Ours is a commuter campus -- SF State students hear that all the time. It explains being stuck in the boonies of a world-class city with nowhere to go except Stonestown Galleria. Yet a chill pub and live music are available daily right in the center of campus.
From 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., students, faculty and visitors can drink beer and wine, choose from a variety of food -- mostly Italian, Middle Eastern, and Mexican -- and relax in a warmly lit atmosphere while listening to music or watching TV at the Pub, located in the basement level of the student center.
Adjacent to the Pub is the Depot, where from 5-7 p.m. musicians play an eclectic mix of music, from various DJs to full-out funk, solo-blues to hard-alternative, poetry to comedy. It’s a small soundstage that fills the lower levels of the student center with vague ambiences from strange instruments, to esophagus-rumbling bass and searing guitars.
Alison Victor, the manager for Depot, books the acts and tries to give priority to SF State students. Most of the acts have a connection to the campus –- the solo performers, DJs, and most of the bands have at least one member who attends SF State, but it’s not mandatory.
“My preference is to have SF State talent perform here because [Associated Students] pays for the space and I like to help develop the talent and give them a place,” said Victor. “But also I look for bands that are actually out in the clubs because you have to pay to see those guys, whereas here, it’s already paid for by student fees.”
On Monday, April 5, DJ Barajas spun their sound for a spattering of spectators. David Barajas (DJ Barajas), a 19-year-old SF State business major, and his partner Jorge Santellan (1-G), 24, who studies business and broadcast communications at City College of San Francisco, mixed hip-hop after being invited back by Victor, who first recognized their talent during an "Open Deck" at the Depot, where DJs sign up and “open-mic” their vinyl savvy.” Their two personalities blended to cover most of the hip-hop spectrum.
“I’m not really a big fan of gangster rap, I’m more into like R&B, lovey-dovey stuff,” said Santellan. “I used to DJ a bar in Pacifica and it would always cause fights, and then when I would switch over to R&B it would bring more of a crowd together. [Barajas] is more of a gangster rap mixer.”
Still, the entertainment, spirits, and social setting in a venue-deficient community weren’t enough to attract a crowd.
“I don’t go down there that often, but I heard really good music playing,” said Adriana Fuentes, a 20-year-old creative writing major, while she enjoyed a cigarette break in the graffiti-art drenched stairwell that leads from the Depot upstairs to Malcolm X Plaza. “So I went down there and I was like, ‘Oh, look,’ and there really wasn’t very many people down there and it wasn’t very well advertised. They had good lyrics, they played well; it looked like they had experience. I felt bad they had so few people there.”
“We’re having a bit of marketing/visibility issue on campus,” said Victor. “I think people have seen the Depot, but don’t realize it’s free music every night. I think also that some people feel really distracted: that if they go down there and hang out for an hour, they won’t want to do anymore homework, because it’s really fun.”
Meredith Axelrod is a 2O-year-old sophomore. She only likes ragtime/traditional jazz and early 20th century pop tunes and said she’d hang out at the Depot more if they played her type of music. She said she cruises the Depot about four or five times a semester for the “bitchin atmosphere,” despite the "ragtime" desideratum. That was Wednesday, April 7.
Axelrod was there to see her friend play drums for Choke, an alternative hard rock band, whose bombastic bass and drums almost violently supported the singer’s visceral cries for help and the guitarist’s ethereal, searing leads at decibels reaching total air saturation.
“I think the environment at SF State doesn’t have a lot of social cohesion, so people kind of have individual lives a lot of the time and don’t really know what’s going on around campus,” Axelrod said.
Choke filled the Depot. “The crowd was a really good turn out. I was happy to see a lot of my friends and some unfamiliar faces,” said singer Eric Bateman. “The thing about playing out when you’re just starting out is you never know who's going to show up…. You tell all your friends to come out… everybody’s busy, we’re all students, so when somebody shows up it’s great.”
Thursdays are the busiest for the Depot. Victor tries to book upbeat and lively bands for Thursdays because it’s Pub Bash Night and the festivities are extended till 9:00 p.m. “Thursday nights are like our Friday nights, so people are getting off work, getting out of class, and they want to relax. I try to give that to them.” Victor said.
The Depot and the Pub are separate entities, but the two are somewhat dependent on each other.
“[Good bands] increases business significantly: people come, and if you have free entertainment and cheap drinks, it’s probably the hottest spot on campus,” said Pub owner Jack Jweinat. Last Thursday, April 15, was standing-room-only while the Push, a six-piece funk-driven alternative hard rock band, played at the Depot.
By the end of the evening, people were up and dancing to a thunder from the Push’s polyrhythmic drums. Improvisations from a keyboard player, a tenor sax, a guitar, and a harmonica, delivered melodic cacophonies in a frenzied blast of energy that had something for every single muscle of the body.
Push’s audience was warmed up by a half-dozen comedians from the Punchline in San Francisco. Marin comedian Sam Arno set the tone for the evening with a topic many Bay Area students can relate to. “I should’ve known [my wife] was gay,” Arno said during his set. “The short hair, the Dr. Martin boots, always fixing the car; lesbian porn; …vomiting at the sight of my penis. I should’ve known.”
“For the physical layout of the room, they were relatively very attentive, because there’s a lot of traffic going back and forth,” Arno said after his set. “And it was a big crowd: every seat was filled, and comedy is very much a community experience -- the more people you have, the easier the laugh for the comedian.”
Some of the most memorable acts in the Depot this semester for Victor were Stereo Star FM, whom she described as “power-pop, punky, and together,” and Project Pimento, a trio who used a Thermin for the melodies of lounge standards including Bali Hi and the theme to Star Trek.
As for the rest of this semester, she’s excitedly awaiting Sistas in the Pit -- an all female funk, R&B, rock band featuring Kofy Brown, a well-known Bay Area studio bassist. Victor also promises some unique acts to come.
“Come down and listen to music you might not normally listen to,” Victor said. “This is a place that we come to for education and to be exposed to things we have never seen before, and I think the Depot reflects that because we’ve had everything from Classical, to Bluegrass, to Punk Rock and Funk, and some great solo artists.”