Who's running the Show? New collective seeks to amplify the voice of the dispossessed

The meeting had gone through the standard operating procedure–that is, it started late with only a couple hardcore attendants, it mushroomed in size and had to move just as the other meeting in the back room commenced. The other meeting–Berkeley Liberation Radio–became loud with maniacal laughter as the Bay Area Booking Collective upstairs struggled to write guidelines for shows. One show collective person added to the expanding list, ” ….a show space alcohol free, or a space where getting drunk is not the emphasis…” This was said just two and half minutes before the crusty old pirate radio people below lit up their weed, no shit. I waited till the butt end of the meeting to initiate my interview–an hour after an exciting show had started down the street, so my time with them was brief.

I asked, “Why combine your energies and your collective resources for something that is just about expression–for entertainment–when there are so many other hard life necessities not taken care of?” There was the obligatory silence of contemplation then I got my answer: “It’s about creating community–a safe space.”

A look at the demographics of the group was very, very Bay Area: it was multi-ethnic, all ladies & gender-variant folk, and discernibly under 30 years of age. This is the America that is denied stage time, and these people are beyond complaining about getting equal time but are determined to create it.

The Bay Area has a well-known history of movements creating art and culture outside the industry–be it from LA, NY, or Europe. It doesn’t mean that it’s easy to create, showcase your work, and gather with like-minded people. The truth is that it takes a lot of mental energy to establish a space and draw a crowd.

The Bay Area Booking Collective formed in January of 2010 and has had regular meetings in both Berkeley and San Francisco twice a month. Ties are being made to the outlands–places like San Jose–so that they can fully represent the “Bay Area” in their name. This writer first got wind of the project in a one-off-zine that had a print run of less than a hundred–but it is small steps like these that allow for new groups to gain ground. While holding meetings, the collective members have also been hard at work setting up shows, accommodating touring bands, and practicing and playing shows in their own bands.

When reading the group’s mission statement, it is clear that the collective comes from a place where people live within the reverberation of oppression. The collective seems ultra-aware of the need to not amplify the alienation of show participants, the venue’s staff, or its neighbors. The basis for them to support a show can be found in their mission statement. They seek to:

-Book events that merge different music genres, skills, resources, art, creative expression, and communities.

-Book events that are Trans-Bay.

-Book affordable events. No one turned away for lack of funds.

-Create a positive atmosphere where peoples’ physical access and well-being are considered and respected.

-Build a community that is accountable to one another, the neighborhoods we live in and have events in, and anybody the events effect.

-Create an environment that inspires relationships that are meaningful, enriching, positive, and supportive.

In some ways their task at hand is easier than the past. For one, having a rock n’ roll good time is now more commonplace. The old people of today can appreciate (or ignore) the booty shaking, the modest volume, and the unclassically trained performers. Also, the Bay Area lived under what once was referred to as the “Hippie Mafia” till the peak of the Baby Boomers in the early 1990’s. Mostly this referred to Bill Graham, a figure lionized by historians, but hated by the people trying to book their band at his gulags or argue with his thug security guards. They would have loved to feed him to the lions. Bill helped to make an industry of grassroots music that is still in operation but now there is no illusion that his legacy is attached to the counter culture.

Thankfully the days of the Hippie Mafia are gone. One of the groups who directly challenged the monopoly of Big Bill was Maximum Rock n’ Roll, who helped to open a club in radical Berkeley using a criteria of eradicating racist, sexist, homophobic, and violent behavior on the stage and off. The Gilman Street Project has itself been greatly lionized for these and other reasons. Sadly, counter-revolutionary times have turned the space into the “Alternative Music Foundation,” a showcase for hetero-normative, violence-saturated white boy bands. What was “for the punks, by the punks” is now just a shadow of the Bill Graham venues, motivated at the bottom line by making money rather than making revolutionaries. A lot of the people in the Bay Area Booking Collective grew up going to Gilman, but have been largely alienated from its resources and forced to make their own version of a radical night out.

The booking collective is trapped in the old song and dance of wanting but being unable to open their own club. They, as well as many before them, have been trying to open an all-ages music space in San Francisco, but with no result. The war on youth has never ended, neither here nor in other big cities like New York or Seattle. But it’s not like this problem will go away–or the need for all-ages shows and spaces that people can truly call their own. The libratory nature of rock n’ roll, punk, and most of the creative arts is that they are as accessible to ordinary people as they are to the stars or the abnormally privileged.

I asked if they plan to make their events tie in to what goes on in the outside world. The news the day of the collective meeting was of another oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, of “peace” talks between Israel and Palestine, of the sit/lie ban in SF. Could the collective’s events respond to issues like these, both far and near? They told me they have info tables with pamphlets and zines at shows. They strive to have speakers and workshops along with the standard bands and DJs. This indicates that they are setting up a pattern to address the outside world. This doesn’t seem to be that far from the tradition of political entertainment in the Bay Area–events like the punk show counter-protest outside the Democratic National Convention, or the time MDC (Millions of Damned Christians) played to the Pope’s passing motorcade. The point is to set up a space where we as artists are not just responding to events, but creating them–and tipping the balance into a visionary new world.

The steps to making a new world are often tiny at first, but consistent meetings and shows go a long way towards creating spaces infused with radical politics–even if only for a few hours at a time. Punks often sound like a skipping CD, beeping about how they hate going to meetings, but gathering twice a month, as the BABC does, actually helps to make the wheel of revolution move. They meet the first Thursday of the month at the Long Haul in Berkeley (3124 Shattuck), and the third Sunday of he month at Modern Times Bookstore in SF (888 Valencia). Of course one can also find them by logging onto their internet site, or you can call the Bay Area hotline 510-BAD-SMUT, which lists events that they and others create. Or better yet, start your own group to fit the local needs where you live, and reach out to form alliances with BABC or the other groups presented in this rag.