By Nick Coury
It is Tuesday night when the regular crowd, a surplus of beer-battered 20-somethings, shuffles in and slouches around the room, which contains a long skinny bar with a stage and a pint of Firestone for two and a quarter. It is a place called Frog & Peach, a local hotspot watering hole in downtown San Luis Obispo.
Some people in the crowd are yelling, some are quiet, while others discuss the latest letters to the editor in the Mustang Daily. A band’s front man approaches the microphone and starts to sing while the band strums and bangs behind him.
“San Luis Obispo used to be amazing,” said Dominic Castillo, 26, singer and guitarist of the Rock Savants. “Way back in the day it had a great jazz club called Bruebecks. For a while you could cruise downtown and see five or six live bands in a five block radius.”
The Frog & Peach Pub on Higuera Street is seen as one of the few venues left for bands to play in town.
“Pint Night (at Frog & Peach) is kind of a built-in crowd, so if you are coming from out of town it is a good spot to play where you don’t have to try to get everyone to come out,” said Nate Szytel, 24, who plays guitar and sings background vocals in the Rock Savants.
Although cheap Firestone pints are a pretty rockin’ deal on Tuesdays, to see live music in a more music-oriented venue, one should check out Downtown Brew, which has commonly been seen as a good venue for the local music community.
“As far as all age-venues in San Luis Obispo are concerned, we have SLO Brew, which is now Downtown Brew. Sure there are coffee shops, record stores, which are all fun places to play, but all age venues are few and far between; we’re down to one,” said Adam Pasion, singer, songwriter and guitarist for the local band, Briertone.
Formerly known as SLO Brew, the bar has taken new ownership, but hasn’t stopped the music.
“I’m really happy about Downtown Brew,” Castillo said. “The new ownership is really cool; they have been really helpful. They have done a real good job of redoing the place and have got some sound equipment that makes it much nicer to perform.”
Szytel said that not only does Downtown Brew have a decent performance area, but that they “are really supportive of local music.”
Many of the bands that perform at Downtown Brew are a culmination of a production team, which for a band that has never played in San Luis Obispo before, may be a good idea.
“One thing that a lot of out-of-town bands do is that they’ll get on with a production team, like Numbskull Productions, who promotes the show,” Szytel said. “It is a safe bet, so that if you are coming from out of town, you get in with a production company because they’ll do a lot of the publicity work for you and get a crowd there.”
But getting in touch with a production team in order to put a show on can be difficult. A multitude of factors come into play when trying to get a show together for a band including the size of the band, as well as the style of music they play. It can be problematic even for the more experienced bands.
“As far as venues go, San Luis Obispo ranks close to last as a college town with live music venues. Look at what you have got downtown: Downtown Brew and Frog & Peach? Are you kidding me?” said Shawn Hafley, bass player for Red Lights, a local band. “San Luis Obispo has got to come up with some more live music venues. There are great local bands that have nowhere to play, and it’s a total shame.”
If playing for the drinking crowd at a bar is not a band’s ideal audience, other options are few and far between. Across from Downtown Brew on Garden Street sits Linnaea’s Cafe and Coffee Shop. With the exception of jazz night every second and fourth Thursday of the month, there aren’t many local acts that play at the cafe.
“The one place in town that is very accepting, especially of out-of-town bands even more so than local bands, is Linnaea’s,” Szytel said. “They make it a place for out-of-town people to come through.”
But by playing at a coffee shop and having to squeeze in an entire band and having to keep the sound level down may pose problems.
“As of now, since the closing of the Dwelling, Downtown Brew is one of the only venues. There is also Nautical Bean as well as Linnaea’s and Two Dogs, but those cannot have loud music, and it is not much of a show atmosphere when they need to keep conducting business at normal levels,” said Lawrence Mahadoo, a Cal Poly architecture senior and booking manager at KCPR.
However, with the closing of some of the larger venues, the popularity of playing small shows has gained some ground.
“It seems like coffee shops are more popular now, like Two Dogs and Nautical Bean,” said Chris Broesamle, bassist for the Savants. “Not just ‘coffee shop’ bands, but now a full band could play there.”
Part of the reason behind the new popularity of cafe shows may be due to the closing of the Dwelling.
“(The Dwelling) was repulsive, but there was live local music there all the time. San Luis’s own CBGB! Even though the management was hard work, we (Red Lights) had some great shows there,” Hafley said.
The Dwelling was located on Osos Street between Woodstock’s Pizza and Hudson’s Bar and Grill.
“At the end (before it closed down), it was getting quite a bit of a following and you could safely go in there on a weekend and expect people to be there and actually make some money,” Szytel said. “It didn’t sound too great and there was no stage but it was kind of cool because it was that kind of indie-trashy place. It was fun to play there.”
Former dwellers agree.
“I thought it was lo-fi and comfortable,” said Ryan Wilson, guitarist for Los Angeles-based Division Day. “It had a nice do-it-yourself vibe that I liked; no stage, keg at the bar, it just felt scrappy and punk rock.”
From the bars to the trashy clubs and the coffee shop to house shows, music will continue to be made in garages by people with a zeal for the art of live music. In order to continue local live music, places need to exist for acts to play.
“There is great potential, with many local bands as well as a lot of touring bands who want shows in San Luis Obispo for its convenient location between Los Angeles and San Francisco, lately it’s been extremely difficult to accommodate for a lot of these bands, for small show spaces don’t exist,” Mahadoo said.
Within the coming years, it is hard to tell what will come out of the local music scene and how San Luis Obispo will transform in order to accommodate for changes in the type of music the town produces.
“Any touring band will agree that in most towns, there are multiple venues to play at, which causes the local music scene to thrive and encourages the arts, giving the youth something to do,” Pasion said. “I love what I see in San Luis Obispo local music. It is so amazing and people are missing out on it. There are amazing bands all over the whole country that San Luis Obispo locals are missing because of a lack of venues. It’s not that we need to build a music scene, but rather we need to encourage an already amazing music scene, and allow it be heard.”