchiuti sweets, like the Platinum Collection. Like a piano’s keys, Recchiuti’s ultimate high-end offering sports 88 pieces of chocolate wonder.

Music from artists around the world are his near-constant companions while making confections.

“I was just doing this project for the last three days, so I was just in the kitchen by myself,” he shares. “I was listening to music and I was playing certain types of music to help me inspire the creative process of creating new chocolate concepts and desserts. So I would either play things that were very atmospheric where it didn’t muddle my thought process, it was just kind of almost background, and other times I played more motivated stuff, pretty high beats per minute [tracks] that would give me some stimuli to think about the energy of the piece that I’m trying to create. [I think about] what sort of energy do I want to put in it? And sometimes when I listen to music, it allows me to have energy that I transfer into the piece that I am creating.”

Another mellifluous concoction; the Recchiuti s’mores kit.

In chocolate, Recchiuti has found his ultimate freedom to improvise and experiment in the same way that gives him the most joy in creating music.

“I think one of the problems I had with playing music when I was in music school was that all of the students I was with playing were really talented players but the only thing that they could do comfortably was sight read music and play what was written for them, but they could just play something. And that where I’m really strong at improvising and playing all sorts of stuff. I’d say, ‘Let’s go out and busk the park in New York and let’s make some money,’ and they’re like, ‘What are we going to play?’ And I’m like, ‘Let’s just play, they’re like, ‘What charts are you thinking of reading?’I was so frustrated. It’s definitely a different mindset.

“I’m not a person of complacency,” he asserts. “It’s a word I don’t even understand. So once I’m comfortable, I pull myself out of that realm of being comfortable. I like to be on edge and throw myself into situations where it’s not that comfortable.”