How to make a music scene

local music scene bandYesterday I spent part of the afternoon with one of my good friends and his teenage son. His kid is a very talented guitar player and singer. We were talking about his plans and opportunities once he finishes up secondary school next year. I was telling him my experiences, and what I had done. He knows me as his dad’s friend, not at all in a professional context. At the end of my verbal CV, he looked at me and said, ‘I don’t have any connection! I don’t have any experience!’ It was really cute, as I had only told him about my path for context to me giving him advice, not to compare him to me. But I could see and hear the concern – how could he, a kid growing up in rural Cornwall, start building a network and getting practical knowledge where he lived now?

It reminded me so much of myself when I was his age. I, too, lived in a surf town. Skateboards were the main means of transportation. There were few opportunities for us to see shows, as most of the venues, when they did have gigs, were for people 21 and older. If you were 14 and into music, and wanted to go to shows, you were out of luck. It was the 80s, so there was obviously no internet or on-line. Our main way of communicating and congregating with like-minded individuals from across our far flung county happened at the handful of shows that we could get into. I still talk to friends that I grew up with about those concerts, as they were so memorable, few and far between.

It’s fun now to reminiscence of those halcyon days of youth. But looking back, it is also good to remember how out of my frustration was born the ability to work with what was available to me, and put in the grind to make something cool from that.

I don’t remember the first time I went to the Veterans Hall, but it ended up being a cornerstone in hindsight for me getting into ‘the business.’ The Hall was a community space that you could rent out for events. I don’t remember how I found out that you could have it for an evening for the then seeming unsurmountable amount of $200 (about £150). I worked part time as a lifeguard, so by doing some extra shifts and saving, I managed to pull together the money to reserve the space for my first ever show. I had no idea how to put on a concert; we did not know or think about health and safety or fire exits then. It was just about getting some bands together to play that we loved, and creating a space for all of us to get together to hear them live.

My first gig featured my friends band. They went to the rival high school, the one that was located in downtown Santa Cruz, and populated with a lot of west side surfers. This made the band, and the possibility of what may happen at the evening, seem mysterious, dangerous and ever so alluring. I charged the princely sum of $2 at the door. Everyone was very respectful; we were just thrilled to be able to be at a show with live music. To see someone your age ‘on stage’ – even if that ‘stage’ was just the far end of the Veterans Hall, was super exciting.

As time went on, I met more and more bands. I started having gigs with groups from Southern California, which as a teenager seemed as far away and exotic as Mars. Bands like No Doubt and Sublime, who were just barely out of high school themselves, graced the Hall during those early years.

We did not really know what we were doing; we did not do it to ‘get experience’ or to have a line to put on our CV. It was all about creating something for ourselves, that we loved and looked forward to and were passionate about. That was my first ‘scene.’

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