As part of their scholarship, Curb Scholars must intern the summer before their senior year at an organization or agency of their choice to explore the role of art and creativity in our world. Scholar Keith Berquist describes his experience interning at a music venue in San Francisco, this past summer.
Sometimes you have to see someone a few times, to see him or her for the first time. There’s the cliché version: you learn something new about someone and your perception of him or her suddenly changes because you discover that person’s “real” self. That’s not what I’m talking about, although sometimes the two can go hand in hand. No, what I mean is a much more literal, physical version of that, a transformation where something causes you to actually take a look at that person’s face, and all of a sudden you realize the totality of their features. Like a gust of icy fresh air rushing through your lungs; it awakens the senses. And you start to understand that in every prior interaction, that face was a signal, a landmark, a reference point. You memorized it and stored it out of utility. But now, now the face is a human face. The face is the name and the stories and the emotions and the connections. That face has been united with the rest of the person.
I have spent sixteen years of my life living in and around San Francisco. And for those past sixteen years I saw the city the same way I saw those unfamiliar faces. Neighborhoods and streets were only a means to a destination defined by its purpose. The Sunset District was just where I went to school. Nob Hill was just where I lived. Van Ness was just the Guitar Center on the corner of California and the movie theatre on the corner of Geary. And yet this summer… I see the face of San Francisco. I’ve been getting lost in its eyes, in grubby, piss-stained streets of the Mission and the shade of palm trees along the Embarcadero. I’m not living in San Francisco, I’m living in San Francisco. The freedom and the independence to just be here has opened up a second city to me.
The places and faces in our lives are defined by the context in which we discover them, and I will now remember this summer as the touchstone moment where I embraced every detail and every historical particle this city has to offer. San Francisco will be my infinite playground.
I guess it would be improper if I didn’t start with the facts. Just the facts. If you didn’t know, I’m working this summer at a music venue in San Francisco called the Café du Nord. Capacity is 250 people, categorizing it as a small club in the concert world. We average around 27 shows a month. The staff is basically two in the office full time, plus a couple part time people like myself and a couple more full-time who work outside the office. Because the operation is so small, I do a little bit of everything. I’ve run box office, handled contracts, forwarded finals and ticket counts to agents, booked bands, changed lightbulbs, moved kegs, pretty much anything that needs to get done. A renaissance man of the music world.
This was what I really wanted all along. I’ve dreamt the last 4 years or so about owning my own concert venues. My ideas of how it will look and function have gone through innumerable stages, but the bottom-line remains the same: I want to put on concerts. And what better way to learn than to pop the hood on a small venue and look at each little piece of the machine one by one to see how they all interact when placed together.
And although the whole process is integral to understanding how a venue operates, perhaps the one piece that has always grabbed my eye the most was booking. It combines the opportunity for creativity: the ability to design a concert billing, to share undiscovered talent, to express myself through the medium of another artist’s work, with the left brain tasks of finance and negotiation and contract settlement. The real reward, to me, is giving a dedicated audience the gift of exposing the next big thing before they even know who it is. But I’ve quickly begun to learn that this “glamorous” portion of the job is as much a curse as it is a blessing. I spend 5-7 hours a day listening to scatterings of new bands. Submissions, suggestions, blogs, magazines, they come from every corner of the internet. And I’m slowly learning the obvious fact that to become a tastemaker, to learn what’s good, you have to learn what is bad as well.
I chose to pursue a career in music because I have a passion for it. I’ve always experienced a certain wonder and fascination when it came to any and all music, even music I didn’t like; it was like magic to me. But having to not only listen to, but also judge dozens of bands a day (and there are some really bad bands out there) has tuned this precious thing into some rusty faded hue of its former self. I’m beginning to replace some of that marvel with cynicism. Maybe ignorance is bliss. Maybe it’s not worth it to learn the good from the bad. Is this what it takes to have “good ears”? I guess the solution is to look for new ways to recapture that splendor, to judge without being judgmental. I see so many people in this industry who have spent their lives working around music and still share that same spark today. I only hope I can learn to cope with the overwhelming like they did, because I can’t let a job I took because of passion take that passion from me.