When the weekend arrives for Cal Poly students, it doesn’t take long before small venues and houses become energized with the mutually encouraged liveliness of band-fan interaction. Commonly recognized as “house shows,” these events have been gaining traction as a key way for students to connect with one another by means of musical stimulation, while allowing local bands to gain exposure.
Yet from every perspective of the band scene in San Luis Obispo, there is a harmonious recognition that collaboration lies at the center of the music community’s success according to Cate Armstrong, sociology senior and vocalist of the band Purple Hibiscus. She said she has witnessed this first hand throughout her own immersion within this community.
In San Luis Obispo, many small bands have made, or are working to make their mark, with the aid of passion, band chemistry and a desire for success.
Three-piece local-band Kiwi Kannibal was established upon the foundation of friendship when its two senior members discovered the value in working together.
“I would go over to Adrian’s dorm and he would play bass and I’d play guitar and we’d start jamming out,” journalism senior Amanda Wernik said, who is the band’s lead singer and guitarist. “That was when I started figuring out how to record music and finding a sound. We just had musical chemistry and we just started hanging out together, like he was my music homie.”
With the establishment of local bands such as Kiwi Kannibal, the importance of building a community within the band scene has become more recognized by those within it. Armstrong said it is key that there is a mutual sense of respect and a level of “stoke,” or passion, present.
Throughout her experience in Purple Hibiscus, Armstrong said she has also realized that these communal bonds stem from, and can also cater to, the spirit of artistry.
“I think what’s really unique about the music scene here in SLO is there’s just such an essence of creativity that is always blooming in music, art, just all things creative,” Armstrong said.
Wernik echoed that the role this type of atmosphere can serve is where everything “comes full circle” and you can “form a core community of creatives who can hype up each other’s work,” she said.
While the creative and collaborative aspects of the band scene are often positively characterized, there are still learning curves.
Adrian Rosas, the bass guitarist of Kiwi Kannibal and journalism senior, described the early phase of starting a band as the “honeymoon phase.”
This phase for Kiwi Kannibal came to a halt when its members found themselves in need of a drummer. Despite their initial concern about how they would carry on until they found one, the band was met with even more support and more collaboration than before when they turned to the broader San Luis Obispo music community for help.
“We made a lot of really good friends in the scene and that was one of the moments that me and Amanda kind of realized that it was really cool to connect with a lot of the musicians here,” Rosas said. “Not all of them, but a lot of them, because you can’t be friends with everybody, but we made a lot of good connections with a lot of people.”
Just as Kiwi Kannibal had interim drummers for a more extended period of time, the bands in San Luis Obispo are generally flexible and use substitute musicians when needed. Armstrong said that other bands often use substitute musicians from different groups when a member leaves or is unavailable for a show.
“Especially being in college and being so busy and having so many different realms that we’re occupying, like we’re not able to make every show so it just kind of depends on the band’s flexibility,” Armstrong said.
Bands in the San Luis Obispo community also show their support by attending each other’s shows. Armstrong said people may promote shows that are not their own on social media, or that even those within the band scene, including herself, may go see other bands perform, both as a sign of solidarity and for the enjoyment of it.
“This is my final quarter at Cal Poly, so I think really just prioritizing the shows and the people I want to play with. Every time I see a Couch Dog show, I’m in the mosh having a good time, sweating, smiling, everything,” Armstrong said.
This universalized collaboration also helped Kiwi Kannibal to develop “a core sound that people kept coming back [to]” and find a songwriting style that “stuck out as distinctly [their] own,” Wernik said. Now with their permanent drummer Jon Achee, Wernik also said she believes that Kiwi Kannibal is more stable than it would have been without the band’s prior collaboration with temporary drummers.
Partnerships in the local music community have also manifested in ways that aren’t as directly associated with the crossing over of band members in shows.
Kiwi Kannibal has been recently working with Max Ferrer, a member of the band Couch Dog and a logo designer, to produce shirt designs, poster graphics and logos for their own band.
Bands also assist one another by coordinating for each one to bring some of the equipment that’s needed for house shows or other events so not one band has to handle it alone, which Achee said is a useful form of collaboration.
As this community continues to develop with the presence and involvement of new musical creators, Armstrong said that the fellowship that has been woven between bands will grow with it.
“There’s just a hunger for having live music be available again. I think that collaboration is definitely at the center of that, because it takes a village to get all of this going up again,” Armstrong said. “It can’t just be one band, it has to be all the bands having that same shared vision of making music alive in SLO.”
Correction: This article was updated to correct name spellings.