The Secret City of the Black Sheep

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For those of us who choose to avoid the mayhem of the airport or the freeway around the holidays in December, San Francisco can be an oasis of music and tranquility. Once a year (or twice if you consider Burning Man) San Francisco weeds out the weak and leaves only the black sheep behind. The reward for being one of these black sheep is a quiet city full of colorful lights and no lines. Parking spots and table reservations actually exist. Bars are half full at best. Twenty year old trust fund babies are not running bikes off the road with their Teslas. And if you look close enough, there is plenty of amazing live music to see around town. This is because touring bands that call San Francisco home, come home.

Two such events happening not only in SF but on the same street are a two day semi acoustic stint at The Chapel with OCS (featuring John Dwyer of Oh Sees) and Ty Segall on Dec 17 and 18 as well as Luke Sweeneys December residency at Amnesia. Seeing Dwyer live without the beautiful onslaught of distortion behind is worth missing the family reunion for. On December 7 and 14 and culminating on December 21 with The SMiLE! Christmas Extravaganza, Luke Sweeney will be performing his pop melancholia with Smoking Ziggurats, China, Rykarda Parasol, Devotionals, and many more. “The ‘Holiday in Amnesià-trois’ residency is the third installation (hence the ‘-trois!’) of a little local tradition that I started, and it has always been a pleasure putting these bills together. December is usually a slow time for shows, so the idea is creating something that will help folks feel cozy and right at home here during the holidays: a place where all the outsiders can all feel welcome. I’ve always focused on bringing in great local bands, friends of mine, and making it a spirited atmosphere with the music serving as a social tonic,” said Sweeney. Providing a home like atmosphere for the artists, scenesters and musicians who are sticking out the holidays also provides a sort of affirmation for these same long time locals who are witness and victims of the budget bludgeoning transformation happening in SF that has driven so many artists and musicians away. On this subject Sweeney had this to say, “I’ve witnessed first-hand the mass exodus of artists from San Francisco. My old bandmates in Vows left a while ago, and nobody’s coming back. At the same time, there are still some great artists here making music that matters a lot to me. Kelley Stoltz, Tim Cohen (Fresh & Onlys), Sonny Smith (Sonny & The Sunsets), and Tyson Vogel (Devotionals, Two Gallants) are all mainstays that are actively putting out music, just to name a few. Take a look at the lineup on my residency – it’s stacked with local acts of the finest quality. I see new up-and-coming bands that surprise me all the time, and many favorite venues are holding on just fine with the touring acts that constantly come through. San Francisco is still a great city for music, so missing out on what we have is the true crime.”

Tyson Vogel of the Devotionals grew up in San Francisco and is looking forward to spending time laying low in December. He is planning on putting out 3 records in three different bands next year while his mainstay Two Gallants is on hiatus. One such band is the Devotionals, a meditative, bluesy surrealist walk through the woods. Although the Devotionals have been known to tour with a full string section, Tyson says he will probably do something solo, even more experimental, for this show. He enjoys San Francisco this time of year because the sidewalks are mostly clear. “I enjoy walking the streets at night, just getting some head space with no one around. Something about the crisp winter air that is inspiring.”

There are plenty of other shows as well. For instance Mike Watt, Mayya and the Revolutionary Hell Yea will be at Bottom of the Hill December 20. At the Hemlock Tavern there is Down and Outlaws on the 22nd, Hungry Skinny on the 28th and Portland’s Cruel Summer on the 30th. The Flamin’ Groovies will be at The New Parish on December 29th, Dizzy Balloon reunion show will be at the Rickshaw on December 30th, and for New Year;s Eve there is Extra Action and BATTLEHOOCH at Brick and Mortar. The idea that rock n roll takes the last two weeks of December off is only true in the boardrooms of record companies or perhaps other cities that think art is a part time gig. San Francisco uses these two weeks to celebrate the inclusive atmosphere that the is the SF music scene at its best.

Luke Sweeney – Album photo by Victor C. Valle, Artwork by LS

Luke Sweeney – Album photo by Victor C. Valle, Artwork by LS

“I grew up playing music in a town where there was no legitimate venue for live music. Anytime we had a cool punk band coming through and wanted to put them up, we had to rent out the local hall or convince a pizza place or coffee shop to host a (loud) show. Half the time these shows would be shut down early due to noise or fights. So, when I got to San Francisco, my eyes were opened up to the vast possibilities. The scene is what you make it to be. I want ours to be fun, progressive, and inclusive – something in which we can all take ownership and pride. The music is both the end and the means. It’s the reason we show up, and it helps us get to where we want to be as a community,” reminisces Sweeney.

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