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Davis, California

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Davis music venues: struggling or thriving?


The Davis house show scene shows initiative in light of closing Freeborn Hall, lack of “one size fits all” venues

The Mondavi Center, Third Space Art Collective, Sophia’s Thai Kitchen, the Pavilion — Davis certainly does not lack a variety of music venues. But after closing Freeborn Hall (once known as UC Davis’ premiere music venue) and Chance the Rapper’s recent performance inside the makeshift Pavilion-turned-arena, the Davis music scene must ask itself: there may not be a shortage of venues, but is there an inadequacy?

Every music venue in Davis has its own niche, whether it be providing a formal location for large-scale artists at the Mondavi Center, hosting local KDVS musicians at Third Space, or providing background entertainment for the night scene at bars like Sophia’s and G Street Wunderbar. And while Davis musicians are dedicated enough to find places for sharing their art, the town still lacks an established “one size fits all” venue.

Jeremy Ganter, the Mondavi Center’s associate executive director and director of programming, detailed the performing arts center’s role in the Davis music scene. Having been with the Mondavi Center since its inception 15 years ago, Ganter noted that the Mondavi Center is a premiere venue not only in Yolo County, but in all of Northern California.

“Part of our role in the music scene is diversifying it,” Ganter said. “We present a very wide array of music genres, ranging from classical to indie rock, with a special commitment to classical music, jazz and other American musical forms, and world music. That said, our hope and our goal, every year, is that our contributions to the local music scene go beyond the excellence and diversity of the music we present.”

The Mondavi Center has its niche and excels at it. But most UC Davis students are drawn to genres not often hosted by the Mondavi Center — hip-hop, pop, garage rock. Ganter also recognizes this, and stresses the importance of an audience-centered ideology.

“Good venues are important to the experience, of course, but the most important element of a healthy music scene is a clear point of view about what artists are chosen, and why,” Ganter said. “If you have a focused perspective on your work that resonates with your audience, it can be a pathway to more venues, or improved venues, or the kind of venues that better serve the local music scene.”

There is no shortage of venues, therefore, to Davis students willing to pay for a ticket at a sit-down venue and hear world-renowned musicians like Yo-Yo Ma, Julian Lage, Philip Glass and others. (Not to mention that students receive 50 percent off most tickets at the Mondavi Center.)

E.J. Palacios, a Davis resident and third-year human development major at Sacramento City College, frequently organizes local Davis house shows. He believes there is a distinction to be made between the Davis music scene and that provided by UC Davis.

“[House shows are for] just a lot more lesser known, indie-groups — people that are still on a local level,” Palacios said. “The Mondavi Center, they are the one place that [musicians] will come. But that’s not really the Davis music scene, that’s for UC Davis. There isn’t much of a middle ground. You’re either paying $80 at the Mondavi Center, or donating at someone’s house.”

Palacios is right; without the Mondavi Center, local musicians are left with Third Space, bars and house shows. And with the limitation of 21+ entry for the night scene, half of the undergraduate community is left scrambling to attend house shows or trekking to South Davis to catch a performance at Third Space. That’s not to say any of these venues lack integrity, or even good music; rather, they are not primarily music venues. Food and drink menus and community-hosted events are instead priorities for places like Sophia’s and Third Space — and that’s okay; that is their niche.

Unbeknownst to most students, however, is the small but thriving community behind house shows. Davis residents, inspired by the growing music scene and saddened by the lack of attendance, have assumed leadership roles in this regard. Huck Vaughan, third-year cinema and digital media major, is one of these Davis residents inviting musicians, neighbors and strangers to pack into their living room for a night of sweaty dancing and local tunes.

“The underground music scene surprised me when I came to Davis,” Vaughan said. “Seeing a fledgling band playing in someone’s living room makes for an intimate live experience that’s hard to find anywhere else.”

In fact, Palacios is the brains behind the shows being held at Vaughan’s residence. Palacios contacted Bay Area band Pit Stains and invited them to grace Davis with some DIY punk. And, in the spirit of punk, Pit Stains accepted.

But attending a house show is more than making Friday night plans, or even discovering new music; it’s about showing support for the musicians and the community that consistently and voluntarily nurture an ailing scene.

“There’s a lot of interesting-looking people. There’s always lots of hairdos, hair colors. It’s always really inviting, at least at all the shows I’ve been to,” Palacios said. “I might not talk to a lot of people, but I have definitely met a lot people.”

Palacios concluded with a call to action. He requested that anyone with a mild interest in music or hosting live music should consider planning a house show themselves.

“Anyone who’s interested in putting on house shows should just f*cking do it. It’s really not that hard,” Palacios insisted. “You just [have] to reach out to bands. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s easy, but it’s not crazy difficult; it just takes effort. You just have to be willing to initiate. You have to really want to lead. You have to really want to make it happen.”

To find out more about upcoming Davis/Sacramento house shows and clubs, check out undietacos.org.

Written by: Ally Overbay — arts@theaggie.org


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