Historic Sweet's Ballroom Opening Featuring: David Gans, 7th Direction, Transcendental Hayride, Hot Buttered Rum String Band | Oakland, CA | 8.29.03
The entire Bay Area was once honeycombed with large halls used for swing kids and community gatherings. Over the years most of these hardwood havens have gone the way of the dodo and our hopes for a viable representational democracy. In Oakland one of those great spaces is seeing rejuvenation right in the heart of downtown. Historic Sweet's Ballroom kicks off a new series of Friday night gigs devoted to developing bands around the region on Friday, August 29th with 7th Direction, Transcendental Hayride, David Gans and the Hot Buttered Rum String Band.
Opened originally in 1924, Sweet's sits regally at 1933 Broadway in Oakland, just one block from the 19th Street BART station and another famous hall, the Paramount. After extensive work the new operator's vision of resurrecting this "great old dame" is being realized. A space of this size and beauty is sure to give a kick to the flagging after-hours scene in the East Bay. One of the Sweet's crew, Craig Kristolic, tells us, "The renovation began over a year ago and has really brought us to a level where we can offer a classic building with modern technology. We have kept the classic art deco style but added amenities such as an elevator, upgraded power for both sound and lighting systems, brand new bathrooms, and a new paint job. Along with those we have added safety features such as fire sprinklers and an additional exit. The most noticeable change though is probably the refinished original spring-loaded hardwood dance floor that covers over 8000 sq. feet."
The organizers have assembled an exciting and very complimentary assortment of bands for this first outing. Sounds will range from the deeply rooted rock of 7th Direction to the fired up instrumental pyrotechnics of the Hot Buttered Rum boys to the thoughtful and fun style of Gans and all the way out to the genre splintering tunefulness of Transcendental Hayride, who along with 7th Direction are celebrating the release of new records. Expect a few free copies of their new platters to be part of the evening's festivities. While all the performers have unique perspectives on both songwriting and performing it's clear that the mix will compliment each other well. Fans of one group are likely to find many things to like in the other acts and may walk away with some new favorites.
It's not just the operators who're excited about this fresh opportunity for creativity in the East Bay. Assaf Jaffe, bassist for 7th Direction, states, "I've heard many people say that right now is a very intense, fruitful, magic time for the Bay Area music scene, a scene which to me calls up comparisons to the monolithic influence the SF scene had in the sixties and early seventies. Oakland has been abandoned before, by football teams, businesses and in ways by communities that react to societal shifts with the rise of gang activity in parts and drugs, both of which I see as reactions to societal changes like unemployment and poor school systems. I believe you're either part of the problem or part of the solution and myself and all the people working on this program believe in Oakland, we believe in the East Bay music scene and mostly we believe that music can heal."
Radio veteran and singer-songwriter David Gans adds, "The East Bay is great for jazz and hip-hop at least. The value of building a working scene for the kind of music I like in the East Bay is that I don't enjoy schlepping into SF to hear good music. Traffic sucks, parking is a pain. Also, in general, the more good music venues/scenes the better!"
Kristolic envisions a hall to compare with the legendary Whiskey A-Go-Go or The Fillmore Auditorium of the 1960's. "These were the places where you could buy a ticket to see one artist that was amazing and you never knew who else might get up there to jam," he says. "On top of that, the different bands would show up to check each other out. That is the scene we want." He continues, "We want to get to know the local bands well enough to get the right ones to open for bands like Tea Leaf Green, new monsoon, String Cheese Incident and on up the popularity scale. I can see a day when 7th Direction opens for Mickey Hart or a newer funk band opens for The Funk Family Circus."
Zachary Matthews of the Hot Buttered Rum contributes, "I recently read an article in the Chronicle which described the Bay Area music scene as dead. The article declared that there is no local talent good enough to fill Bay Area venues, so club owners are hiring out-of-town acts. I couldn't disagree more! The talent in the Bay Area is more diverse and thriving than ever. However, the larger club ownership is being consolidated by behemoths such as Clear Channel, who make exclusive performance contracts with large, national pop acts, and refuse to give local talented musicians a venue. Now more than ever, the Bay Area needs good East Bay venues that cater to local talent!"
This concert is the first in what everyone hopes will be a regular event several times a month at the ballroom. With so many acts in the region striving to find a stage the need for proving grounds like this, especially ones with heaps of mutual support from the acts involved, is greater than ever.
Jamie Fougner, manager of Transcendental Hayride, comments, "I think it is a shame with what has happened to the band culture in the Bay Area. It just seems as though people/musicians can be jaded and not out to help and support one another. I really want to be a part of trying to change things and get back, at least psychologically, to what was going on here back in the heyday. Shit, there's room for plenty of bands to have an audience here in their hometown. I say the more, the merrier. We're just trying to have a good time with people we enjoy, you know."
David Gans adds, "There is bound to be competition given the number of players, the number of venues and the extremely limited amount of room at the top (whatever "top" you're looking at). But I have always liked the idea of everyone doing their best and taking good care of each other. Makes for more enjoyable musical experiences onstage and in the audience."
Hot Buttered's Zac chimes in, "I do not see much reason for competition between local bands, as long as each is creating their own unique music. There is so much diversity in style and sound these days, as there is so much musical history to draw from. Musicians today draw on a wide-range of influences to create an entirely new sound. I see only cooperation among fellow musicians. The competition is more of a David versus Goliath style competition between the local musicians, and the Clear Channel and Ticketmaster venue owners."
In the same spirit, Assaf Jaffe observes, "I think it's vital to be appreciative that we are even able to compete in a top notch music scene like this one, and always be willing to help each other out. One of my mentors has been Carson Bench who helped Tea Leaf and new monsoon get to where they are now. One of the best things he taught me is to always position myself with positive people working collaboratively to bring good music to people who can enjoy it. Leave negativity and envy at the door, those things are death to the creative spirit which is what brought us to this calling in the first place."
"What I see as positives for getting the Sweet's up and running is that it is such a beautiful venue. It will allow those in the East Bay to be able to come out and see great music and bands that they've heard of but don't always want to make to the trek to the city for," states Transcendental's Jamie Fougner. "I really think that Sweet's possesses the qualities that will get people in the East Bay motivated to come out and see great music. I mean, the place is gorgeous and the people running it have such a great vision and attitude towards what they want it to become and how they are going to get it there."
The last word goes to Kristolic, who's own efforts have been instrumental in bringing this venerable hall back to life. "Its reopening means that once again there will be a venue whose purpose is to provide the space for music, dance and celebration. It means that now, today, in the East Bay a place exists for the next Jefferson Airplane or Miles Davis or John Lee Hooker. This will be the place where you buy a ticket for a night you may remember for the rest of your life and the rest of the world will have to dream about being there."
Transcendental Hayride, David Gans, Hot Buttered Rum String Band and 7th Direction perform on Friday, August 29th, at the Historic Sweet's Ballroom in downtown Oakland. Show begins at 8 PM for a full evening of collaborations, surprises and sweet sweet music. Tickets are strikingly reasonable $10. The Ballroom is located at 1933 Broadway. For more information contact them at 510-625-0357 or visit their website at www.historicsweetsballroom.
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