The name Yoshi’s is synonymous with jazz in the Bay Area, so it was a surprise to find Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks with mando-man David Grisman, Rhett Miller from the country-influenced, alt-rock band the Old 97’s , and the The Waybacks performing back-to-back-to-back shows at Yoshi’s-SF over the last three days of March.
SF doesn’t have the audience to support full-time live jazz at a 300-capacity venue, so Yoshi’s-SF is diversifying its musical menu. The trouble is that this puts Yoshi’s on a collision course with Slim’s, Great American Music Hall, The Warfield and The Fillmore (which is just down the street), and at a price point far above those clubs.
In 2005, Yoshi’s was lured into the mid-Fillmore area by the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency which was making a pitch to re-establish the San Francisco jazz district; a “district” that never really was. Sure, there were a couple of jazz places on Fillmore after WW2, but in the ’50s Turk Murphy and, of course, the Beatniks, ruled the city’s jazz roost from North Beach (where, incidentally, patron-starved Pearl’s jazz club recently closed.)
The Redevelopment Agency put up a $5.7M loan to help Yoshi’s build a palatial restaurant and music facility. Yoshi’s, along with Rasellas, a jazz-favored Ethiopian restaurant that had been at Divisadero and California, and the new Sheeba Lounge all opened shop to bring jazz to the redeveloped blocks of Fillmore between Geary and Turk… and nobody cared. Then came the recession.
A March 17th Chronicle item picks up the story. “Today, the agency will ask the Board of Supervisors to approve a proposal to give $1.5 million to Yoshi’s to help with construction debt, $90,000 to Sheba Lounge for tenant improvements and $251,000 to Rasselas for tenant improvements.” The article also notes that Yoshi’s has never made a payment on the original $5.7M loan. The additional $1.5M has been approved since the Chron story was written.
The City is cutting services and running a deficit yet it continues to use tax dollars to fund a never was, never going to be, project like Yoshi’s-SF to the tune of $7.2 million. $251,000 to Rassalas and $90,000 to Sheeba Lounge, on top of who knows how much else, is hardly chump change either. Meanwhile, Pearl’s in the heart of SF real jazz district (such as it is), the Pound SF which was SF’s premier punk venue, and 12 Galaxies which was the largest club in the Mission, never received a penny from SF when they opened, or closed.
SF’s clubs and bars are taking an economic beating these days. They’re cutting hours, some are closing on Mondays and Tuesdays, and some are closing forever, yet Yoshi’s-SF and the clubs around it hang on thanks to multi-million-dollar taxpayer-supported bailouts. $7.2 million to Yoshi’s-SF smells even worse when compared to the $3.5 million that constitutes the entire 2008 music budget for San Francisco Grants for the Arts, which HWS News took to task in the last issue. (See “City of SF’s Narrow View of Music as Art”)
Responsibility for this injustice is due to SF City Hall’s dilettante-inspired bias toward classical music and jazz, and the pampered Redevelopment Agency, which has been irresponsible, negligent and flat-out incompetent for decades, yet never once been called to account.