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Come As You Are

This weekend's Stop, Drop and Rock festival showcases a thriving all-ages music scene, a valley pastime that has become a way of life for the next generation of music lovers. It sure beats hanging out at the mall.

By Sarah Quelland

ACROSS THE RAILROAD TRACKS, past the Pruneyard Shopping Center and well beyond the rib-scented smoking chimney of Andy's BBQ, a scene unknown to most of the valley is about to begin. Teenagers caught in that prickly age when it's cool to pretend they don't have parents are leaping out of minivans like they were made of molten lava and spilling toward the doors of the Gaslighter Theater. Last-minute reminders are falling on deaf ears as the kids quickly filter through the old swinging doors.

It's a warm California evening, and kids wear tank tops and jeans, Dickies with studded belts and T-shirts representing their favorite bands--among them System of a Down, Pantera, Led Zeppelin--and locals playing that night, Lavabone, Lords of the Manor and SECURITY. Their hair is spiked, braided, twisted and dyed--a luxury for many reserved exclusively for the summer months when school dress codes don't hinder the freedom of self-expression. Some have even written the names of the bands they're here to see tonight, "Lords" and "SECURITY," on their foreheads in bright blue paint, the true mark of any "fest."

Outside, it's still daylight, and the rest of mild-mannered Campbell Avenue is bustling with activity. The shops have closed up for the night, but nearby, the tables at Katie Bloom's are rambunctious with people, and down the street at the spacious Orchard Valley Coffee house folks are still chatting over lattes, working on laptops and studiously engaged in what appear to be extremely calculating games of chess.

Inside the old vaudeville playhouse, which is housed in the stately old Growers National Bank building, there's an intriguing soup of young people and adults. Tonight, they've all come for the Summer Music Fest 2002, a six-band bill that costs just $8 for admission. Amazingly, young kids are hanging out with their moms and dads, and small groups of older teens are chilling with their baby boomer chaperones. None seem irritated by the presence of another generation. In fact, the parents seem almost as excited to see the bands as their kids do.

One of only a handful of all-ages venues left in the South Bay, the historic Gaslighter is a mixed metaphor, a time machine from the past that has been catapulted into the future by a new generation. With the balcony roped off, it's rather small, and the seating accommodations make for a fairly sedate environment. But it's a comfortable atmosphere with funky character and antique charm. So retro it's almost hip, the bar in the lobby--which sells sodas, snacks, beer and wine--is lined with well-worn green bar stools fringed with golden roping. Songs from Papa Roach's latest, lovehatetragedy, are spilling through the club's speakers before and between bands.

There are basically two factions in the all-ages scene. The metal kids, like those at this show, who steer clear of mopey emo and jangly pop, and the indie kids who run cringing from head-slamming metal and aggressive rock. While tonight's show clearly caters to the former, the imminent Stop, Drop and Rock festival, opening this weekend [see concert details, p24], is designed for the latter. Much like in junior high and high school, the two camps may not mix, but thanks to venues like the Gaslighter, they can coexist on separate nights.

Tyler Kogura Indie's Times Tyler Kogura, who also works as a DJ on Santa Clara University's KSCU radio station, says that despite the closing of places like the Cactus Club, the all-ages scene has managed to find new homes.

Photograph by Max Knies

Indie City

Tyler Kogura is not at his usual KSCU digs. It's the middle of the afternoon, and we're seated at one of the umbrella tables on the patio of the Camera 3 Cafe. We don't know each other well, but talking comes easily to Kogura. His face lights up when I break out my tape recorder, and he looks as at home speaking into it as he does broadcasting his voice over the airwaves from behind the KSCU studio mic. Even the foul-mouthed man screaming angrily into the pay phone behind us isn't enough to derail our conversation. Or to dissipate Kogura's enthusiasm about the bright-eyed indie spirit that will take over the Gaslighter this Thursday-Sunday (Aug. 15-18) in the form of Stop, Drop and Rock.

Founded in 2000 by KSCU program director and DJ Kogura, who also puts on shows at the Santa Clara Basement, Stop, Drop and Rock was modeled after San Francisco's Noise Pop festival. This year's pop, punk and ska event is headlined by marquee acts Mates of State (Aug. 15), Slow Gherkin (Aug. 16), the Mr. T Experience (Aug. 17) and the Groovie Ghoulies (Aug. 18).

Now in its third year, the festival has grown and expanded from one day at the Gaslighter and two days at the old Channel One building to a full four-day music experience at the Gaslighter. 2002 finds many bands returning, including three of the headliners and popular groups like Stunt Monkey, Bunkbed, the Specs, Whippersnapper and Shut Up Donny. Some new bands, like the Phenomenauts and Rage Against the Robots, freshen the lineup.

This year, local promoter and booker of the Los Gatos Outhouse and the Mitchell Park Center Eric Fanali has taken a more active role in SDR, lending his music and booking expertise. Playing on the festival's title, Fanali says his mission is to get people to "Stop complaining about the dying music scene and drop their plans for the weekend and join us to rock out at the Gaslighter Theater."

The timing couldn't be better.

As Kogura points out, "Now that so many venues are closing down, like with the Cactus closing down [and] with the demise of SoFA Street Fair, there's fewer and fewer music-oriented events that go on, especially for younger people."

It's not a lost cause, though. Places like the Outhouse, Mitchell Park, the Basement, the Chemical Free Zone, the Gallery, the Gaslighter Theater and Gaslighter's Music Hall help keep the teen dream alive. Even the Icon Nightclub has relaxed its 21-and-up rules to accommodate some all-ages shows. Icon talent buyer Jimmy Arceneaux says, "It had a little bit to do with the Cactus Club closing, [and] it never seemed fair to me that [kids] didn't have any place to go." The Santa Clara club Backbeat has opened up 18-and-over nights during the week The need is there and these venues--especially the smaller ones--are an important part of the communities they serve because they provide a fun, safe atmosphere for kids and teenagers.

Fanali says he's seen shy, awkward, even alienated teens blossom as they become part of the tight-knit communities that form in these environments.

"It's a great social outlet," he observes. "Everyone likes the same music there, so they all have something in common."


Stik Figure: With memories of music rescuing his own troubled childhood, Cactus' Stikmon works to save kids through music.

Stop, Drop and Rock 3: Performance schedule for the event at the Gaslighter Theater.


Rock of (All) Ages

Kari McClelland, a pretty 18-year-old graduate of Los Gatos High School and volunteer at the Outhouse, grew up on Fanali and Kogura's shows. She can't really picture life without the all-ages music scene and says these shows give her and her friends something productive to do on the weekends and have helped foster her love of music.

"When there's no show going on, I just sit at home or watch a movie or something lame like that," she says. "The all-ages music scene is so valuable because it not only gives teenagers something cheap and worthwhile to do on the weekends, but supports indie bands that are trying to make a name for themselves."

She's referring to some of her own favorites, which include Limbeck, the Velvet Teen, Division Day, Pocket for Corduroy, For the Design and Manplanet.

Young bands just starting out get to develop their skills in these small halls and teen centers. Their fans don't seem to mind if the musicians play with raw technique or if the singers can't carry a tune yet. There's a support network here. Bands get points just for having the guts to go for it.

Not only that, as Katy Francis, a tall, blonde 15-year-old sophomore at Palo Alto High School and fan of bands like Janis Figure, the Slackers and Slow Gherkin, says, "There is no denying the thrill of seeing your favorite band up close."

"At all-ages venues," McClelland explains, "You get to meet so many unique individuals from all over the area who come because they love the music and the scene as much as you do."

McClelland's also a big fan of Slow Gherkin, the Huxtables and Mates of State, three groups playing this year's SDR.

She says, "I've met the guys that are in those bands, and they are honestly nice people who love their music. Now I can't even listen to songs from bands that I've met [and] seen play without thinking about the people who are behind the music. No amount of school, MTV, VH1 or extracurriculars could have given that appreciation of music to me."

Fanali, who has been putting on shows since he was a high schooler in Saratoga, says the teens who come to his shows are creative kids--kids who aren't afraid to be different, to set their own fashion, to listen to bands not played on mainstream radio. "Some of them are really accelerated," he says. "Some kids are overachievers." They're active in the drama club, speech and debate, school athletics and nonprofit groups. "I can't imagine how they even have time to go to shows," he says.

Now 23, Fanali has grown into one of the most active supporters of the all-ages scene, but not without personal sacrifice. Other parts of his life, like high school when he was younger, and more recently work, have taken a back seat as he's dedicated his time and energy to making sure the shows happen and young people like McClelland and Francis have a place to go.

"I was never good at school," Fanali confesses. "I was too busy drafting who's playing the next weekend or making plans on my desk about what kind of lighting system's gonna be there."

He knows he missed out on some of the high school experience. But, he says, "I found I fit in after a while by not fitting in."

Recently, Fanali graduated from San Jose State University and took a job with a video game PR firm in San Francisco--a job he just quit because it took too much time away from rock & roll.

He found out that 500 people applied for his job. Now he's starting to wonder if he made the right choice. "They're fighting over the job that I just walked away from. Am I stupid? Should I stay there? Am I not going to have another job?"

These are questions that remain unanswered for now, and he worries about his future. But putting on rock shows is his passion. "I just can't stop doing it," he says. "I wish there was a time when there are so many all-ages clubs that people have to choose, rather than [worry] if there are places for them to go at all."

Kogura agrees. When kids express interest to him about putting on their own shows and festivals, he says he responds with support and enthusiasm. "Go for it!" he encourages. "Because the more stuff like that we have, the better it is."

Difficult Stage

It's not easy keeping the all-ages scene afloat though. A lot of people--business owners in the neighborhood of venues, elected officials, neighbors and obsessive police--harbor the dreaded disease: F.O.T. (Fear of Teens). Although there has been an amazing lack of trouble at Fanali's and other all-ages shows, the scene has had to continually change venues, roaming from town to town. It just takes one mischievous kid and one complaining shop owner or resident to spoil an otherwise good thing.

Take the Fishbowl, for instance. Fanali's sunny features cloud when the subject arises. Housed in Le Boulanger bakery in Sunnyvale, the Fishbowl was an award-winning teen program sponsored by the city. With Fanali's help, it exceeded all expectations and became a tremendous success.

"It was awesome!" he says. "We had Creeper Lagoon play there. We got crazy bands! We got Deathray--the guys from Cake--I can't believe they played there!" He becomes very animated remembering all the bands that came through the Fishbowl.

Ultimately though, the city shut down the program.

"It's the worst breakup I've ever had," he tells me in all seriousness. "It really knocked me off my feet."

Fanali never felt he was given a satisfactory explanation for the termination of the program. But he's certain fear of liability led to the decision.

"They just didn't want the responsibility anymore. They're afraid that something's gonna go wrong every night, and the only way to make sure nothing goes wrong is not to do it at all--and that's counter-productive."

In the meantime, since the plug was pulled on the Fishbowl, Fanali has been working his magic at the Outhouse and the Mitchell Park Center. Under his capable hands, the Outhouse has seen major buzz bands like Ozma, Rufio and Yellowcard come though.

He says, "I think the shows that are happening are really quality. Bands still wanna go to San Jose. I'd like to make it a destination."

Since the much-lamented demise of the Cactus Club--which spent 14 years consistently hosting all-ages shows of all kinds--bands are struggling to find new places to play.

Fanali remembers going to shows at places like the Knights of Columbus Hall and the Cupertino Library when venues were scarce. Since Cactus closed, he sees it happening again. "I feel like [this is] the lowest point we've been in awhile. [But] the kids will try to survive. They'll scrap at anything they can do."

Right now, bands are hustling crowds into random spaces like the Nova Allianca Hall and Luna's Mufflers and resorting to holding house parties.

Kogura says the police shut down the house shows quickly, so organizers have started allowing only two bands to play. By the time the cops arrive, the show's almost over anyway. "That's hard," he says, admiring their dedication. "I give it up to those kids. I don't want police coming to my house every weekend."

Paula Bray, executive director of the Youth Music Foundation and mother of Lavabone frontman J.C. Franklin (who played Sunday's Summer Fest 2002), has seen her share of difficulties as well. The Youth Music Foundation has been instrumental in coordinating youth music programs in teen centers and churches all across the valley, but has yet to find a permanent home. Quite the opposite. A rotating cast of program directors, church pastors and city officials that just don't want the hassle of dealing with teenagers have been significant roadblocks in her quest to implement healthy programs for young people to be musically creative in a supportive peer environment.

It's not that teens aren't interested. At some spaces, she says, "We became so successful that they felt we were bringing in too many outside youths."

Her own son's advanced musical ability and the realization that there were other local teens with similar talent drove Bray to spearhead teen programs. "There were more than just my son that needed this direction," she says.

At 31, Kogura can also speak as an adult. He assures that all-ages venues provide a safe, wholesome environment for young people. "Parents can drop their kids off and know they'll be OK. We try to make sure that it's safe for everyone--especially the younger kids. The vibe stays very positive."

Unfortunately, to keep it that way, Kogura feels he has to shy away from booking rougher bands at the Basement. "If we have one incident--one big incident--we're done. And I have to admit to being a little overcautious about it because I would hate for that to happen. Thankfully," he continues, "most of the bands are pretty understanding. They know what their crowds are like."

Still, Fanali is frustrated by the fear and bureaucracy he sees stifling the teen programs. "I wish cities and investors would be interested in helping out kids. I'm there to help. I'll give my energy and my time and what I know about booking and my voice, but other than that, I don't know what I can lend. Someone needs to stand up and do this."

The Grand Fanali Local musical promoter Eric Fanali has been putting on all-ages shows since he was 16, and says the events provide a chance for kids to meet kindred spirits from throughout the valley.

Photograph by Max Knies

Bands on the Run

Because of people like Kogura, Fanali, former Cactus Club owner Stikmon [see related story, p.21]. and the folks at the Chemical Free Zone, the Gallery and the two Gaslighters who help support the scene, this area has a good reputation among many bands. Groups have been known to play all-ages venues for peanuts just because they know they have a fan base in the South Bay and they like playing here.

Kogura says, "The guys from the Mr. T Experience have always been really cool. They've played for a fraction of what they get paid at Cactus or one of those places."

Kogura has also noticed that a lot of indie bands avoid 21-and-up clubs in favor of all-ages venues--even the older, more established bands. "The Groovie Ghoulies are almost insistent that it be an all-ages venue," he says. "And that's good. It's nice that means something to them."

Bands are tuned into their audiences, and they know their young fans can't come see them at a 21-and-up venue and they want to play where they can draw. After all, it's no fun playing to an empty house. Slow Gherkin frontman James Rickman, the young one in the band at 24, insists, "It's in everyone's best interest to stick to all-ages shows." He sounds disgusted by the crossed-arm vodka and Red Bull stance he sees at so many 21-and-up clubs. "We've never done well playing to 21-and-up people. We'd rather play to people who get really into the show and want to talk to us and dance and aren't afraid of making asses of themselves." When you put it that way, who wouldn't?

While most of the bands participating in this year's SDR appeal to teenagers and young college-music enthusiasts, there are some, like Stunt Monkey, that fit in as well on mainstream rock radio stations like LIVE 105 and KMBY as they do on KSCU. Known for wacky antics like throwing snack cakes like confetti and irreverent singles like "Your Mom Is Hot," Stunt Monkey has played several dates on the Vans Warped Tour and just returned from recording and tracking 15 new songs with Bill Stevenson (Black Flag, the Descendents, ALL) and Stephen Egerton (Descendents, ALL) at the Blasting Room in Colorado.

A fan of Stunt Monkey's himself, Fanali has to laugh. "As soon as there's a Stunt Monkey show, it clears out all my volunteers. They are dedicated to this band--married to them."

But while things appear to be winding up for Stunt Monkey, they're winding down for perennial pop-ska favorites Slow Gherkin.

Despite celebrating the release of its new CD, Run Screaming (Asian Man Records), at SDR, Friday's appearance may be the group's last in the South Bay. Frontman Rickman is heading off to New York to pursue a screenwriting career, and life is pulling other members of the band in different directions as well. As a result, Gherkin is going on an indefinite hiatus. But despite gazing into a foggy future, Rickman's hesitant to say it's the end for Gherkin. "We're trying to leave it fairly open."

Still, the band's many fans will be turning up in record numbers to catch what could be the last show. Sad to see them go, McClelland is certain that their night will be a memorable one. "There are some great bands lined up to play and I'm looking forward to rocking out," she says.

As a Friend

With this year's Stop, Drop and Rock ready to roll, Kogura is already preparing for next year's festival. He has big plans. "We want to expand it every year a little bit [and] try to encompass even more entertainment and activities. Anything we think would work out well."

His wish list includes coordinating events with places like Raging Waters, Nickel City and local theaters and inviting other clubs and radio stations to participate in the festival. He'd also like to throw skateboarding into the mix. He's convinced it can be done.

"[There are] so many resources to use," he enthuses. Referring to Steve Caballero, he says, "Heck, one of the most famous skateboarders ever is right in Campbell. And you have so many other former pro-skateboarders here. You could easily get them to do some kind of skate thing."

It will take deeper pockets than his for his dream to be realized.

"We have to increase our manpower and our money," he says. "And I hate to say that's the bottom line, [but] it costs so much money to put on multiple things. Every year things get more expensive. The venue gets more expensive. Printing up fliers and posters gets more expensive. At this time, we don't have the money to do it." This year, they're making T-shirts and buttons for the festival, which tacks on even more to the cost.

Last year, Kogura says, a dotcom (being diplomatic, he won't reveal which one) approached him about sponsoring the event. After considering their offer, he says he declined because they wanted to pick 40 percent of the bill. The DIY-integrity of the festival is important to Kogura, and he says, "We didn't want this big 'agenda fest' where it's really just whoever paid the most money gets to be on it."

He says he would also turn down beer or cigarette sponsors if the offers arose. For a youth-centric festival promoting good, clean fun, he says, "That kind of misses the point. Not that alcohol is bad, but it's not what we're looking for."

While viable financial support has been hard to come by, volunteers have not.

That's the one place we've never had la problem and thank God!" Kogura tells me. "Because it's just so much to do, especially the week before."

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From the August 15-21, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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