PARTY RADAR As always, but especially in the last politically horrific year, the dance floor is a beacon for and a bastion of love, peace, and unity that transcends race, sexuality, and gender. Even the harshest noise show and the most clinical techno underground offers a communal warmth the outside world does its best to shut out and up. This weekend, set aside to honor Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. offers plenty of opportunity to spread his message through music, dancing, and some glorious carrying on.
FRI/12: MARTINEZ BROTHERS The adorable Bronx duo rocketed to fame as teens full-bent on reviving classic house vibes: That’s a ubiquitous goal these days, but the Brothers keep rocketing ahead of the pack with a sunny attitude and serious skills. 9pm-3:30am, $15-$25. Public Works, SF. More info here.
FRI/12: SWAGGER LIKE US PRESENTS JIBBZ The Bay’s most vibrant queer hip-hop etc. party brings in Oakland global bass and Afrobeat producer to swag the decks. Don’t miss this. 9pm-2am, $10-$12. White Horse, Oakland. More info here.
FRI/12: EDDIE C, MARK E. QUARK Fabulous disco-rave vibes from classic DJ Eddie C, while another legend, Mark E. Quark, brings the funky techno. Local duo Diskoalition opens up. 9:30-late, $10-$15. Monarch, SF. More info here.
FRI/12: WETWARE, ENTRO SENESTRE The Surface Tension parties always guarantee a boundary-pushing experience, and experimental-techno-noise act Wetware and lauded Bank NYC label conch Entro Senestre will not disappoint. 10pm-4am, $12-$15. the Stud, SF. More info here.
FRI/12: NEON BLACK Sexy synthy retro and future grooves at this party that feels like you’re floating through the Drive soundtrack inside a vintage Tron arcade game. With DJs Pendaison, Wyram, Danny Dolorean, and Fact.50. 9:30pm-3am, $5-$10. Cat Club, SF. More info here.
FRI/12: VRIL “Seemingly out of nothing, through dust and with no bang, Vril appeared on the scene.” The burbling-techno Giegling label brought this “shadowy German” to light, the Modular party brings him to the Midway. Don’t miss opener Lily Ackerman, one of our most exciting rising DJ stars. 9:30pm-4am, $20. Midway, SF. More info here.
FRI/12: LAST NITE This fantastic and popular 2000s revival night will have you Strokes-ing out all over again. “It’s like we ate Pitchfork, stole your iPod and then rode off on your track bike.” 10pm-2am, $5-$10. Make-Out Room, SF. More info here.
SAT/13: KETIOV AT VIVVY’S GRAND OPENING Vivvy’s Grand Opening is our most surreal drag night, with enormous concepts a Payless budget. Ketiov is a solo project by Voitek, half of incredible techno duo Catz ‘n Dogz. Vivvy will be dropping jaws, Ketiov will be dropping deep disco-update jams. 10pm-4am, $10. The Stud, SF. More info here.
SAT/13: EVIGT MÖRKER Swedish techno wiz wows with incredible selection and mixing skills — I’d expect nothing less from the awesome Sure Thing party. The back room on this one will be an ambient wonderland, with Topazu, Experimental Housewife, and more. 10pm-4am, $15-$20. F8, SF. More info here.
SAT/13: NICO STOJAN (AND FAREWELL PETER BLICK) One of the most awesome people on the scene, Public Works honcho Peter Blick, is moving to Colorado (he’ll still be popping in to throw some great parties) — say farewell as he DJs alongside Berlin expansive-technoist Nico Stojan, with Oceanvs Orientalis and Ramona Wouters. 9pm-4am, $15-$20. Public Works, SF. More info here.
SAT/13: POUND PUPPY Woof, woof, sailor. This monthly scruffy circle-sniff is all about cute beards and very good music. DJ Jeremy Castillo from Club Lonely paws the decks this time around, with space jams galore. 10pm-2am, $10. Eagle, SF. More info here.
SUN/14: LANDO AT WERD Aw, nice one! One of my favorite local producers of the aughts is back in town for this semi-union of the great Icee Hot party at weekly techno joint Werd. With Elexos Park and CZ. 9pm-2am, $5. Monarch, SF. More info here.
SUN/14: MISS WHO WHO’S CELEBRATION OF LIFE A beautiful and legendary presence on the dance floors of SF left us last month. I’ve known Miss Who Who (and her ever-present handkerchief) for decades, since we danced together every weekend, all weekend, at the End Up. The SF scene is diminished with her passing, but this celebration of life will be a joyous reunion in her honor. With DJ David Harness. 5pm-10pm, free (donations encouraged). The Midway, SF. More info here.
SUN/14: RESIST – THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL A dazzling troupe of drag performers — Dia Dear, Profundity, Nikki Jizz, Miss Rahni, Uphoria, Qween, Reverend Lysol, Kuntrol Alt-V, Glamamore, more — taking on the seminal Nine Inch Nails album in its entirety? In order to make a powerful political statement? Sign me up, tie me down(ward). Sun/14, 8pm, $15-$25. Rickshaw Stop, SF. More info here.
SUN/14: MLK & HNY Honey Soundsystem’s annual MLK Weekend celebration comes into its 10th year (!) I’m dying to tell you the special guests, but suffice it to say they represent the incredible diversity of the underground queer dance music scene. One of my favorite parties of the year. 9pm-4am, $20. Audio, SF. More info here.
This was a truly unsettling year, from the election of Donald Trump and the resurgence of white supremacist movements to the sudden death of Mayor Ed Lee and the ongoing crisis of homelessness and displacement — a time when independent, local media proved itself more essential than ever. (Unfortunately, we continued to lose voices on the scene when we needed them most.)
NOTHING LIKE THIS HAS EVER HAPPENED BEFORE
Donald Trump was declared President of the United States, and no one was having it. The Women’s March brought the communal heat to San Francisco’s street on a cold, windy day — and, as part of the national happening, was the largest political protest in this country’s history. Read more.
SF SENDS THE WHITE SUPREMACISTS PACKING The resilience of SF’s resistance network and history shone through on August 26. Tens of thousands of protestors, from the Marina to the Castro, took to the streets to protest a “free speech” rally by a group associated with white supremacists. It was glorious — also horrifying that we even had to be there. Read more.
TEARS (AND BUBBLY) FOR BUBBLES One of San Francisco’s most recognizable free spirits, and a nightlife legend, was shot to death point blank in the Tenderloin. We reported from the wake/party on the streets celebrating Bubbles’ life. Read more.
SAN FRANCISCO BRACES FOR THE POSSIBILITY OF IMMIGRATION RAIDS
Of all the horrible possibilities of the unhinged Trump administration, the threat of armed agents of the government hauling away our neighbors was one that affected the Bay Area mightily. After President Trump signed an executive order aiming to block federal funding to sanctuary cities, we reported from a legal training to help understand what ICE could and couldn’t do. Read more.
The GHOST SHIP FIRE, ONE YEAR LATER
As the anniversary of the Bay Area’s worst nightlife tragedy neared, we interviewed Andy Kershaw, the husband of victim Amanda Allen, who updated us on the case and opened up about how it had affected him. Read more.
BAY GUARDIAN BEST OF THE BAY 2017 The 42nd installment of Best of the Bay — and the second that 48 Hills hosted after the Bay Guardian stopped publishing weekly in print — was a wonderful compilation of beloved SF institutions and new businesses that proved we still live in the best place on earth. Read more.
INSIDE THE YIMBY CONFERENCE
The push for unchecked, market-rate development put on a youthful, tech-ready face at an Oakland conference called Yimbytown 2017. We were there to report on the civil discussion on the surface — and the nastiness behind the scenes. Read more.
LEE’S DEATH SHOCKS THE CITY Tim Redmond reported live from City Hall as stunned officials gathered to mourn the mayor after his sudden passing and figure out next steps. Read more.
PARTY RADAR Yes, yes, New Year’s Eve gets all the press — and this year offers a plethora of ways to stomp out this cursed year on the dance floor (read my guide, dammit!) — but the real survivors, the party legends, the gilded livers dance right on through to the other side, nightlifing through New Year’s Day. Here’s my seventh annual roundup New Year’s Day happenings you shouldn’t miss. Take a brief shower, drink some orange juice, and shine on, you crazy diamond.
PS The 2018 newbie look doesn’t have to be all sticky sparkles and torn-through baggies. For those seeking communion of a different ecstatic nature, might I suggest gathering at the Wave Organ at 4pm on Monday for “literary mixtape” of local author readings, hosted by Quiet Lightning … or simply taking a long nap and waking to gaze up into a Supermoon of hope and love (and yoga on the beach).
IT’S A NEW DAYMassive gathering outside massive Great Northern club for “four stages of the best music, art installations, mutant vehicles, aerial performances, food trucks, interactive games, special surprises and lots of nice people.” With house and techno heavyweights DJ Tennis, Steve Bug, Marques Wyatt, Honey Dijon, and dozens more. Mon/1, 4am-9pm, $25+. Great Northern, SF. More info here.
BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONSBurning Man stalwarts the Space Cowboys continue their nouveau-hippie tradition for the umpteenth year — now at the gigantic Midway SF venue. DJs include famous peeps like Doc Martin and the Stanton Warriors, but the real treat is seeing thousands of hyper-smiling people swimming in sequined cowboy hats and champagne cocktails. Mon/1, 6am-6pm, $20+. Midway, SF. More info here.
BRASSTAX SUPPER OF SURVIVORSMake your transition to the next level of heliocentric consciousness — or just keep your buzz on and get shot with a glitter cannon — at this insanely great post BoC tradition. A great lineup of local DJs who won’t stint on the drum and bass, a special “triage station” with toothbrushes and other freshening aids for your epic party journey, and something new called “Game of Cones” which, well, you’ll just have to find out for yourself … Mon/1, 3pm-Midnight, $5-$20. Public Works, SF. More info here.
HOE IS BRUNCHHitch up your panties, hoist up your falsies, and head your fine self to El Rio for a rip-roarin’ drag brunch, courtesy of the Hoe is Life party crew. I adore Nicki Jizz and her posse of POC beauties — this special daytime edition features fantastic dance music, performances galore, “mama’s comfort food, bottomless mimosas, and unlimited bussy!” Mon/1, 1pm-6pm, $5 before 2pm, $10 after. $15 for bottomless mimosas. El Rio, SF. More info here.
DAY ONE, CARRY ONTechno hotbox Halcyon offers a New Year’s Day Night of nonstop dancing, starting at 6pm and featuring Sunshine People, Funky Teknomics, and a special surprise guest, which, knowing Halcyon, is probably going to be a stunner. Mon/1, 6pm-late, $20+. Halcyon, SF. More info here.
UNDERGROUND SF NEW YEAR’S ROLLOVERLovely, funky Lower Haight techno mayhem from some of my favorite crews, including Kosmetik, Romper Room, and Werd DJs, at this hangout to pre-empt/prolong your hangover. Swing through. Mon/1, 7pm-2am, $5. Underground SF. More info here.
PARTY RADAR Halleloo, halleloo! This dumb-ass year is ’bout to get kicked in the dumpster. I’m off to Palm prings to hide from the holidays with a giant margarita, poolside beneath some chili lights strung from a Joshua tree — Merry-juana Christmas, everybody! But folks have been hitting me up for SF NYE recs, so here are some bright beacons in that blizzard of amateurs we call NYE. And don’t forget to stay tuned for my “Comedowns are for Losers” annual guide to what matters most, New Year’s Day parties, coming soon. Right after I finish up this next marg. Bon voyagee.
ACID TEST NEW YEAR’S FREAKOUT! “A psychedelic happening featuring lights and sounds,” with groovy psych-rock music by LA five-piece The Creation Factory and Berkeley’s The Pop Club Group, plus DJs Steve and Noemi, Jodie Artichoke, and more. Sun/31, 9pm-2am, $10-$15. Elbo Room, SF. More info here.
SWEATER FUNK NEW YEAR’S EVEThis adorable crew of local vinyl funkateer DJs comes together to play you classic “boogie – modern soul – steppers” at the Knockout. Your angora will get itchy! Sun/31, 9pm-2am, $10-$20. The Knockout, SF. More info here.
INSPECTOR GADJENothing resounds so wonderfully and woozily with the feeling of a great New Year than a BBBB — big Balkan brass band. Whirl and stomp with the awesome Inspector Gadje band at this artists’ extravaganza evening, put on by the eye-popping Salles des Artistes. Sun/31, 8pm-2am, $35. Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church Hall, SF. More info here.
NYE PACHANGA Launch into 2018 with some Latinx love. Virgil’s Sea Room and Gallerie de la Raza in the Mission are teaming up for food, fun, a little piñata-whacking, and of course dancing, courtesy of DJs Sizzle, Crasslos, Carnitas of Hard French, and FlyLoveSong. Sun/31, 9pm-2am, $15-$20. Virgil’s Sea Room, SF. More info here.
UP ALL NIGHT AT THE STUD Fifteen dollars (presale) for 12 hours of dancing and drag — including Midwest underground techno powerhouse DJ Noncompliant aka Shiva, psychedelic electronic sorceress Mozhgan, a Club Lonely takeover at dawn, and oodles of friendly queer faces. It’s also the anniversary of the Stud Collective taking over the space and converting it into the country’s first worker-owned cooperative nightclub! (I will be there and a fun mess.) Sun/31, 9pm-9am, $15-$25. The Stud, SF. More info here.
AFROLICIOUS NYE This local funk-electronic collective contains some people I adore, playing Afro-House, Latin Grooves, classic funk, island jams, and everything under the sun Wear comfy kicks: With a live band and ace DJs on hand, you’ll be on your feet all night. Sun/31, 9pm-2am, $50. Rickshaw Stop, SF. More info here.
POOLSIDE + DÂM FUNKLA funk deity Dâm Funk will launch Public Works into space after dreamy duo Poolside (starring our own Jeffrey Paradise) dunks the crowds in sunny melodies. With Body Music and Groovewell. Sun/31, 9pm-3:30am, $25. Public Works, SF. More info here.
SWAGGER LIKE USVibrant queer hip-hop and deep beats at this Best of the Bay winner, with the amazing Bearcat from Discwoman and Atlanta’s Leonce. The crowd at this party cannot be beat for fabulous looks and warm attitude. Sun/31, 9pm-3am, $20+. F8, SF. More info here.
NEW YEAR’S EVE FLAMENCOThe dramatic, addictive Spanish dance genre — which built the foundation for modern nightlife — whirls into the new year at Thirsty Bear. Three shows starting at 8pm, plus a menu of tapas goodies. Sun/21, 8pm, free. Thirsty Bear, SF. More info here.
METRICBeloved indie dance group returns with their Canadian synth ways to light up Mezzanine. Their live show is fantastic — at least when I avidly followed them in the aughts — and this will be both a reunion and a bang-up celebration. Sun/31, 9pm-3am, $80. Mezzanine, SF. More info here.
TURBO DRIVE NYEThe smooth-synth retro minds behind latest party phenomena Turbo Drive and Neon Black — think the Drive soundtrack in an ’80s arcade — are taking over Emporium, the giant new arcade on Divisadero, and pinballing you into 2018 via 1989. With DJs Danny Delorean, Fact.50, and more. Sun/31, 8pm-2am, free + five game tokens. Emporium, SF. More info here.
FATHER OF THE YEARLOL, this incredibly cleverly titled gay shindig brings out the dadbods (and not-so-dadbods) to Driftwood for dad-dance music by Mark O’Brien (Polyglamorous), Sergio Fedasz (Go BANG!), and “ResiDAD” DJs Michael Romano and Kelly Naughton. Plus a Double Scorpio brand “midnight magic poppertunity toast!” (wink) Sun/31, 9pm-2am, $10.50. Driftwood, SF. More info here.
TYCHO Our hero of electronic pop-atmospherics returns for a night spent ballooning out the walls of the Fillmore. Bring your edibles, throw on your Ray-Bans, and bid the dark of 2017 adieu. Sun/31, 9pm-1am, $75. The Fillmore, SF. More info here.
CLUB LONELY NYEOne of my supreme favorite small house music parties with a huge vibe, Club Lonely, brings in an awesome DJ, Myles Cooper, from another equally delectable party, High Fantasy, to join resident DJs Vin Sol, Jeremy Castillo, and Primo in burning 2017 to the ground. Sun/31, 9pm-4am, $15. Club OMG, SF. More info here.
MANGO NYE This lesbian wonder-party has been around for more than two decades and still rules the scene with its super-diverse blend of dancers, and house and hip-hop beats by legend Olga T. With DJs Lady Lu and La Coqui and El Rio’s strong drinks. Juicy! Sun/31, 8pm-2am, $15. El Rio, SF. More info here.
The crowd was buzzing, the vibe was warm, and the feelings were fuzzy at Best Gay Bar 2017 The Stud on Tuesday, December 5, as this year’s Bay Guardian Best of the Bay winners gathered to celebrate.
Delicious food from Best Mediterranean Restaurant winner Old Jerusalem and perennial 48 Hills favorite Casa Sanchez kept everyone happy, and Powerhouse performance by the dholrhythms dancers from Best Dance Party Non Stop Bhangra had everyone on their feet dancing along.
PARTY RADAR I just flew in from New York City, and, boi, are my nasal passages tired. From a muddy-sounding multi-warehouse Brooklyn rave with The Black Madonna to a raucous cabaret evening at actor Alan Cumming’s new post-Eastern Bloc Club Cumming — with stops at Bushwick neighborhood hang Bossa Nova Civic Club (which just happens to host the world’s best techno DJs) and incredible, neon-ceilinged Bushwick spot Analog (which hosts one of my favorite gay parties, Wrecked, coming to SF next month!) … Child, I did a lot.
Seriously: Keith Haring was its visual art selector, Ann Magnuson was its performance curator, Susan Hannaford and Tom Scully were the film programmers, and from there you also get Kenny Scharf, Klaus Nomi, John Sex, Fab 5 Freddy, Future 2000, Kenny Scharf, Taboo!, Divine, Lisa Lyon, Africa Bambaataa, Johnny Dynell … RuPaul, Cyndi Lauper, the B-52s, The Fleshtones, and Madonna hung out there. Everybody hung out there. There were wiggy rock performances, experimental film nights, DIY fashions galore, and music that popped with early New Wave, hip-hop, Alt Country, jangly indie, and electro.
It’s a club kid paradise, yes, but with some very important art and purpose. The club’s gritty, relentlessly DIY aesthetic was fueled by reaction against the stifling mores of the Reagan era. Some of the art revels in an ironic, plastic-elastic realm as sleek as the Gipper’s coif — this was the height of gender-bending, post-punk sheen, albeit held together with Scotch tape and nail glue — and the ballooning-cartooning of Haring, Scharf, and the Downtown graffiti scene. Other provocative, agit-prop bits remind you of just how affecting that form can be: I dare anyone not to weep as Wojnarowicz famously beseeches, in a hallucinatory film called Listen to This, to dump his body on the White House lawn when he dies of AIDS.
You get so much in between its hard to take it all in — Joey Arias pop-and-locking out of a wheelchair, Charles Busch and Lypsinka aggressively deconstructing gay drama on stage, Magnuson’s hand-collaged club calendar’s, the art of a young SAMO (aka Jean-Michel Basquiat in his first street art phase), gorgeous pieces by photographer and gadabout Tseng Kwong Chi (who deserves a major retrospective of his own). There’s even a full-on dazzling fluorescent “secret” backroom by Scharf called Cosmic Closet! And it turns out a lot of the club founders were kids from San Francisco, who felt they weren’t fitting into the punk scene or the gay scene, so they started something new:
I was overwhelmed by this tribute to the power of nightlife, synthesize so many different streams of expression into one phenomenal hullaballoo. Pure inspiration, and a hot goose to nurture that spirit here at home. What we do is real, folks.
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 14
BOYS NOIZE That good ol’ hardcore electro feeling returns with this favorite of the late aughts, who now seems to be going through a more EBM than EDM phase, which is great. Dark and euphoric is just fine. Fri/14, 10pm-late, $20-$30. Halcyon, SF. More info here.
KATYA: A HOLIDAY SPECTACULAR I adore Russian Drag Duchess Katya Smirnoff-Skyy. “Now in its 11th year, and sure to make your Yuletide Gay. With music director Joe Wicht and special appearences by her Elves, Katya will delight you with a fun-filled evening of belting, banter, and ball gowns to bolster your holiday spirit(s)! With songs ranging from classic holiday fair, to Popera, and disco, there is something for everyone in this heartwarming and brilliantly funny journey through Katya’s holiday misadventures.” Fri/15 and Sat/16, 8pm, $21-$50. Feinstein’s, SF. More info here.
CREATURE This multi-theme, multimedia, multi-genre party at the Stud is one of the best new parties of the year. “All we wanna do for the holidays is M/U/T/A/T/E. ya know, become our creepiest selves, queer our form, develop some evil powers.” With Casual Aztec, Troubled Youth, Brown Amy, Skin, and lots more. Fri/15, 10pm-late, $10. The Stud, SF. More info here.
THE QUEEN IS DEAD An excellent all-Smiths and Smiths-adjacent night? Reel around the fountain, kiddos, it’s time for the feels. With Tu Vu and Mario Muse and special guest Sarah Star Child from Chulita Vinyl Club. Fri/15, 9pm-2am, free with RSVP here. Bar Fluxus, SF. More info here.
MNML:FUN w/ KYN and Normalien “KYN is an electronic duo that explores experimental dance music with a dark, minimal and atmospheric aesthetic. With influences from films like Blade Runner, Alien and Ex Machina to the sounds of Northern Electronics, Stephan Bodzin, Ital Tek and Andy Stott, KYN weaves an odyssey of electronic sound through live performance. Normalien utilizes modular synthesizers to create improvisational hardware-based dance, downtempo and experimental electronic music, all of which are controlled by dozens of different voltage signals flowing through wires in realtime.” That is truly some mnml fun. Fri/15, 10pm-2am, $5. Underground SF. More info here.
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 16
VOLVOX This is pretty huge. Three of our biggest party crews — Lights Down Low, As You Like It, and Honey Soundsystem — are joining forces to bring you not just deep-dark-techno Volvox, one of the best up-and-coming DJs in the world, but also the wonderfully miasmic, slow-burning Dorisburg. And it’s a full-on charity party to benefit the LYRIC queer youth services org in the Castro. Don’t miss! With Lily Ackerman, Sassmouth, and Siska. Sat/16, 10pm-4am, $15. The Stud, SF. More info here.
MARK FARINA AND DOC MARTIN It’s been a while since we had these two rave-era legends playing together, and I can’t wait for a heaping dose of funky techno and jazzy house — plus some new tricks these seasoned but still incredibly popular dogs have learned (including Doc’s penchant for cutting edge deep grooves). Fantastische. Sat/16, 9pm-3:30am, $15-$25. Public Works, SF. More info here.
HANUCON! Good morning to everyone who survive the horrifying ritual known as SantaCon. Now it’s time for a big queer Jew party (all are welcome!). “We’ll have latkes, vodkas and a mishmosh of folks. First 50 people in the door get their very own blue and white hat. An evening of community Hosted by the infamous faux queen Miss Shugana (reigning Grand Duchess of San Francisco) in conjunction with Keshet, the National Jewish LGBT Organization and Congregation Sha’ar Zahav.” Chag Sameach! Sat/16, 6pm-9pm, $10. Oasis SF. More info here.
FRINGE Time to ring those Sleigh Bells. Dance, dance, dance to the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs and more favorites from the indie-dance apex of the aughts at this favorite get-down. Glitter make-up station, tons of giveaways, and a warm and toasty crowd. With Blondie K & subOctave and special guest Mario Muse. Sat/16, 9pm-2am, $5. Madrone, SF. More info here.
GUY GERBER Israeli innovator of hypnotic techno (who else could pull off a collaboration with Puff Daddy?) comes to big room Great Northern for the On&On party. His “Timing” is still one of my favorite records. Sat/16, 9:30pm-3:30am, $15-$22. Great Northern, SF. More info here.
BEATPIG Every month, the gay dance floor at Powerhouse goes HOG WILD, as Walter Gomez and Juanita More pork up the joint, with rib-licking tunes by John Walker. Yes, it is pig-themed. Sat/16, 10pm-2am, $5 benefits the Transgender Law Center. Powerhouse, SF. More info here.
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 17
A BARRY WHITE CHRISTMAS Well, who doesn’t think of a sexy big poppa in the Yuletide? That Disco Daddy scallywag DJ Bus Station John dedicates his wildly popular monthly party to the Velvet Force that is soul legend Barry White. Get into it, and let’s wish together for a Teddy PendergrEaster. Sun/17, 7pm-2am, $5-$7. Eagle, SF. More info here.
EXPERIMENTAL HOUSEWIFE Been meaning to see this rising SF star, appearing at the weekly Werd party. “Experimental Housewife is exactly what you’d think: an experimental DJ and producer. With an impeccable taste in house, deep house, and techno classics, ExHouse often slices through all genres with her hard techno and noise side. Also a drummer and professor, her sets are bizarre treats for the mind, replete with rhythmic force and nostalgic layers.” Sun/17, 9pm, $5-$10. Monarch, SF. More info here.
DAVID HARNESS Soulful house for your spiritual season? Si si. The local legend lights up Halcyon’s formidable sound system and rings all the bells at this Mighty Real reunion party. Sun/17, 10pm-4am, $15. Halcyon, SF. Tickets and more info here.
PARTY RADAR This has been a huge and heavy week for Bay Area nightlife: So much love going out all who didn’t let Ghost Ship anniversary grief stop them from communing on the dance floors, and props to all the parties that took part in the moment of silence for the victims last Saturday. Now we’re on to the criminal case preliminary hearings, and it will be a long while, probably, to see some justice.
And then there’s the monumental Silk to Dry the Tears, an album featuring 31 artists associated with the label 100% Silk, which was originally named in the civil suit, has been released from the list, but now owes huge amounts of legal bills. Proceeds from the sale go to help that out — and you’ll be helped out, too, with some incredible tracks, like one of Octo Octa’s lovely, kicky peregrinations through house history, “Not Sure What To Do (Variation Zoning 4):
But beyond all this, how incredibly comforting it is to know we haven’t let this tragedy extinguish our wild nights together. See you out there!
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 8
CHULITA VINYL CLUB 3-YEAR ANNIVERSARY Insanely talented collective of vinyl lovers — now with franchises all over the country! — comes together to celebrate three years of kicking ass on the decks, and bringing some gorgeous cambia to the dance floors. Fri/8, 9pm-1:30am, free. Legionnaire Saloon, Oakland. More info here.
DEEPCHORD + FLUXION An audiovisual world premiere at Gray Area (the perfect place for such a thing) called “Transformations” from these two lauded dub techno players. Openers bvdub and Chris Zaldua will set the gritty electronic vibes. Fri/8, 9pm-2am, $20-$25. Gray Area, SF. More info here.
UNIIQU3 Neon-colorful and so-so-styish queer hip-hop party Swagger Like Us brings in this Newark rapper for some tight vibes (and an untouchable crowd). Fri/8, 10pm-2am, $10. Elbo Room, SF. More info here.
ION LUDWIG I am loving typing out all these names after a glass of wine — I feel like Friday’s got a total back-in-the-rave-day lineup, at least when it comes to flamboyant monikers. Ion Ludwig’s heady, trippy Dutch techno certainly fits the bill, presented tonight by Housepitality and the Diacritic Collective, which I must write about soon. Fri/8, 10pm-late, $15-$20. F8, SF. More info here.
NEON BLACK: DIE HARD Synth-happy party Neon Black (think the soundtracks to Drive and Stranger Things but with a tad more Italo disco) is hosting a tribute to Christmas action movies, including Die Hard, which is wonderfully weird and totally in-step with Neon Black honchos DJ Danny Delorean and Fact50’s vibes. There are also video games because of course. Fri/8, 9:30pm-3am, $5-$8. Cat Club, SF. More info here.
LAST NITE The 2000s are back, ahem. This long-running party keeps getting more and more popular, which may be a comment on the growing nostalgia of aging millennials — but probably just because the DJs Jamie Jams and Rocky have all the right Strokes. Fri/8, 10pm-2am, $5-$10. Make-out Room, SF. More info here.
VIVVY’S GRAND OPENING Ugh I love this party so much! Every month, Vivvy comes up with something drag-spectacular, be it two drag shows happening simultaneously, a 45-minute journey through a dystopian space colony, a very weird Cats, or a dozen drag queens interpreting the same song. Plus, all-night dancing. Fri/8, 10pm-4am, $10. the Stud, SF. More info here.
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 9
DAVID HARNESS The legendary local soulful house DJ and producer has a new album about to drop (ran into him at the cheese store today and he was ready to let us have it). He’ll be making his debut at the Stud, with Berlin’s Alison Swing from the Dig Deeper party, at the Mixed Forms party, which is one of those magical “every different type of person is here” type deals. Don’t sleep. Sat/9, 10pm-4am, $20. Proceeds go to Trans Assistance Project (TAP) and Community United Against Violence (CUAV). The Stud, SF. More info here.
WONDER-FULL This is such a positive and affirming event, exactly what we need right now. Every year, brilliant NYC DJ Spinna comes in to pay tribute to Stevie Wonder all night long, with favorites, rare cuts, and surprising edits. Ready for some songs in the Key of Life. Sat/9, 9pm-4am, $25. Mezzanine, SF. More info here.
CLARK PRICE I love this Pittsburgh techno-ist so much. (He’s also staying at my house so I better say nice things! Ha.) His Honcho crew has transformed underground gay dancing over on that side of the country, and now he’s coming to play at Pound Puppy, our woofy monthly pawty at he Eagle. Sat/9 10pm-2am, $10. Eagle, SF. More info here.
ORIGINS BALL We’re havin’ ourselves a Vogue Ball, y’all! “In celebration of the House of Energi’s 15 year anniversary, Founder Ultraa Energi and Father Ryan Energi are proud to present the Origins Ball in San Francisco! With Origins, we honor the traditions and memories of those who paved the way for Ballroom. We look inward towards the source of our own creativity to unleash on the runway.” Categories include: FACE – FLAWLESS, FOOT AND EYEWEAR – BODAK YELLOW, BIZARRE – STRANGER THINGS, and BLUE COLLAR DOLLARS. Sat/9, 9pm-6am, $20. Danzhaus, SF. More info here.
LONG LIVE THE NEW FLESH A killer night of live electronics from local favorites Stress Therapy, Identity Theft, and Bellona, with intermission tunes from DJ Zlaya and Bit. Hosted by Body Rapture. Sat/9, 9pm-1am, $8. Eli’s Mile High Club, Oakland. More info here.
NINE “Nine is a musical moniker of Nihar Bhatt, member of the post-techno Surface Tension DJ collective and co-head, (with Chris Zaldua), of the Left Hand Path record label. While deeply rooted in the architecture of ’90s acid and rave, Nine’s live hardware sets are constantly searching the landscape of the modern dystopia for ideas to bring to life.” I adore Nihar! This great-looking In Too Deep party also features Kyn, Greg Kappes (visuals), and Jesse Austin. Sat/9, 9:30pm-11:30pm, $7-$15 sliding scale. Studio Grand, Oakland. More info here.
STUDIO 5’4 There is a party for short gay men and their admirers, and it is wonderful. This month’s theme? “All that’s little is gold!” Sat/9. 9pm-2am, $5. Lone Star, SF. More info here.
Forty-niner Clarence (Ryan McKinny) swings his pick, as he sings among towering, stylized redwood trees when the curtain rises on the premiere of new opera Girls of the Golden West (through Sun/10 at SF Opera) by John Adams and Peter Sellars. His words, adapted from Mark Twain’s “Roughing It,” pretty much sum up the idealized view of the Gold Rush that California students are still taught in school.
The bass-baritone’s boastful description, “It was the only population of its kind,” is followed by a scenic — if rather bumpy — journey by Dame Shirley (Julia Bullock) to the mining town of Rich Bar in a wagon is driven by Ned Peters (Davóne Tines), a fugitive slave turned cowboy.
But by Act II, the glories of the Gold Rush and even the wonders of nature have fallen prey to greed, racist violence, and misogyny.
The stage is dominated by the huge stump of a downed tree, no longer majestic. Its gigantic trunk is now a stage for a bawdy Fourth of July celebration, featuring barroom girls dressed in skimpy red-white-and-blue tutus and the infamous Spider Dance of Lola Montez (Lorena Feijoo). A raucous crowd of drunken men threatens Chinese miners, shouting “Yellow-skins, get out! Get out!” They whip, beat and slash the ears off Latin Americans, with cries of, “Death for all Chileans, Mexicans and Peruvians.”
Clarence’s words now reveal the miners’ bigotry: “We’ve got more gold than all the world…and prisons too, we’ve got the best. And smarter men to make us grow, than England, France or Mexico.” Though he sings “To one and all, both young and old, you’re welcome here, the land of gold,” the mob’s brutal actions belie his words.
Ah Sing (Hye Jung Lee) doesn’t feel welcome. She, like thousands of other girls, fled China to escape war, disease, and famine. In a liquid soprano voice, she tells of being bought for $7 at the age of 10 and sold into prostitution. With bitter pride, she relates that 10 years later she is now worth $700. A bill of sale from found in San Francisco library archives attests to the truth of her tragic history, it lists “Rice – 6 mats, $12., Salt fish, 60 lbs. at 10 cents — $6.00, Girl — $250.” Ah Sing’s aria, “A traveler on this shore, since coming to this frontier land, I bear all kinds of abuse…” is derived from the poetry carved into the walls of the immigration station at Angel Island.
Chinese and Latin American miners were not welcome – they were subjected to the Foreign Miners’ Tax of 1850, forcing them to abandon claims or go broke. Vigilante violence claimed many lives. An estimated 10,000 Mexican miners were driven from the gold fields.
In Downieville, Mexicans could not stake claims, so Ramon (Elliot Madore) and his wife Josefa (J’Nai Bridges) work in a gambling den. Josefa warns of the disaster she foresees in the tiny mining town, her velvety mezzo-soprano pulses with an undertone of fear. The Fourth of July celebration turns into a drunken brawl, and miner Joe Cannon (Paul Appleby) breaks down their door and tries to rape Josefa. In defense, she stabs and kills him. When the miners find Cannon’s body, they stampede to her adobe cottage. There she sits with a calm dignity, dressing and putting on her jewelry, to face the crowd.
It was fitting that Sellars included in the bedraggled mob a few rich fellows in fancy black suits and top hats. At the actual Downieville Fourth of July celebrations that year, there were many of those swells — including Colonel John B. Weller, a future governor; William Walker, who declared himself president of Nicaragua few years later, and, no doubt, several bankers ready to take the miners’ gold. None of them rose to Josefa’s defense.
A kangaroo court “tries” Josefa, and in the most heartwrenching moment of the opera, she takes the noose, singing in Spanish and English, and concludes with “Dios te lo perdone” (God forgive you).
Josefa was hung in a makeshift gallows over the Yuba River, the first woman to be lynched in California.
The original libretto by Peter Sellars was crafted from historical sources, the primary one being “The Shirley Letters,” by Louise Amelia Knapp Smith Clappe, aka Dame Shirley. In addition to “Roughing It” and the Angel Island poetry, he also relied on miners’ ditties compiled in the “California Songster of 1854” and “Songs of the American West.” Frederick Douglass’s 1852 oration, “What to a Slave is the Fourth of July?” is the basis of fugitive slave Ned’s stirring Act II aria.
I was fortunate enough to hear Sellars talk about his work prior to the performance. He explained that he used the letters of Dame Shirley because he found that not only did she write with grace, style and wit, but also because “she humanized all around her.”
When asked what relation his opera had to Puccini’s famous 1910 romanticized “Girl of the Golden West,” Sellars replied “Zero! Zip!” But if that is the case, I wonder why he and Adams did not call their opera “Women of the Golden West.” Surely, given the insight and literary talent of Dame Shirley, the resilience of Ah Sing, the compassion and dignity of Josefa and the sensuous agility of Lola Montez, that would have been a much more accurate title.
John Adams’ orchestration incorporates sounds of the California Gold Rush: cowbells, accordion, and guitar. In the program notes, the composer explains that because the Gold Rush lyrics are “as simple as can be…. It needs to have music that respects its own simplicity. My first impulse was that the sound and the orchestration should be as simple and as homely as the tools the miners use…”
Adams said he was inspired by the “ups and downs and flat areas and jagged shapes” of the topography of northern California to recreate those shapes “in musical time.” His dissonant and sometimes jarring signature sounds mean that audience members will not be humming memorable tunes when they exit the theater. Even familiar old chestnuts like “Camptown Races” and “Pop Goes the Weasel” are rendered unhummable in Adams’ unique score.
Sellars readily concedes that he took some poetic license with the historical facts. The real Josefa Segovia (also known as Juanita) was hanged over the Yuba River in Downieville in 1851, and there was one person — Stephen Field, then alcalde of Marysville and later a justice of the California Supreme Court — who tried to speak in her defense. He was violently silenced by the mob. Dame Shirley may have heard about her murder, but she didn’t witness or write about it.
And the Ned of Dame Shirley’s letters did not drive her in his wagon to Rich Bar, but was hired there as her cook. He played the violin so beautifully, they called him Paganini Ned. He would not have known Douglass’s speech, as it was not written until 1852, but he definitely would have feared for his life since slavery was still practiced in California. The poetry that is the basis of Ah Sing’s aria comes from the walls of the immigration station at Angel Island, which was not opened until half a century later, in 1910.
But though the facts may have been manipulated, the essence of the stories are very real: a Mexican woman was lynched by a mob of white miners, Chinese women were trafficked by the thousands, Latino and Asian workers were brutally beaten in the minefields, and the freedom of fugitive slaves in California was not guaranteed by law.
In Girls of the Golden West, Adams and Sellars debunk the dominant narrative of the history of the Golden State. In the unlikely setting of the San Francisco Opera House, we hear the powerful voices of the women and people of color who both endured and defied bigotry and injustice. And for that, we shout, “Bravi!”
“Going through the year and realizing this would be the first time she wasn’t here for this or that annual event or something she loved could bring everything rushing back,” Andy, who moved here with Amanda from Boston several years ago to become deeply embedded in the local nightlife scene, told me over the phone.
“These reminders would sneak up on me, because there are so many things she was a part of. Thanksgiving was the last ‘first’ though, and now it’s just the anniversary of the fire left. I’m feeling hopeful that after this year, things will become, not necessarily easier, but evolve from shock into a different, meaningful direction.”
On Saturday, December 2, relatives and friends of the 36 partygoers who died in Oakland’s Ghost Ship warehouse fire a year ago will gather outside the still-cordoned-off husk of the building for a special memorial. “All of Amanda’s and my family are flying in,” Andy said. “We’re aiming to be at the Ghost Ship site at 11 o’clock that night. I’ll be happy to have our families there, because it will be pretty powerful and I’m not sure how I’ll react.”
For those not at the site, a moment of silence between 11pm and midnight on December 2, organized by DJ Danny Delorean, will take place at many local nightclubs and music venues to commemorate the victims. (There will also be a three-day dedicated remembrance, Fri/1-Sun/3 at at Oakland’s Chapel of the Chimes.) “That’s pretty huge,” Andy said of the moment of silence, “because in San Francisco, the music never stops. I hope it will be at 11:24pm, because that’s when it happened…” his voice trailed off, as he referenced the time the the fire swept through the crowded artists’ living space that hosted the party.
The details themselves still feel stunning. “They gave me the pair of glasses Amanda was wearing,” Andy told me, referring to her trademark colorful frames. “They look like what you would expect them to look like after something like that. I helped her pick them out. I said at the time that they would be something people would come to recognize her for. I haven’t shown them to anybody yet.”
One way he’s found some measure of solace has been to immerse himself in the details of the investigation of the fire. “I’ve become a kind of expert on the case,” he told me. “And have used what means I have to help spread information about what’s going on, as well as fight any misinformation. I’ve saved every number of every reporter who’s contacted me, and made sure people have heard me when bad things have happened, like the disgusting ‘Chicago Fire’ episode on NBC” that aired three months after the tragedy.
Andy has also helped disseminate details of the Ghost Ship fire civil case, and is part of the master complaint filed in May. He’s been vocal about wanting to keep individual performers and the music label 100% Silk — whose artists were featured at the Ghost Ship party and which was recently dismissed from the suit — from being named in the civil case, instead focusing his anger and action on the City of Oakland and its fire and building departments.
“As for the Ghost Ship operators themselves, I think the criminal charges are correct, but it is complicated — however, if they ended up going to jail I wouldn’t care. I saw the recent jailhouse interview with [Ghost Ship master tenant] Derick Almena on Fox, and he’s clearly a sociopath with mental issues, but I feel more that the Ng family was responsible and could have stopped it. With Max [Harris, the Ghost Ship party planner an rent collector], I feel he is also partially at fault because he was running a tattoo parlor out of there, and you need to be very conscious of health and safety when you do that. So that right there tells me he had blatant disregard.
“Anyone who at any point had the opportunity to stop this ship from sailing shares in the responsibility,” Andy said.
And as the civil case has been moving along, there has been some frustration with the speed of the criminal case. “There’s a lot of rumors flying around about what’s taking the criminal case so long, especially since it involves the city of Oakland” Kershaw told me. “A lot of us figure it’s taking a while to gather enough evidence from some of the investigations. Now the big hearing, at which the judge is supposed to say whether there’s enough evidence to proceed, has been delayed again from November 13 to December 4. This could be good thing, because many of the family members will be in town for the memorial, and will be at the hearing now, too.”
The criminal and civil cases are “very complex and triggering to think about, and hard to talk about,” Andy said. “But for me, there’s Ghost Ship the party and Ghost Ship the artist’s housing, and it’s important to think of them as two very different things.”
He told me he’s very aware of the issues of gentrification that led to spaces like Ghost Ship being necessary, and how the fire set off a wave of crackdowns on artist’s spaces throughout the country. “I’ve visited the site four times this year, and there’s a homeless encampment just across the street. Someone was living in their car right in front of the building. It just shows we have a very, very long way to go.”
But, he said, Ghost Ship was an outlier in how underground party spaces usually operate. “If you call yourself a raver, as I do, then you’ve definitely been in a warehouse space. They are big, empty spaces — and this was not that. I had never heard of Ghost Ship before this, and I know Amanda didn’t either. I read comments like, ‘They knew what they were getting into,’ but really they didn’t. We do have a self-policing responsibility. And most of us do a great job of that. But even in licensed venues, when parties got shut down there was always a fire marshal there, and I was like, ‘Why?’ Now I get it.
“Part of being in the underground is going out of your way to discover new spaces, transforming them with music and art, he said. “That’s why I think what the Vital Arts project is doing to keep that alive, working to purchase spaces and maintain them as affordable for artists, is so innovative and necessary.”
Andy’s been going to therapy since the fire — “I’m fortunate to have access to that service,” he says, citing his frustration that others affected aren’t so lucky — and still gets overwhelmed sometimes by the enormity of what happened.
I haven’t been able to watch the Warriors since the fire. Amanda and I were really into them,” he told me. “But then I found myself standing at the Oakland Museum in front of Steph Curry’s shoes with all the Ghost Ship names on them, and it was too surreal. I wanted to tell Amanda so bad that she was on Steph Curry’s shoes.”
Another act that floored him was an official letter from State Senator Nancy Skinner documenting that the Senate — which read all 36 names of the dead into the public record — had adjourned on January 5 in memorium of Amanda’s passing.
“I’ve been so impressed with the community, Andy told me. “I’ve always said ‘the Rave Cross is better than the Red Cross.’ This thing of ours, this nightlife thing, has been so resilient, and so many things have come out of this. This wasn’t like a ‘normal’ tragedy, where you experience it on your own and have friends to turn to. Literally everyone in my life experienced this tragedy and was struggling with it. But we’ve been there for each other.
“And when I saw all the names and profiles of people who had been lost being broadcast on a national stage, seeing how people were talking about and wanting to emulate their best qualities, how this was resonating with people on a deep level who had never even known anyone there … Well, it was real evidence of the strength of our community. And I know we will continue on.”
ALL EARS After two decades of well-worn Gold Rush metaphors about Silicon Valley, we’re long overdue for a fresh take on a time period calcified in most peoples’ minds as some boisterous, Disney-esque romp, rife with (mostly white) 49er bromances, shady stereotypes, and lusty Madames with hearts of, well, gold.
While current HBO series Westworld adds dark, sci-fi undercurrents to the Wild West trope and recent HBO series Deadwood gave the frontier people of the 1800s some realistic curse-words and filthy predicaments, the California Gold Rush remains more of a sanitized theme park ride than the hugely consequential, environmentally degrading, murderous and politically momentous clash of cultures and value systems it was.
It was partly this frustration with the hokeyness of previous representations that drove director and librettist Peter Sellars to team up with minimalist composer John Adams and create Girls of the Golden West, a new work premiering at the San Francisco Opera (Tue/21-December 10 at the War Memorial Opera House, more info here.)
A couple years ago, Sellars was contacted by La Scala in Milan to direct a production of Puccini’s belovedly creaky 1910 La Fanciulladel West, aka The Girl of the Golden West, which did much to cement the stereotypes of the time in the international popular imagination.
As Sellars told the Washington Post, “Now anybody who knows me would not call and ask me to do that, but I did the research … and that libretto is pure popcorn. So I said to John, ‘Let’s have the great American opera about California.’”
For his part, Adams — whose 1987 Nixon in China was an absolute triumph whenstaged at SF Opera in 2012 — was drawn to the idea by his actual proximity to the subject matter. “I have a cabin in the Sierra Nevada Mountains not far from where these events in the opera took place. I know the terrain. I have hiked through those valleys and along those hillsides. This is home to me,” he says in the opera’s production notes.
And while Girls of the Golden West may not completely change our idea of the period, it certainly adds necessary complexity, foregrounding stories of women and people of color inspired by actual historical record. The main thread is that of Dame Shirley, an educated woman who chronicles the rugged and tragic goings-on of a mining camp in 1851-52.
(Sellars’ libretto draws from The Shirley Letters, a collection of 23 letters by Louise Clappe penned under the name Dame Shirley — as well as the diary of Chilean miner Ramón Gil Navarro, Mark Twain’s Roughing It, memoirs of fugitive slaves, Chinese immigrants’ poems, and the Argentine poet Alfonsina Storni, among other texts.)
But there are several other characters, whose often-overlooked stories take center stage to Adams’ naturalistic, driving music, among designer David Gropman’s innovatively rustic sets. “The true stories of the forty-niners are overwhelming in their heroism, passion and cruelty,” Sellars says. “Telling tales of racial conflicts, colorful and humorous exploits, political strife and struggles to build anew a life and to decide what it would mean to be American.”
I spoke with two of the people who embody those tales in the production, J’Nai Bridges and Davóne Tines, about their unique characters, what it took to prepare to play them (Zumba! Who knew?), and the lessons this new opera about the Gold Rush can teach us today.
“This is a very special piece, one I’m connecting to deeply,” she told me over the phone. “I’m feeling a lot of pressure in terms of creating a brand new role — but I’m also not feeling pressure: I was specifically requested to be here for this role, and I’m excited and relieved because no one else’s voice is in my mind from previous performances.
“Josefa is involved in one of the love stories of the opera,” Bridges continued. “It’s not clear at first that I am in a relationship, but I am. For the first act I’m mostly silent. Josefa is onstage, observing and sitting back. She spends a lot of time listening to all the people in this opera, what’s going on in this mostly chaotic process of everyone looking for gold. She’s very observant and almost foresees what’s going to happen, the future and the outcome of the characters.
“But when she does have something to say, you don’t forget it! She reminds me of my grandmother in that way. She would sit back and observe, but when she said something I’d hear it in my head a few weeks later and say, wow!”
What was Bridges’ impression playing such a real-life person, freighted with such tragic significance?
“Her fate, in the opera as in life, is to be hanged, and I think she perceives that,” Bridges told me matter-of-factly. “It’s an interesting moment because she goes to her death with pride and resilience, and the feeling that she will be in a better place. Her predicament that she’s in is as a Mexican woman at the bottom of the totem pole of that society — telling her story is a very powerful statement that applies today.
“Josefa urges the people of that time to take a look in the mirror and rid themselves of darkness, to see themselves not just as humans with flesh in the world but also a human soul, Bridges said. “With all the violence in the world, then and now, that’s what we need to do.”
Girls of the Golden West tells so many stories of the Gold Rush that we’re unfamiliar with, especially those of women and people of color — was that something that attracted her to the part?
“I was attracted to the intersectional aspects of the story, the way so many different kinds of people came together in different ways, and also to the basic history and of course the music. We didn’t learn very much about the Gold Rush in school, we weren’t taught about the dark side of American history, but we’re where we are today because of the it. I’ve learned so much about this history. And being on this journey with colleagues I admire so much — not only singers, but real intellectuals — has been a spiritual experience.
“The music, too, is the story. John’s music is a compilation of so many styles: folk music, naturalistic music, the music of many times. I feel like I’m getting back to some of my roots while singing my piece. I’m an opera singer but I feel I can access different styles while still be categorized as a classical singer. I listen to my colleagues and I hear an individual experience that is so special through this music.”
One of those colleagues is Davóne Tines, a bass-baritone originally from Virginia, now based in Baltimore. He’s worked with Sellars before, most recently on a production of Stravinsky’s Oedious Rex in Europe that was fully staged in a headlong three days. Tines plays Ned, “an African-American cowboy and fugitive slave who is drawn to the promise of the frontier.”
“Ned is a really interesting guy,” Tines told me over the phone. “Like many of Peter’s characters, he’s a concoction from different sources. One part is Paganini Ned, known as a kind of hustler in the general Wild West folklore. Then there’s a very real man named James Williams who was a fugitive slave: There’s an incredible book called The Fugitive Slave in the Gold Rush which is a first hand account of his life, and a lot of Ned’s words come directly from James Williams’ story. But it’s also combined with Frederick Douglass — Ned’s final aria is taken from Douglass’s “What to the slave is the Fourth of July” speech. So he’s quite a mix of things.
“Ned’s first song is a kind of Wild West nursery rhyme tune. It’s very playful, talking about stagecoach driving and fighting Indians. But then later on he becomes a more serious character who’s dealt with a lot of movement and adversity as James Williams’ words become more the focus of the character. And then he transforms into a great orator of the rank of Frederick Douglass, he’s got a breadth existence.”
How did Tines, who has been drawn to contemporary music, handle the music for this multiplicity of character?
“There are a lot of Gold Rush miners in the show, and they sing these amazing songs with text taken from very simple mining songs like ‘Doo-dah all the livelong day’ and the like,” Tines said with a laugh. “But John said he purposely got rid of the music; he took the rhythm and the words and breathed his own Adams life into them. There’s snippets of these tumbling, rhyming texts with colorful textures.
“For Ned, that means the playful words turn into the narration of driving a stage coach. There’s a part where the stagecoach goes off the rails, the horses go crazy, everything goes haywire, and Ned has to reel the whole thing in again in a clear and musical way. The first time I looked at the music I thought it was impossible. But as with a lot of John’s music, on the page it can seem crazy or a little different, because he’s really trying to capture a certain naturalism — which oddly, all by itself can look inorganic. But if you invest in it, it can feel really comfortable.
“The Frederick Douglass aria is a whole different side of John, akin to his famous “Batter My Heart,” where he takes very strong texts and allows it to speak naturally, but wraps it in interludes that are driven and powerful.”
With haywire stagecoaches, tumbling texts, and declamatory oration, Ned seems like a very physical role. What has Tines been doing to prepare?
“Working with Peter in general is a physical process,” Tines told me. “A lot of times he works in a very choreographic manner, and this time we’re trying to capture a natural style, with the help of incredible choreographer John Heginbotham. Also, a lot of people from the cast and production team, we go to Zumba together. Doug DaSilva at Fitness SF is our teacher, he does something special and intense.
“It’s necessary for me to do cardio every day in order to take on this role. One rule of thumb for me during rehearsals is that I get my heart rate to the place it’s going to be during the show. For this show, I need to do a whole workout in the gym so I can have a frame of reference for where the physicality can happen in performance.”
When most people think of the Gold Rush, there are usually a lot of hokey stereotypes involved — how is the production complicating what we think of that time period?
“This period is familiar in the worst way,” Tines told me. “The gold miners are akin to the seven dwarves, it’s a cartoonish way to think about the wild west. But Peter and John’s project — like Puccini’s Girl of the Golden West in his time — is to capture a certan kind of Americana. This time, as with the pluralization of ‘Girls,’ there’s a multiplicity of perspectives.
“This piece brings full color and 360 degrees to what it really might have been to live in this time, Tines said. “Part of the reality is diversity of experience, although everybody together is dealing with this strange environment, with trees that are bigger than anything they’ve ever seen and golden rocks in the ground. They’re dealing with each other, with so many people coming from all over the place, from different societal structures to the ‘Wild West’ with no rules, and hoping for the same thing.
“Everybody sorting themselves out is complicated, but they’re all on a trajectory that has so many depths and consequences that we still feel today.”
GIRLS OF THE GOLDEN WEST A new opera at the San Francisco Opera November 21-December 10
Tickets start at $26. War Memorial Opera House Tickets and more info here.