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Points to Success

[whitespace] Crack Airing It Out: Guitarist Fred Sablan of Crack got airborne during a show at Cactus Club late in 1996.

Christopher Gardner

The Cactus Club celebrates 10 years of rocking in downtown San Jose

By Sarah Quelland

NIRVANA, BECK, Alanis Morissette, KoRn, No Doubt, Alice in Chains, Primus, Green Day, Rage Against the Machine, Rancid, Lisa Loeb, Jonathan Richman--and the list goes on and on. With this impressive track record, it's not difficult to see why the Cactus Club has managed to flourish for 10 years in downtown San Jose's volatile SoFA (South of First Area) club scene.

The last of the original clubs that brought big-city nightlife in the mid-1980s to downtown San Jose, the Cactus Club consistently books top-quality acts before they hit the big time. And while SoFA clubs like Marsugi's, Ajax and F/X have come and gone, the Cactus maintains its corner of South First Street, packing in audiences nightly.

Not much to look at from the outside, the Cactus is housed in a nondescript gray-brick building at the corner of South First and San Salvador streets. Rocco the Pizza Guy sells pizza at a walk-up window to the right of the main entrance. Inside, the club is loud, dark and dingy.

The stage is small; the sound quality could be better. And the smell--that stale mixture of beer, sweat and other unmentionables that makes up the Cactus aroma--reminds you that this is one of the coolest little holes in the wall in the valley.

When I sat down in the office in a broken chair to talk about the old days with the Trippett brothers--club co-founder Mike and booker Calvin, respectively--it was hard not to laugh a little. The old photos taken at the Cactus of Beck, 7 Year Bitch and the like had been trashed by other bands while hanging out in the dressing room. Digging through the stacks of pictures, we discovered that most of the photos were stuck to broken glass in sticky frames, making them impossible to reproduce.

Craig Yamato, the long-time bartender, rushed into the office in a panic: Apparently the lines to the draft beer had frozen, and a large chunk of ice was stubbornly refusing to budge. Another typical night at Cactus.

Dodging lecherous comments, I listened to Calvin and Mike reminisce on the past 10 years, recalling what bands were cool and what bands weren't. Both agreed that cult favorites the Beat Farmers (whose lead singer, the beloved Country Dick Montana, died from a heart attack during a performance in British Columbia in 1995) were one of the greatest.

Ten years in business is no small achievement, and to celebrate its success, Cactus is holding an anniversary party on Dec. 19. The headliner won't allow its name to appear in print. To cut through the mystery, walk down to the club and ask around. Local favorites the Odd Numbers will also perform.

The Odd Numbers are an appropriate choice; the band has been around since Cactus opened, although not continuously. One night, the Odd Numbers went onstage and smashed their equipment, taking out some of Cactus' equipment in the process--and got kicked out for four or five years. Now, ironically, all three members work at the club: John Cummings is the "daytime office guy" and both Daves (Miller and Baisa) work behind the bar. Holding up a Corona, with a gleam in his eye, Cummings says the best part of the job is "good benefits."

posters Every Poster Tells a Story: Craig Yamato's posters chart the history of the Cactus' eclectic booking policies.

Craig Yamato

THE CACTUS has done more than just book some memorable acts. Not only did it contribute to ending the pay-to-play policy that existed previously at some of the South Bay's rock & roll clubs, but it also gives local musicians a place to play regularly.

During any given month, a range of talented locals, including Insolence, Spitkiss, Monkey, Concerning Eye, the Mr. T Experience, Tribal Disco Noise, a variety of rock en español bands and of course the Odd Numbers can be found on Cactus' stage. The club has also been host to a number of benefit shows: the Suicide Prevention benefit, the Missing Children benefit and Rockin' Relief, 1991's benefit for earthquake relief for San Jose, Costa Rica.

The Cactus also attracts a diverse crowd with its Flashback and Backlash dance nights and Big Hat Mondays, which feature country and karaoke. As Mike says, "Me and Sean [Galvin, a co-founder] always wanted to have a place where a guy in a suit and tie could sit next to a guy with a Mohawk and not feel threatened."

Just outside the office, aggressive local rock-rap bands 419 and Method 5150 are about to hit the Cactus' well-worn stage. Meanwhile, Mike Trippett is decked out in cowboy gear and ready to take off to see country star Martina McBride at the Saddle Rack. Musing about the last 10 years, he says, "I think we did a good job of achieving our goal."

The Cactus 10th Anniversary Party takes place Saturday (Dec. 19) at 8:45pm at 417 S. First St., San Jose. Tickets are $15. (408/491-9300)

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From the December 17-23, 1998 issue of Metro.

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