Some of these guys have spent four decades of Sunday afternoons at this location.
If you ask, no one quite knows when the drumming circle began, who began it, or who is the oldest remaining veteran of the old days, but even on World Cup Sunday, they come here and pound the percussion. This group was one of the tiniest I’ve seen; presumably, the others were still celebrating/despairing over the Germany-Argentina game. But only horrible weather will prevent the Sunday gathering of this living relic of San Francisco’s brief glory days as the center of the music universe. People have despaired of San Francisco’s musical decline for decades, more intensely than ever in recent years as our soaring rents keep driving out people.
And yet, the San Francisco music scene persists.
In the theater community (well, San Francisco’s theater community), we have one of the strangest compliments you might ever hear: we praise others and happily describe ourselves as “cockroaches.” Not a misprint. Cockroaches. It refers to the ability of some artists and theater companies to keep afloat, keep acting, keep creating theater no matter how bad the arts environment can get. Somehow or another, we sneak around and create art in the dark, as it were. The term might also have an application for San Francisco’s musicians. On the same Sunday I photographed the drumming circle, I wandered down Upper Haight and wandered past two soloists and a band, all performing on a single block. That guitar in the first picture was homemade from a wooden box and parts scrounged around the house, plus a leftover piece of a broken acoustic guitar.
Haight Street hasn’t looked this um, uh, well–hasn’t looked this Haight Street in years.
Surely they know. Surely they know that the music scene in San Francisco hasn’t been this weak since before the Gold Rush. And yet the city’s musicians keep playing anyway, even if it means creating their own guitars in order to do so.
Vonn Scott Bair