Mecca for music lovers

By Damon Lewis 


San Francisco has long been the Mecca for music lovers the World over. While Austin, Texas may very well be the “Live Music Capitol of the World,” San Francisco is certainly the Counter-Culture musical Ground Zero; in short, this is where it all began. There have been many San Francisco concerts over the years that were nothing short of groundbreaking with their influence to modern pop culture. Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, Carlos Santana, Jimi Hendrix and The Quicksilver Messenger Service held San Francisco concerts regularly here, as their home base of operations primarily existed in the Haight-Ashbury district. Although the days of free San Francisco concerts are all but gone, there are many great deals to be found year-round here in The City. Whether it is catching a great local band in their prime just before being discovered or lining up to see the biggest headliners in the industry. In San Francisco, concerts are not just events, but a way of life.


In the realm of San Francisco concerts, one event comes immediately to mind as the grandest of them all. Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival, located throughout Golden Gate Park, started in 2008 as a venue to not only showcase the top musical talent of the day, but also as a template for other concerts and festivals to begin utilizing a more “green” attitude towards the way business is done. The first festival was an outstanding success compared with lesser San Francisco concerts, and was mostly met with rave reviews by all those who care to review. With a line-up consisting of over 60 bands including Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Beck, Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals, Cake, Wilco, Steel Pulse, Widespread Panic, Primus, Cake, Radiohead and many more artists, one would be hard pressed to find a better headline for your dollar. That is, until the 2009 cast was announced; Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews Band, The Beastie Boys, Modest Mouse, Black Eyed Peas, Incubus, The Mars Volta, Jason Mraz, Thievery Corporation and TV on the Radio all shared the head-lining duties, along with many other bands of outstanding talent. And being that this San Francisco concert was indeed in San Francisco, there also is an entire area which brandishes local cuisines and wines at prices ranging from almost affordable to astronomical. There is also an area dedicated solely to the Arts as well as a “green” recharging station powered by the sun for phone charging and powering the stage. If there is a San Francisco concert that is considered a must-see event, Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival certainly would be it.


If a day on the grassy knolls of Golden Gate Park listening to rock music does not fit your fancy, there are many other San Francisco concert scenes to accommodate even the most discriminating tastes in music. And if the Electronic/Techno scene is more up your alley, which San Francisco is known to accommodate, then the annual Love Fest is the San Francisco concert soup du jour for you. Love Fest is a celebration of, well, love and is celebrated as the largest single day electronic dance music scene in the World. The entire purpose of the Love Fest is to promote the electronic dance scene and possibly get as many people naked as possible, which it succeeds admirably in both. Love Fest draws some of the biggest names in dance music annually to the Civic Center Plaza in downtown San Francisco to celebrate music, love, diversity, tolerance, dance and community. The event is held as a non-profit with all proceeds going either back into the coffers for the following year or towards a number of scholarships and community activities to support at-risk inner-city youths. This San Francisco concert is not only a celebration of the community we make up together as San Franciscans, but also as the community we make up as human beings.


While I mentioned before that the days of free San Francisco concerts were all but gone, it does not necessarily mean that they are actually gone. While you will be hard pressed to find a free concert not only in San Francisco, in reality anywhere, there is one that still exists as the apex of free San Francisco concerts; that is the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. Held annually on the second Sunday in October for free thanks to the generous subsidies of venture capitalist Warren Hellman, this San Francisco concert is not only a great time of socializing but arguably the best Bluegrass Festival in the nation. With past acts such as Alison Kraus and Robert Plant, Emmy Lou Harris, Willie Nelson, Robert Earl Keen, Joan Baez, Ricky Skaggs and Doc Watson, this is the place for a bluegrass fix. With little more than some banjos, fiddles and dobros, the flat-picking goes on for three days in Golden Gate Park with a line-up that gets better year after year. Aside from the fact that it is a free event, this San Francisco concert is actually one of the finest gatherings that takes place every year in The City. Whether you are a country boy from the West Appalachians or a gang-banger from Southern California, the atmosphere of community cannot be denied and this festival acts as a bridge to bring together all San Franciscans for the purpose of a little do-si-do-ing.


While there are many more outdoor festivities to be appreciated in San Francisco every year, one cannot ignore that the reality of weather patterns here in the Bay Area is anything but hospitable. That minor, trivial fact has never stood in the way of a great San Francisco concert, as there are countless venues throughout the city for listening to great musical talents. First and foremost is the legendary Fillmore Auditorium. Not to be confused with The Fillmore West once operated by Bill Graham and shut down in the early 1970’s, there have still been thousands of music’s great talents who have performed here. Located at the corner of Fillmore and Geary Avenue, The Fillmore is considered by many to have been to focal point of the psychedelic music scene and “The San Francisco Sound” of the late 1960’s. Another renowned San Francisco concert venue is The Warfield theater located off of Market Street on the bitter fringe of the notorious Tenderloin district. This was at one time the base of operation for The Grateful Dead, and it has since seen many of music’s greatest names come through its doors. Other great institutions for seeing high profile San Francisco concerts are the Nob Hill Masonic Center in Nob Hill and The Great American Music Hall in the Haight-Ashbury District.


Not to be ignored are the smaller venues where more intimate San Francisco concerts take place. For those interested in the rock scene, The Red Devil Lounge in Russian Hill and The Hemlock Tavern in the Polk Gulch are great places to catch live music. Also, The Independent in the Western Addition and The Rockit Room in the Richmond make for great shows of up and coming musical acts. Ruby Skye in Union Square as well as Dolce in North Beach and Mezzanine in the South of Market district are the places to catch DJ’s spinning dance music into the night. And anywhere throughout San Francisco, concerts are apt to pop up in bars and on the streets, as every Saturday on Market Street generally provides for street musicians putting on a show for the tourists’ dollars. Generally, if you are searching for a great San Francisco concert, there seems to be a venue for every taste somewhere not far away in The City. And while Austin, Texas may very well be the live music capitol of the World; San Francisco reigns as the great concert city of the World.