Music and nightlife

Diving into Sespool’s genre-agnostic indie rap


Before Rin Tin Tiger, Westwood & Willow, Pericardium, or the weird-ass Christmas album, he was Sespool—the “SES” coming from his initials, Sean E. Sullivan. The music he released under the name in the mid-‘00s is gone now, along with 50 million other songs wiped from the earth during MySpace’s disastrous server migration last year. But Sullivan’s revived the moniker as of late, and he describes his new music as the sum of all his musical obsessions in the interim: folk, heavy metal, progressive rock, alternative rock, and especially hip hop.

Sullivan’s been a hip-hop head since childhood: sneaking a listen to Coolio behind his parents’ backs, falling in love with the mid-‘00s hyphy wave, obsessing over Young Thug and Travis Scott as mainstream rap mutated into weirder, more futuristic forms over the last decade.

His new single “Newsflash” represents this genre-agnostic moment in rap. The beat is recognizably hip-hop, but the guitars could come from a mid-1990s alt-rock radio ballad, and its ever-mutating hook of a vocal track could fit on a ‘60s British Invasion single if you swapped out the 808s for guitars and live drums. There’s even a synth preset that sounds a little like the one on Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill.” The whole thing’s over in two minutes.

“The amount of exposure to music we have now is almost too much,” he says. “It’s like ‘I really want to listen to that Led Zeppelin album from 1973, let me just pull it up,’ and on the exact same app, you can go and find some local band’s mixtape they put out two weeks ago. I think it’s made people more open-minded towards music and also made the music itself much more fluid.”

For most of Sullivan’s career as a musician, solo music was a secondary concern. His brother Kevin is a singer-songwriter who records as Field Medic and recently received a coveted deal with Run for Cover Records. They performed together first as Westwood & Willow, then as Rin Tin Tiger when drummer Andrew Skewes-Cox began to sit in at shows. They even made a Christmas album together featuring “Bay Bells,” a hyphy novelty that nonetheless helped Sean realize he could rap.

Kevin moved to LA in 2017, leaving Rin Tin Tiger unspokenly defunct. “Andrew and I had no interest in leaving the Bay,” Sean says. “And when the songwriter wants to go, he gets to go.”

The brothers remain on good terms and talk almost every day, and they floated the idea of reuniting in October to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the “Haunted Hoedown” Halloween parties the brothers regularly threw at Bottom of the Hill. But the breakup of Rin Tin Tiger marked the beginning of a fallow period in Sean’s life and musical career. 

He put music aside, writing reviews of junk food products for a site called The Impulsive Buy. Then he went through a breakup with his girlfriend of five years, recounted harrowingly on his first Sespool full-length, last year’s (This Love Is) Eternal. 

“Literally the week that it happened, I was like, ‘I can’t be writing about food anymore,’” Sullivan says. “‘I have to make music, I have to write about this.’”

(This Love Is) Eternal is lo-fi and crudely mixed, and Sullivan’s singing and rapping aren’t as smoothly integrated as they are on “Newsflash.” It’s the product of a necessary bloodletting rather than an auteur’s desire to make an earth-shattering masterpiece, but Sullivan has no regrets about how it turned out. 

“Looking back on it now, I think I’ve definitely grown as an artist. I think I’ve grown as a producer, I’ve gotten better at what I’ve done, but that story was so important for me to tell that it needed to happen.”

Sullivan has an EP in the wings, which he’s calling Before the Fog Covers Me. He describes it as having a stronger prog-metal influence than his past work, which seems strange but isn’t even the first time he’s fused prog and rap; his teenage band Pericardium cited Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree as influences but occasionally worked with a rapper named David Flores.

He originally intended to release it this summer and play a few shows to promote it, possibly with a drummer. But he’s tentative about declaring an official release date due to the ongoing pandemic. 

“I’m kind of trying to think of ways to elevate the release a little bit to make it something to to show how proud of it I am,” he says. “I feel like this new product I’m working on is like my true sound. It takes together my 15 years of making music and puts it all out there. So I’m pumped.”

This could be the best (and queerest) Outside Lands yet. If it happens.

Yves Tumor. Photo by ordan Hemingway

After this week’s announcement that its August hopes were dashed, Outside Lands is coming back in 2021. Maybe. Seeing as pretty much the only thing we could’ve predicted in the last six months of American history is that Grimes and Elon Musk would name their baby some weird-ass shit, I’m not sure how safe it is to assume everyone is going to want to (or be legally allowed to, or be able to afford to) stand in a crowded field doing drugs with a bunch of strangers. But hey, maybe the world will be anarchic enough by then that we’ll be able to bring in our own beer. 

If not, it’s a good thing poppers come in small containers. This is easily the gayest Outside Lands lineup yet, with Caroline Polachek, Yves Tumor, Rico Nasty, Angel Olsen, Big Thief, and Moses Sumney coming straight from the daily Spotify mixes of Dorothy’s Zoomer friends. (Charli XCX bailed, presumably to play more festivals in Minecraft.) The are-they-or-aren’t-they crowd even gets a nod in the form of Tyler, the Creator, and… I guess Young Thug wore a dress once. Cardboard sign suggestion: “Why the fuck did you make an album with Chris Brown?”

Outside Lands spent much of its early existence coasting on San Francisco’s classic-rock reputation. But this is the first major lineup I’ve been aware of that emphasizes rock’s current cutting edge, if such a thing exists. You might be familiar with globe-trotting Texas trio Khruangbin, and we’ll finally get to hear how Tame Impala’s Slow Rush songs sound through festival-sized speakers. But don’t miss Brittany Howard, whose Jaime arguably outshines her work as belter-in-chief for Alabama Shakes. Or the towering Yves Tumor, whose Heaven for a Tortured Mind is one of the best glam-rock albums since the ‘70s. Or Big Thief, though don’t count on them to play an encore.

The festival’s mostly fixed its rap problem, and there’s a healthy proportion of people of color on the bill, though only two of the headliners are women. One interesting thing: there are almost no DJs. The mercurial Zhu is the only headliner who could be remotely considered EDM, unless J Balvin counts. The pop picks (Lizzo, Kehlani, The 1975) are more interesting than the Uber-pop nothingburgers like Hozier and Twenty One Pilots that marred 2019’s lineup. And maybe you remember Tones & I, whose “Dance Monkey” was one of the last things that happened before COVID. Hopefully, her Outside Lands set will be one of the first things to happen after, but if not, this is still a lineup worth standing in one of 200,000 individual sterilized boxes for. 

SF bars push to reopen in July, alongside restaurants

Elliott C. Nathan's mural adorns boarded up bar Beaux in the Castro

The Newsom administration continues to announce and refine guidelines for business re-openings in California. Much of it depends on on counties hitting certain thresholds for COVID infections and hospitalizations—we’re not quite there in San Francisco, despite some major progress. (The Bay Area is   currently seeing a surge of new cases, although San Francisco’s numbers appear to be steady.)

But Governor Newsom has detailed what restaurant openings will look like—social distancing, servers with masks, outdoor service areas—and Mayor London Breed made the surprise announcement this week that outdoor restaurants could open this weekend, if permitted properly. But San Francisco bars are still on the outs. Newsom’s order, supported by the San Francisco Department of Public Health, specifies that “Brewpubs, breweries, bars, pubs, craft distilleries, wineries, and tasting rooms that do not provide permitted sit-down meal service must remain closed to the public except for takeaway retail sales allowed by the order.”

While there are ways around this, like the Shared Spaces program, which allows bars to partner with food trucks and kitchens, the general word is that bars won’t be able to able to reopen on their own until August, while dine-in restaurants could return as early as July 13. So unless your bar has room and approval to park a Señor Sisig truck outside, you’re stuck paying rent with no income until your well runs dry. And although the public at large seems leery about returning to bars (and most businesses), owners are hoping to at least be given a chance to try to pay their bills, even by serving a few customers at a time.

“This is an absolute emergency for bars,” bar owner and organizer Ben Bleiman of the SF Bar Owners Alliance and the Entertainment Commission told me. “We can’t wait until August. Landlords are starting to lawyer up. Unemployment is running out for employees. We could lose most of the city’s bars if something isn’t done right now to help. There’s only so many GoFundMes you can run. For a lot of bar owners, it’s death.”

Bleiman has teamed up with Oasis owner and longtime drag queen Heklina to launch a petition on asking Mayor Breed and the Supervisors to allow bars to open with dine-in restaurants, which SFDPH estimates will happen in July. In an accompanying letter, Bleiman points out that there are about 350 bars in San Francisco that don’t serve food (as compared to more than 4000 restaurants), and that are still going without any earnings or rent reprieves. (Disclosure: I’m part of the Stud Collective, which co-owns the Stud bar.)

Justin Hall’s new mural on Bar 440 in the Castro

Bleiman also details actions that would ensure bars adhere to the same safety standards as restaurants, including limiting groups and occupancy to City mandated levels to keep crowds from getting too big, serving patrons at tables, lowering music volume so that people don’t have to shout, and hiring more staff to ensure proper sanitization and adherence to guidelines. He’s drawn up a detailed proposal modeled on the Golden Gate Restaurant Association’s own safety plan.

“No one keeps an eye on patrons like bar staff,” Bleiman said. “We’re professionally trained to watch patrons like hawks and knowledgeable about when they’ve had enough. Heklina brought up bachelorette parties—dealing with those can be like entering a war zone. Yet we handle them every weekend and make sure everyone is safe.

“And unlike restaurants, we don’t have tons of employees packed into kitchens or small spaces working on top of each other. Many bars are larger than smaller restaurants. On top of all this, we’re seeing people begin to congregate outside on sidewalks now that the weather’s warm. We think it’s much safer to bring them into a sanitized, supervised environment to be served responsibly.”

Why does he think that bars are being held behind restaurants, when most restaurants serve alcohol? “I feel like we’re being stereotyped. They think of us as Saturday night partiers who do 30 shots and cough in each others’ mouths. I just feel like the people making decisions have no real idea what happens at bars. They’re out of touch.”

The petition has been signed by 6,300 people—among them State Senator Scott Wiener, Supervisor Matt Haney, and Breed herself, Bleiman says. So with that support, what are the next steps?

“We’re asking to be part of the conversation, and for officials to do whatever it takes to let us open. We need the supervisors to approve a variance that would allow the city to let certain businesses open ahead of schedule,” Bleiman says.

Some reactions to the petition in the nightlife community have been negative, claiming that opening ahead of schedule puts peoples’ health at risk and that many favorite bars are too small to properly social distance. Perhaps the main problem is one of classification—would square-footage and capacity be better measurements of ability to comply with guidelines, rather than whether someone serves pizzas or not?

Should bars and restaurants be opened at all in the next few months? (Or should the city pay them to stay closed? One friend joked that defunding the police and using that money to save gay bars would be the perfect Pride gift, in light of its roots in Stonewall.)

It’s all open questions, but in the meantime bar owners are feeling left out in the cold, without much support from the city or state to survive.

We’re Still Here: Queer orgs and icons put on online pre-Pride shebang

Juanita More

Thanks to COVID, Pride has been scooped up online this year, boooo. But while that may mean you’ll be proudly dancing alone in your rainbow tutu inside a wee Zoom box rather than with 500,000 other IRL LGBTTTQQIAA+ revelers, it also opens up a big pink world of opportunity in terms of inventive online events to connect you with a unicorn world of gay unity.

Another entity heavily affected by the events shutdown that has refocused on virtual happenings, Eventbrite, has put together an 24-hour online Pre-Pride queer festival—called We’re Still Here, Fri/12, 12pm-12am—that utilizes the awesome power of the Internet to bring homebound and far-flung queer people together, for dancing, music, movies, conversation, and even a mental wellness moment.

The festival is really collection of events, co-curated by community ambassadors Good Neighbor Festivals, Juanita MORE!, NYC Pride, SF Pride, SF Bay Area Queer Nightlife Fund, The Father’s Project and The Stud SF. (Nip-slip disclosure: I’m a co-owner of the Stud and good friends with almost everyone included here.) It consists of a packed roster of doings, from D’Arcy Drollinger’s Drag Dance-Along and a Quaran-Tea DJ set by Chuck Gunn to a queer trivia contest with Christoper Street Tours and a dance floor takeover by Australia’s Poof Doof club. The whole thing kicks off with a welcome from drag goddess Juanita More and closes with some fun from one of my favorite parties, Hard French.

I talked to Eventbrite’s Vivian Chaves, community manager and founding member of the company’s Pridelings group, about the whole sparkly shebang. I also acknowledge that it it impossible for me to say “We’re Still Here” without adding “Damn It!” at the end.

48 HILLS The festival was supposed to happen last Friday, but was postponed in light of what’s been happening with the George Floyd protests. Can you tell me more about that, and how Pride’s history and celebration tie into what’s going on? 

VIVAN CHAVES The parallels between the struggles of the Black and LGBTQIA+ communities are more clear than ever right now. The Stonewall Riots in 1969 were a catalyst to the gay rights movement and we can only hope the protests happening across the nation now will finally put our world on the direct path to equity for the Black community.

When you think about both moments in time, they’re about condemning violence, discrimination and racism, and about promoting equality. It was important for us to find a way to give space to honor the Black communities fighting for their lives and freedom, while also embracing and celebrating Pride, and postponing the We’re Still Here festival felt like the right decision to enable that.

While the world is feeling a lot of pain right now, we know everyone processes, celebrates, and grieves differently. We want the We’re Still Here Pride festival to serve as a time for people to come together to learn and listen, but also laugh, and even dance.

48H Obviously, with Pride parades and celebrations cancelled around the world and local events postponed everywhere, something had to be done to keep the Pride spirit alive. How did the idea of the Pride Festival specifically come about?

VC It was one of those energizing light-bulb conversations. Like so many people, we’re hungry to put positivity into the world right now, and we were putting our heads together on how to do that and show up for our event creators. Someone brought up Pride, and while it’s devastating to lose the in-person gatherings, it opened up a whole world of connecting with a broad group virtually, across the globe. I bounced the idea off of a few trusted queer event folx, and they were excited by the idea so we dreamed up the 12-hour We’re Still Here festival. The name is meant to give nod to the fact that even though Pride isn’t happening in-person, the queer community is still here to support each other.

48H What are some of the highlights you’re looking forward to?

VC It’s been awe-inspiring to see how the queer community has moved to online events all over the world. Between great queer events that were already on our platform and some recommendations from our team and ambassadors, we started to gather people who could mobilize quickly and bring their events to the lineup. It’s been thrilling to watch these entrepreneurs bring a diverse set of experiences to life for festival-goers.

I can’t wait to hear from our queer thought leaders like Juanita MORE! and SF Pride in conversation. We’re working hard to create space for the realities of the fight for civil rights and are so lucky to have Laqwanda Roberts-Buckley from Healing Black Women take us through a mental health moment. I myself am a big time dancer, and can’t wait for our living room dance parties with Hard French, Quaran-tea, and international groups like Poof Doof and UK’s Queer House Party. It’s gonna be a day.

48H The virtual and the IRL are obviously different, but after three months of working almost exclusively on online events, what are some of the benefits of online events that you’ve seen that were unexpected or may have surprised you? And how do you think this festival plays into those aspects to make something unique?

VC We’ve been really inspired by the ingenuity from our creator community to bring people together virtually and we’re seeing that online events are truly providing both event creators and attendees with new and unique ways to connect. By moving their experiences online, event creators are able to reach more diverse audiences in different parts of the world. This helps to open up new revenue streams and expand their total addressable audience. Consumer behavior has shifted now that we’ve been sheltering in place for a longer period of time, so people are more comfortable partaking in virtual events they might have otherwise overlooked.

One great example of this is Daybreaker, a morning dance community that inspires people to start their day by gathering and dancing in iconic spaces. Daybreaker was one of the first Eventbrite creators to move its live experiences online, launching Daybreaker LIVE, which has made it possible for people all over the world to dance together virtually. Since its launch, Daybreaker LIVE has hosted 8 events and expanded its reach with attendees joining from over 30 countries.

Our intent with creating the We’re Still Here virtual festival for Pride this year is to help bring the world together, amplify the voices of queer creators and icons and connect them with new audiences, in locations around the world. The modern LGBTQIA+ rights movement, from Pride gatherings to the very notion of coming out, is built on leaving isolation behind to find community, togetherness and support. While we’ve all been practicing social distancing through the pandemic, virtual events have the power to globally engage communities in ways we hadn’t experienced before—bringing people together from small town USA to far reaching corners of the world, which is really powerful.

Going virtual and using a platform like Eventbrite to ticket events also gives event creators another way to raise funds for their causes and nonprofits. For the We’re Still Here festival specifically, if an attendee wants to support a creator or cause that really resonates with them it’s super easy. All attendees have options to buy a “ticket” as a means of supporting the event creators, or contribute a sliding scale donation. We’ve also made sure there are free options for attendees to join the events, too—it’s a hard time for a lot of people economically and no one will be turned away for lack of funds.

WE’RE STILL HERE: Virtual Pre-Pride Festival
Fri/12, 12pm-12am, donations requested
Join in here

Techno-arts fest Mutek.SF recreates a trippy rave blueprint online

From last year's Mutek.SF, a performance presentation by fuse*. Photo by Bruno Destombes

Last year’s iteration of MUTEK.SF, the off-shoot of the the original MUTEK festival—an event dedicated to electronic music and the digital arts that began 20 years ago in Montreal—was a uniquely refreshing experience that showed the upside of tech’s gadgetry and utopian thinking. Then, just as the local version was gearing up for its third edition—you know this story by now—COVID hit.

So all the late-nite raving to iconic techno acts and upstart presenters of bent, twisted frequencies (which in past years took over experimental art space Gray Area, The California Academy of Sciences, The Midway, and landmark club 1015 Folsom) will be conducted, like many events currently, via the screen.

The Creatrix, from Oakland, will perform at this year’s Mutek.SF online

Making the best of these conditions, Mutek SF presents NEXUS Experience, taking place during Memorial Day Weekend Sat/23-Sun/24, from 4pm to midnight. The organizers are recreating an artistic nightlife experience online, with two stages of audio-visual artists and DJs, digital art galleries, a short-film screening room curated by SF Cinematheque, and more. Hosted on an interactive platform called Currents.FM, attendees can hang out in virtual viewing rooms with their friends and navigate the festival almost as if it were a physical space.

“When it became clear that our 2020 programming year was going to be delayed or potentially canceled, we decided to look into new creative ways to present cutting edge electronic music, art, and culture to the world” said Miroslav Wiesner, Executive Director of MUTEK.SF. “We want to present a rich online experience that is interactive and engages our audience through both curated and community-generated content.”

Detroit legend K-HAND will perform at this year’s Mutek.SF online

The first round of acts pairs live sets and DJs with A/V artists in the classic MUTEK fashion. It includes the likes of K-HAND, Jasmine Infiniti, Pelada, RP Boo, Patricia, and Auscultation (Golden Donna), as well as back-to-back sets from Jensen Interceptor + Kris Baha and Solar + Mozhgan. A second wave of artists will be announce on Friday. and there will be a screening room curated by SF Cinematheque.

The event is entirely donation-based. Attendees can register for free, but a sliding-scale donation gives additional perks like the ability to host a private viewing room where one can video chat, hang, and dance with up to 10 friends.

Sat/23-Sun/24, 4pm—midnight, donation requested
More info here

Good info, little relief at city’s Virtual Nightlife + Entertainment Summit

Photo by Brett L. via Wikimedia Commons

There are lots of big questions about COVID-gutted San Francisco nightlife that have yet to be directly addressed. How and why are live venues, nightclubs, and bars expected to still pay rent while being restricted from opening? Why are all venues and bars being considered under similar terms, despite vast differences in capacities, licenses, ownership structures, and sizes? Will eventually being allowed to operate at 25%-50% capacity help bars survive—or drag them under? How does contact-tracing work at parties, or masks at bars?

And since nightlife and entertainment is a $7.2 billion dollar city industry, not to mention a huge tourism draw and cultural legacy, why isn’t the city pumping it full of grants and other material support right now to ensure its survival?

Answers to those questions didn’t come Monday afternoon, during the San Francisco Virtual Nightlife and Entertainment Summit 2020, organized by the Entertainment Commission to address the industry’s COVID crisis. (Is there any more depressing sign of what’s happening than a nightlife conference on Monday afternoon?)

Also missing were voices of actual workers, relegated to Zoom’s Q&A function, rather than just officials, owners, managers, and CEOs. And there was a lot of “we’re all in this together and we’ll get through it,” when, for increasingly desperate business owners forced to rely on GoFundMes and averse to shouldering loan debt in uncertain times—that clearly may not be the case.

Still, there were some valuable numbers and ideas to be had, expressed on two separate, lively panels that addressed both the current situation and the future of nightlife in the city.

A link to view the summit should be posted on the Entertainment Commission’s Facebook page soon: I’ll update when it appears. 

The first panel, “San Francisco Now,” included participants SF Chief Economist Ted Egan, Director of the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development Joaquin Torrez, City Administrator Naomi Kelly, and Entertainment Commission Director Maggie Weiland. Here were some key takeaways:

18% of the SF labor force has applied for unemployment in the last two months, the highest percentage ever recorded.

Up to 50% of that unemployment number is nightlife and entertainment workers. As far as direct relief goes, OEWD’s Torrez urged workers to file for unemployment and not just assume they’ll hear “no.” Torrez said to keep an eye on the OEWD website for any upcoming guidance and relief efforts.

City officials are looking toward the end of 2021 for nightlife to be reopened in some semblance of previous functionality, but getting back to anything that looks like full recovery may take until 2023 (this is especially true for full capacity at fairs and festivals), according to Chief Economist Egan. These will all be part of a Phase Four reopening; we are currently at the beginning of Phase Two. Arts venues like theaters and museums where social distancing is easier may be part of Phase Three.

The Give2SF fund has grown to $26.3 million —this was clarifying news, since the city-organized fund, which depends on tax-deductible donations, has been a bit cloud-shrouded. At first it was pitched to specifically help the city’s homeless in some unspecified way, now it’s being defined to address broader concerns: food insecurity, access to housing, and helping workers and businesses. There was no announcement on how the fund will be disbursed in the future. Jack Dorsey of Twitter has contributed $15 million for his “Start Small initiative” to expand testing and help undocumented workers.

The City is working with the ABC to continue to “innovate” with alcohol restrictions. Already, cocktails for takeout and delivery are options for many establishments, and officials are looking into outdoor expansion for bars and music venues to help with social distancing as well as other ideas.

The decision when to reopen bars and clubs will be a regional one. While state guidelines will definitely be part of considerations, City Administrator Kelly said that it was up to the region to set its schedule, since the virus is more of a regional phenomenon. On Monday, Governor Newsom announced an accelerated schedule of reopening that may mean most California counties could resume in-restaurant dining, hair appointments, and religious services. (“Why are restaurants considered more essential than bars?” a summit-watcher commented.) And officials from five Bay Area counties reaffirmed they would return to a unified reopening plan after a couple counties started setting their own goals.

Unmasked, un-distanced Marina dwellers gathered shamelessly outside Howell’s Bar on Chestnut on Friday. Photo by David Lyttle via Twitter.

“Pent-up demand” was the phrase on everyone’s lips, especially since the latest COVID-flaunting viral scandal, featuring dozens of unmasked, un-distanced Marina-ites gathered outside Howell’s Bar on Chestnut Street. As an in-depth article on Eater SF about the incident shows, before Monday’s reopening of 95% of retail businesses and a big portion of manufacturers, overeager self-isolators were starting to crowd onto sidewalks, as they had thronged to Dolores Park two weekends ago. This chomping at the bit was seen as booth a boon—it may be easier for businesses to recover, however slowly—and a danger: Would reopened bars and clubs be overwhelmed?

On the second panel, “The Future of San Francisco Nightlife,” Bottom of the Hill co-owner and concert booker Lynn Schwartz had a strong answer to that last concern. “We have experience dealing with people who don’t want to comply with the rules,” she said. “We’re fine with telling them to wear a mask to come in or fuck off!” It was such a welcome flash of old school rowdy SF spirit that I nearly wept into my afternoon Cosmo.

Schwartz was joined by Entertainment Commissioner, multiple bar owner, and nightlife activist Ben Bleiman; Chase Center General Manager Kim Stone; and Eventbrite founder and CEO Julia Hartz. Hartz seemed an oddly out of touch choice at first—the otherwise solid panel moderator, SF Chronicle Business Editor Owen Thomas, mentioned Eventbrite’s recent IPO but not its recent massive layoffs—potentially pushing in the usual tired direction of “industry leader” fawning.

(That niche was filled by a goofy, very contemporary-hippie coda to the summit featuring Joie de Vivre founder and former AirBnb executive Chip Conley Zooming in from his Baja home to share what he learned about happiness in Bhutan and leadership after 9/11—hell yes he quoted Rumi.)

But Hartz, tapping into Eventbrite’s international database, shared some valuable info about how she’s been seeing nightlife adapt in countries that are beginning to open up—very small events and more of them—as well as how venues and entertainers were nimbly making the transition more and more to online. One positive of the Zoom/Twitching of local nightlife is that our DJs, drag queens, and other entertainers been reaching global audiences and expanding their reach.

There was another potential silver lining that Bleiman brought up, which was that with major acts cancelling arena tours, local music acts and performers could be called in to fill SF’s vacated larger venues. There could be a renaissance of local arts, he said. Bleiman also pointed out that ABC had eased alcohol restrictions and the sky hadn’t fallen, which suggests those restrictions may be outdated.

As for giant arenas, Stone of Chase Center also talked about being nimble, considering smaller acts or games in different parts of her venue, and experimenting with different uses. (She actually got a question about how to book Chase Center during the panel.)

Stone cited a recent fan survey from concert booking giant Live Nation about how COVID is affecting peoples’ live event expectations. The survey revealed that 79% of active fans expect to attend a concert again within four months, 90% of ticket holders still plan to attend concerts that were postponed, and 72% say that watching performances online makes them more excited to attend live events.

Again the phrase “pent-up demand”: “We know it’s there,” said Stone, “we just have to be nimble about how we can tap into it safely.”

His marathon rap for COVID relief broke the Guinness World Record

When George Watsky turned 33, his roommate looked him in the eye and told him it would be the best year of his life. Then coronavirus happened. 

But aside from having to cancel his tour, his 33rd year hasn’t been as bad as it could’ve been. The San Francisco-born rapper, who performs mononymously as Watsky, is roomed up in LA with his manager Jeff O’Neill and his girlfriend Amber Giles, who records as Mija and produces some of his beats. 

And he’s just set a Guinness Book of World Records-verified world record for the longest continuous rap performance after freestyling for no less than 33 hours, 33 minutes, and 33 seconds.

It’s more than seven hours longer than the previous official record, a 26-hour marathon by Pablo Alvarez of LA group Good Bison, and two hours longer than a January attempt by Philadephia rapper Frzy that wasn’t officially verified by Guinness.

“I know at some point someone will break this record,” says Watsky. “I wanted to give the attempt personal meaning that could never be taken away from me.” The 33-hour, 33-minute, 33-second duration reflects both his age and his interest in the number three, which he calls “the number of storytelling—beginnings, middles and ends.”

The videos are alternately inspiring and exhausting. Decked in Giants swag, untamed quarantine locks barely held back by a black beanie, the rapper freestyles with either enthusiasm or puppet-like limpness depending on which hour you tune into (it varies wildly). Fans who donated to Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, a charity benefitting musicians affected by COVID, got a shout-out in song; the effort raised $147,000.

Per Guinness regulations, the rapper could take one five-minute break per hour. He chose to consolidate that time into two longer breaks, which he used to eat and shower.

“We didn’t want to just set the record, we wanted to do it by putting on a good show,” he says. “I thought it would be a lot cooler if I really was rapping uninterrupted for as long as possible. That’s what I would’ve wanted to see. So my goal was to go in well-prepared and relaxed, and rap without taking a break until I absolutely had to.”

Watsky. Photo by Mike Squires

The preparation took nearly as long as the freestyle itself. “I tried to get two really good nights of sleep beforehand. On the day of the attempt I got to bed at midnight, woke up at eight, took a nice shower, stretched, had a big breakfast, and there was some… digestive preparation…”

When the rapper needed to use the restroom, he simply clipped a microphone to his shirt and kept on rapping in the can. There were a few moments during the marathon where his voice, adorned with slightly more reverb and accompanied by a faint trickle, was the only sign of him on the livestream. 

Aside from the physical demands of staying awake for such an ungodly amount of time, the marathon was risky to Watsky’s health for another reason: he has epilepsy, and a seizure was a strong likelihood throughout the ordeal.  

“The most difficult hours were the ones right before the final hour,” he says. “A seizure in front of the whole Internet was not the punctuation mark I wanted to put on a super-successful marathon. In some of those late moments, I thought if I went any further downhill I might have to pull the plug before my personal goal.”

Yet he persevered, and he describes the final hour as the most satisfying. Some of his best rapping can be found as the clock counts down its final minutes, and joy and relief come through more strongly than fatigue. “When I caught my final wind and I knew I was home free, it was just a joyous experience.”

Watsky has the benefit of working in hip-hop, perhaps the most uncomplicated genre of music to make during quarantine constraints; rather than hiring a band or booking a studio, all you really need to do to make a great song is pull up a folder of beats and drop a verse. He’s staying productive, with a planned trilogy (threes again) of nine-song albums in the wings. And with literal days of raw material to work with, he’ll have no shortage of inspiration.

“In 33 hours I pretty much rapped an autobiography,” he says. “But I think what I will really take from this going forward is emotional energy. I really learned a lot about myself and about how to tap into joy, positive energy, draw reserves of strength from your friends and community.”

Yet his most vivid memory from all of this? “Peeing with a microphone pinned to my shirt.”

Noise Pop to Vinyl Dreams: 6 local can’t-miss music streams

K.Flay plays Noise Pop's 'No Place Like Home' streaming concert, Tue/5

From Kim Gordon viewing Instagram as a performative space and Kenya Barris using Netflix as a platform to distill the messy politics of honestly critiquing Black art, to those damn Troll movies threatening to wipe out the entire AMC Theater chain: We are fully engaged in streaming culture.

Flawlessly, it’s all somehow designed for the COVID stay-your-ass-home, Zoom-chat-in-your-Lou-Drawls, ramen-for-three-meals-crisis. Understand, this train is a-chuggin’ along with speed, cocktail bar and D-Nice bumping JOINTS beaming to your heart emoji delight. So we have some musical suggestions for your home consumption. San Francisco Bay Area things. Designed to keep those toes a-tapping. Keep streaming ffolkes, wash your hands, and buy Netflix stock.

Noise Pop begins its free live-streaming series, aptly titled “No Place Like Home” on Tue/5. It’s a virtual benefit for the Bay Area independent live music community, and the headlining performers throughout include some longtime favorites. Tune in Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7-8 pm PST to catch sets, conversation, and other hijinks from three local artists highlighting a favorite local venue. Catch Grammy-nominated, genre-bending K.Flay with Finish Ticket and Zelma Stone benefitting Bottom of the Hill on Tuesday, May 5th. Then, gear up for indie rock vets Rogue Wave with Spooky Mansion and Meernaa benefitting Cafe du Nord on Thursday, May 7th. And the week after, don’t miss Geographer x Rickshaw Stop (5/12) and Built to Spill x Slim’s, RIP (5/14).

These events are being held in partnership with independent music artists and venues to raise funds for those heavily affected by COVID-19, and promote awareness of their vital cultural contributions. All funds raised will be shared between the co-promoting venue, artists, and Noise Pop’s Staff Relief Fund. More info here

Vinyl Dreams is a record shop in Lower Haight that specializes in San Francisco-based vinyl. Located in a sacred spot for DJ culture in the city, dating back to 1991, when Tweekin Records first inhabited the space, Vinyl Dreams is the spot for top-notch records that local and international DJ talent want. Period. The Vinyl Dreams YouTube page, comprised of DJ sets previously broadcast from the store, is a reflection of the assorted genres they sell—while serving as an ever-evolving document to whom may just pop up and drop THAT set, you can’t shake loose for days. Try UFO! with French DJ legend Mehdi lurking in the back.

(48 Hills’ Marke B just ran into Vinyl Dreams founder Mike B—no relation—on Haight Street, who told us they are keeping busy with orders, although like every other record store they are definitely suffering. Order some records from your local shop!) Stream sets here. 

Tune in each Friday at 5pm for the latest concert (well, from the voluminous SFJAZZ performance archives). Make it a regular date. Bring a glass of wine and cozy up: SFJazz thinks you will discover that digital technology can show new dimensions of musical performance. May’s lineup features heavy-hitters like Bill Frisell, Wayne Shorter, Kamasi Washington, Chucho Valdés, Marilyn Crispell, and Monsieur Perriné. The concerts help raise funds for this essential local institution (they ask you to become a member to view).  Tune in here

On the side of the musical spectrum, the Bay Area-based Rock and Roll Hall of Famers and metal legends are streaming concerts from the band’s archives during Metallica Mondays, which become available at 5pm and remain online for a week. Bang your head here.

Worried this little global pandemic may scratch your free, outdoor October ritual? Take in a priceless John Prine performance from 2017, just in case, and relive the genius of one COVID’s huge losses. You can see more sets on the HSB webcast page, and relive last year’s fest in this 48 Hills photo set.

OK this isn’t exactly Bay Area, but considering that the massive concert in the desert sucks up a good chunk of our population (and the fest’s restrictive radius clause determines much of the year’s performance schedule), it counts. If you’re missing your April weekends under the sun, the documentary Coachella: 20 Years in the Desert should bring back plenty of memories. The YouTube film features interviews with performers and clips of such now-legendary performances as Beyoncé’s 2018 show. You can see it here.

Grassroots Queer Nightlife Fund raises $160K in aid for workers

Juanita More will DJ online Fri/1 in support of the Queer Nightlife Fund.

In a major example of how the Bay Area is coming together in a vacuum of political leadership and billionaire donors to take care of its own, the Queer Nightlife Fund announced today that it had raised $160,000 in funds through online efforts—and would begin disbursing grants to 176 local workers.

The recipients are mostly nightlife performers, staff, and others who rely on tips and wages which disappeared overnight in the wake of the March 13 COVID shutdown of bars, nightclubs, theaters, and restaurants. (Some performers have been able to eke out tips on streaming platforms, but this barely covers expenses of living here.)

The QNF, itself formed by a consortium of DJs, performers, and longtime nightlife personalities—plus Spencer Watson of the Center for LGBTQ Economic Advancement & Research—uses weekly streaming  Sunday Quaran-Tea dances and other online events to help raise tax-deductible donations for the project. (Recent Quaran-Tea dances have included a wide range of local wonders, from the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence’s Hunky Jesus contest and the Flagging in the Park community to a recent installment that highlighted transgender DJs.)

“I’ve been overwhelmed by the community’s support for the fund,” QNF steering committee member and Polyglamorous DJ Mark O’Brien told me. “The QNF working group has been meeting 6 days a week since March 14, and it’s exciting to see our first campaign finally come to fruition. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we’ve helped a lot of folks in queer nightlife. We are going to keep on working at this, because the need is definitely still there.”

That need has convinced the QNF to continue its efforts. “This marks a major milestone for the QNF,” Watson says. “The shelter-in-place order has been extended through May, and all of our major queer holidays have now been canceled through the fall, including Pride and Folsom Street Fair. It remains uncertain when our vital cultural institutions can reopen and when we can again gather in person as a community. Therefore, the QNF has recognized the need for a second fundraising campaign and a new round of grant applications.”

That renewed effort kicks off Fri/1, 8pm-10pm, with a special DJ Friday Night Jam by drag goddess Juanita More and the fabulous Chrissy, and continues Sun/3, 1pm-6pm, for another Quaran-Tea dance, this one featuring the progressive sounds of longtime DJs Susan Morabito, Steve Sherwood, and the PLAY T-Dance party crew.

You can donate to the Queer Nightlife Fund here and apply here.


The San Francisco Queer Nightlife Fund is proud to announce that we are now disbursing grants from our first round of applications.

From March 16 to March 31, 2020, we received applications from 258 nightlife workers, of which 176 met our eligibility criteria. Applications were evaluated anonymously by an internal team of steering committee members and then underwent an auditing process to ensure integrity. Grant amounts were determined based on need, and all recipients are currently being notified.

This marks a major milestone for the QNF! The shelter-in-place order has been extended through May, and all of our major queer holidays have now been canceled through the fall, including Pride and Folsom Street Fair. It remains uncertain when our vital cultural institutions can reopen and when we can again gather in person as a community. Therefore, the QNF has recognized the need for a second fundraising campaign and a new round of grant applications.

Our first campaign has been incredibly successful. In only a little over a month, we raised approximately $160,000—almost entirely from individual donations. We have established new community rituals, including the weekly Sunday Quaran-Tea Dance, streamed live on Twitch and Zoom. These new rituals and the success of our fundraising efforts have revealed the strength and resilience of our community and have given us all hope for the future. Our commitment to the community remains stronger now than ever before.

Stay tuned shortly for our announcement of the opening of our second round of grant applications.

If you continue to have a reliable source of income, please consider donating to the fund, and consider making your donation weekly. The performers, artists, bartenders, and behind-the-scenes workers who make the nightlife magic happen in the SF Bay Area need our continued support in this extraordinary time.

Tune in THIS WEEKEND to two events:

Friday at 8 PM PDT, the San Francisco Bay Area Queer Nighlife Fund is proud to present a special Friday night soiree featuring music from San Francisco matriarch Juanita More, who also serves as a member of the SF QNF steering committee. She’ll be gifting us with some fantastic beats to kick off the weekend. Also joining us is Chrissy, a genre-bending DJ and prolific producer, whose latest 12′′ was released last week on Dansu Discs.

Sunday from 1-6PM PDT, join us for our seventh Quaran-Tea! This week the SF Bay Area Queer Nightlife Fund joins forces with the legendary PLAY T-Dance. Since 2001, PLAY T-Dance has been giving folks in the Bay Area the occasion to flirt, frolic and dance to their favorite tea dance music. PLAY T-Dance has become renowned for its unique and engaging themes, abundant hospitality, unrivaled production value and the most uplifting and energetic music on the planet.

For now, stay safe and healthy, and SEE YOU ON THE VIRTUAL DANCEFLOOR!


The SF Bay Area Queer Nightlife Fund

Mark Kozelek’s latest intricate wander, through Aquatic Park to ‘Isaac Hayes’

Mark Kozelek

“Some people are gonna get it, but some won’t.” This observation about art comes from one of the countless conversations Mark Kozelek has with strangers, restaurant employees, hotel clerks, and fellow musicians throughout his new album All The Best, Isaac Hayes. Kozelek calls it the most accurate description of art he’s heard from anyone, and it’s certainly applicable to most of what the 53-year-old’s put out in the last decade.

The Ohio-born musician, who’s lived in San Francisco for 32 years, came to fame with the slow, atmospheric, fog-scented music he made in the ‘90s and early ‘00s with Red House Painters. He found a new generation of listeners with his solo project Sun Kil Moon, whose Ghosts of the Great Highway and Benji are slowly cementing themselves as indie classics. But since 2012’s Among the Leaves he’s been gradually veering into a stream-of-consciousness style where profound observations of life are likely to coexist with exhaustive descriptions of the hotels at which he stays, the restaurants in which he eats, the cities in which he plays .

Some may find these songs mind-numbingly boring. Others may find peace in these slowly unfolding narratives or view them as a vicarious way to travel the world during these restricted times, sharing in Kozelek’s joy as he traverses a remote Norwegian road or eats oysters in New Orleans.

Your opinion of this music probably depends a lot on your opinion of Kozelek himself; he is not the most tactful man in the world, as his frequent and ugly conflicts with journalists, other bands, and talkative audiences make apparent. But it’s hard to think of a musician who chronicles the world as dutifully and vividly as Kozelek, not least on All The Best, Isaac Hayes. 

Isaac Hayes is a spoken-word album. That means Kozelek’s speaking 99 percent of the time versus, say, 40 percent. Its delicate piano backing makes it kin to ambient-narrative epics like John Foxx’s The Quiet Man or Robert Ashley’s Private Parts, where the languid flow of words is as much an instrument as anything. And though most of the songs are named after a place Kozelek played on his late-2019 North American tour, his mind always wanders back to San Francisco, which he fell in love with as a young man and never left. We caught up with Kozelek via e-mail to talk about Isaac Hayes and his beloved San Francisco.

48 Hills Let’s start with a throwback. What makes you smile?

Mark Kozelek My girlfriend’s cat. My dad’s voice when he picks up the phone. John Fante books.

48H I’m curious as to how the music and the words came together on All The Best, Isaac Hayes. Did you have specific piano parts in mind for specific parts of the narrative? Or do you record them separately and decide how they fit together later?

MK I don’t know how to play piano, at all. It was all improvised and heavily ProTooled by an engineer, with the exception of a piano piece played by Gia Margaret and two pieces played by pianist Chris Connolly. Several pieces were recorded randomly, mostly on a $200 Yamaha keyboard. For the most part, the words were taken from a diary that started just before a tour that started in Vancouver until just after the tour, which ended in Pennsylvania. That’s also me on the Fender Bass 6.

48H You talk often on the album about being distracted by noises, be it the pipes in the hotels you stay in or the ticket scanners at the Ottawa Bluesfest. Have you always been easily distracted by sounds?

MK My dad had a very bad case of this when I was young. When he was home, which was 50 percent of the time, he’d work in the basement, and any kinds of sounds distracted him. I didn’t understand it at the time because I was a kid who smoked pot with very few responsibilities besides picking up sticks in the yard. But then life happened, and for the most part I travel for a living. The sound of street noise, refrigerators, a clock ticking next to a bed, are unpleasant sounds. I’ve been touring for 28 years, so for the most part, I know what hotels I like. Now and then I end up in a hotel I don’t like and I try to make the best of it.

48H What’s the best compliment you could receive from someone about All The Best, Isaac Hayes?

MK Someone heard it recently and told me my speaking voice soothed her. That my stories brought her peace.

48H There are a few moments on All The Best where you start singing just for a few notes or a few bars. Were these moments planned, or did you simply feel like bursting into song?

MK It’s my natural habitat to sing, so yes, there are moments where melodies jumped out of me. I could have put all of the stories to melody, but I wanted to be a storyteller on this album. A friend of mine heard the record and said: ”Anyone who didn’t think you were singing on those last several albums will now know that you were.”

48H Tell me a little bit about your relationship with Aquatic Park.

MK I walk several miles a day. Sometimes to Telegraph Hill. Sometimes to the Marina. Sometimes through Pacific Heights. For the most part, on the Marina walks, I stop at the Aquatic Park pier. I like to see what the fishermen are catching. I love how the atmosphere is slightly different from day to day. Sometimes it’s a clear day, and sometimes you can’t see the Golden Gate Bridge because the fog is so dense. I love the various barges that come in. They’re so colorful, with mysterious acronyms like MSC. I find that area meditative and inspiring.

48H Are you still able to record music at this time?

MK Yes. I’ve been recording at a studio in the Sunset District. I’ve recorded before in that area. The Avenues are otherworldly, and I always feel inspired there. I love all of the succulent plants, the fog, the smell of the ocean, and the charming little stucco houses.

48H The current pandemic means two of your favorite subjects—touring and eating at nice restaurants—are off-limits. What are some of the things you plan on doing or places you plan on going once lockdown is over and it’s safe/legal to do so?

MK Well, for starters, I’m not on “lockdown.” That’s prison terminology used by the media to instill fear in people. But I’d say it’s safe to say I won’t be touring this year, which I’ve made peace with. Other than that, my life is largely the same as it was a year ago. Banks always had glass between the tellers and customers, anyhow. I still walk in the same areas. Some of my favorite restaurants, like Swan Oyster Depot, are still doing takeout. There’s a lot of atmosphere to enjoy. Go down to Aquatic Park Pier and you’ll see people picnicking and enjoying life.