June 22nd, Bacchanalia Fest at the Emerald Tablet
Was it the Portuguese wine? The fearsome beautiful bands? Surely not. It must have been that poet, Jon Siegel. His voice was booming and sweet when he asked “Where is there a place left to Breathe, to Regain Strength, to Build New Hope, and Prepare For A Better Tomorrow?” Was it J.Brandon Loberg’s poem, which quoted Alter the Path’s poem, which spoke of some Uncle named Failure? No no. It was the cigarettes we smoked outside in Fresno Alley. It was a small region of sky I looked at, as I paused between two undefendable assertions. After some cocktail of the above, I said “This must be culture”.
If I know you, you’ve read much about the death of culture in San Francisco. This is not one of those entries. This is about a small culture, of which I am a part. Across ten years, mainly in one venue and on one street corner and a smattering of roofs, we’ve made something. We know each other’s poems, and each other’s moments. Some happened in front of a crowd: a rude, lovely man takes a well-deserved sandwich to the face. Other moments were private, and then seeped out through the lenses of the tribe: I am naked and dusted by a fire extinguisher. These people did these things here, though many of us have moved.
Last Sunday, June 22nd I went to the Emerald Tablet to listen to poetry, hear some bands and see old friends who were either back in town or still living here. If I’d only accomplished that, I would have gone home very happy. In addition to these things, though, I answered for myself a couple nagging questions: Are we a culture? One that’s worth re-uniting?
I’m a sentimental person, sometimes to the point of blindness. I worry if it holds me back from new discoveries. But 16th & Mission, Viracocha, Quiet Lightning, the Emerald Tablet and the art scenes we’ve made are all very inclusive. There’s new blood pumping through our veins all the time. To be sure, we’ve got history, and inside jokes. But I’d wager that 5% of the crowd was familiar with Sama Dams , a wild-spirited Portland band who played around 3:00 in the afternoon, between old friends making new sounds.
Andrew Paul Nelson (who programmed the festival) and Jess Silva performed with their new band Edwin Valero (…peep this video I shot of them.) Myself and many others were sad last year about the breakup of Fox & Woman (Andrew & Jess were core members of the group), but Edwin Valero, however long the group lasts, proves that change is good.
And changed we have. Stellar Cassidy, who I remember first as a poet in her late teens, is now drumming with Butanna, an exuberant punk band that perfectly half-timed the ten hour event with some fierce joy-causing shit.
Field Medic is the music by Kevin Patrick from Rin Tin Tiger. I traded my CD for his tape. It’s hella sweet, and he says he’s going to be as prolific as he can.
Charlie Getter read a new piece and I missed it but he wasn’t mad.
Among the poets I did manage to hear, certain themes prevailed: feelings of subservience, powerlessness, of being scattered by forces larger than ourselves. Interesting though, none of the work felt altogether bitter. Jared Hannum, who has made me many coffees at Cafe Trieste, read a funny but real account of his station in life. Talking to him afterwards he said “I’m staying here (in SF) out of stubbornness.”
Paul Corman-Roberts said some true things. People made sounds of the “ooooh, that hurts” variety : “My friend, I’m sorry we can’t hold each other up anymore, our mutual darkness subsuming our identities to a tune no one wants to hear. Your resentment has become a small price to pay in light of mine having become priceless.” But through the airing of their grievances, all these poets seemed intact, fun to listen to.
Another special thing: many of the people who put the Bacchanalia festival together, or who have served as a host or organizer countless times in the past, also contributed last Sunday as performers: Evan Karp, Jon Siegel, Andrew Paul Nelson, Jess Silva, Charlie Getter. Toph Evans, Topher the Strong, bartended for at least 9 out of 10 hours of Dionysian Bacchus. Julie Indelicato, a musician with hella charisma, does live sound for a living. She held it down on the mixing board throughout the event with all it’s diversity of bands. When the organizer is an artist, a special amount of TLC is injected into the proceedings. Props to all the above and to others who I’m forgetting for changing hats so gracefully, workin’ it from all angles.
The festival ended. In our way, we haggled over which bar and a few of us settled on Spec’s. There, in another alley we smoked another cigarette. Either Shye Powers or Stellar Cassidy said “Peck, I was hoping for you to do “Coffee” or another throw-back rap from the old days. But you did your new shit, and so did everybody. That proves we’ve got something: we’re all still writing and playing.”
So that must be culture, I think: A group of people forge something. A signature energy. Then, by forces of life, evolution or the free market, the group is scattered. Years later, we reunite and see that our signature energy is intact, and has progressed. There’s no telling what will become of San Francisco, but this tribe will be fine.