.Noise Pop’s 31st Year Celebrates Bay Area Music Scene

Festival features many East Bay musicians at iconic San Francisco venues

The first Noise Pop Festival was a one-night stand that took place at the Kennel Club—now The Independent—on Divisadero Street in 1993. It featured five bands and cost five dollars. Thirty-one years later, it’s become an internationally known destination for bands and music lovers.

“The first Festival took place about a month before the internet became a thing,” said Michelle Swing, the current CEO of Noise Pop Industries, the organization that puts on the Festival. “The way people discovered and consumed music was wildly different. It started as a one-night, pure indie rock show. This was also before indie rock blossomed into what it is now. I’m not sure that our founder, Kevin Arnold, really knew that what he was creating would turn into this 30-plus-year-old cultural gem.

“I think the idea of calling it a Festival was a clever way to create hype and make sure people knew that it wasn’t just going to be your average show,” Swing said. “The Festival continued to expand to multiple venues, across a number of nights, in the years following. That’s part of what makes this event so unique.”

As the Festival grew, it collaborated with many venues around the Bay Area, to bring the shows to life. The Festival has become a celebration of those iconic spaces and what they mean to the history of music in San Francisco.

“Noise Pop’s vision is centered around creating unique, memorable, culturally relevant experiences, with a point of view that you can’t find anywhere else,” Swing said. “We’ve benefited from the support and enthusiasm of the community and the fans, over many years, to make that a reality.”

This year’s Festival will present several hundred acts at multiple venues, including the Joe Henderson Lab at SF Jazz, the Great American Music Hall and Grace Cathedral, which will host an evening with Suzanne Ciani, the electronic-music pioneer. She’ll play a Buchia 200e Modular Synthesizer and perform improvisations on the music from Seven Waves, her breakthrough album from the early ’80s. 

“Suzanne is a living legend and a true trailblazer in the world of electronic music and the art of synthesizers,” Swing said. “Her contributions across film and television have been an influence on many artists for decades. When the idea of bringing her to the Festival came up, it was an absolute no-brainer. Her roots in the Bay Area, and lasting legacy, made her the perfect addition. To have this show take place in Grace Cathedral, in quadraphonic sound, will be the cherry on top of the whole experience.”

Ciani’s performance is an indicator of how far the musical vision of Noise Pop has come since its early days. The artists performing at this year’s outing encompass the indie rock, pop, country, folk, jazz and classical genres.

“This is the core of what makes the Festival unique,” Swing said. “It’s not just for one kind of music fan. There’s something for everyone. We’ve evolved from our indie-rock roots and want to be a celebration of what makes both indie music and the Bay Area music scene so special. 

“Music has evolved to a state where genre lines are becoming increasingly blurred,” she added. “Artist experimentation and collaboration is resulting in music that can’t be defined by any one label. We want to help people discover all these incredibly diverse and talented artists.”

The outstanding artists performing this year are listed on the Noise Pop website. Highlights include Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, the Grammy-winning group that blends rap and R&B, at the Curran Theater on March 1; poet aja monet, winner of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe Grand Slam Poetry Award, who will combine her words with the backing of a jazz band at the Swedish American Hall on Feb. 29; and Native American singer/songwriter Black Belt Eagle Scout at the Rickshaw Stop on Feb. 26.

Oakland musicians in the fest include bedroom rockers Sour Widows at the Rickshaw Stop on Feb. 26, singer-songwriter Oona Garthwaite at Bender’s Bar & Grill on Feb. 29, rock band Ultra Q at Bottom of the Hill on March 1, metal band KIM at Bender’s on March 2 and Orchestra Gold Trio at Great American Music Hall on March 3.

Fans planning to attend the week-long festivities can buy individual tickets to each event, or purchase a badge, at a much reduced price, that will allow them general admission to every concert, as well as all the happy hours and after-hour parties.

“Price shouldn’t be the reason that someone isn’t able to experience as much or as little of this Festival as they want to,” Swing said. “So, if a fan is as crazy as us, and wants to see as many shows as possible, a badge gets you into everything.”

She added, “At the end of the day we want to share as much of this experience as possible, and we’ve managed to find a way to make it work for us and the fans. So yeah, if you plan to go to more than just a few shows, do not skimp on the badge option.”

For a full listing of bands, concerts and venues visit noisepopfest.com

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