Thanks for sticking around for the second and final part of this blog series, where I talk about the local songwriter scene, community-building, the cost of living, and how they all intersect. (ICYMI, you can read part one of the series for some more context about the plight of local creatives trying to survive in a city as unaffordable as San Diego.)
Community is Key for WRSD
The only solution I can suggest for such a fiasco is one that’s been offered up a million times over from indigenous folks and Black and Brown folks and queer folks and migrants and abolitionists and organizers that have been bearing the brunt of garbage systems since colonialism splooged all over the West in the name of God or gold or manifest destiny or whatever other shiny phrase white people use to justify murder, theft, and destruction. That solution is: deciding to invest in hyper-localized communities and the people who build them. Take care of each other by making communal choice after communal choice after communal choice, until any system based on individual gain suffocates because no one needs to buy what it’s selling because everyone already has what they need. Because community.
This brings me back to the San Diego songwriting community as it stands today: in our own way, we are navigating fucked up systems to not only preserve and propel a legacy of overwhelming San Diego talent that rivals any Nashville nook or Hollywood cranny, but to also create solutions toward a more compassionate and sustainable future. Not stepping on each other to get ahead, but lifting each other up. Essentially, making the communal choice not to feed the beast but to protect each other from the beast.
Leading the charge in this effort for WRSD and Songwriter Sanctuary are newly appointed hosts Lauren Leigh Martin and Jeff Berkley, who both use words like “humbling,” “incredible,” and “honored” when describing what it feels like to carry forth the vision Ben and Karyn brought to life.
Both San Diego natives and wowee-wow-wow-wowza multi-hyphenate talents, Martin and Berkley share between them a quadruple-middle-finger-level of resilience and outright refusal to go down for the count in a city that effectively works against its finest contributors. As full time creatives and parents who have experienced their fair share of hard knocks, they possess not only the grit to get by, but the life experience to know you don’t get anywhere (karmically speaking) by leaving other folks behind.
Case in point: Martin, along with fellow community-builder and new WRSD sound tech Eric Neilson, have exciting plans in store for the Monday night WRSD gang, like offering affordable audio/video recordings of artist performances to help alleviate the pressure and expenses that come with the incessant demands of social media promotion and DIY content creation. This kind gesture (straight out of the Brazier playbook, rest his soul) may seem small, but can save independent artists hundreds of dollars while helping crack open seemingly dead-bolted doors of an industry where nearly every lucrative opportunity boils down to quality social content. In a city where most independent artists can barely scrape together rent let alone a marketing budget, this is huge.
“What we do is not meaningless,” said Martin. “At times it can feel that way. Artists are undervalued and underpaid in this country which is a tragedy. We have created a culture in our city that is unlike other music cities, and word is getting out. There's something huge happening here and it's because it's centered in kindness and willingness to show up for each other.”
A Collective Spiritual Experience at Songwriter Sanctuary
Berkley echoes Martin’s community-minded ethos. His deep connections within the local music scene, both on stage and in the studio, make him an ideal fit to guide the Songwriter Sanctuary series forward.
“Getting to be around singer-songwriters is my happy place…I miss Java Joe’s, and this feels like that did,” he said.
The century-old sanctuary space at Normal Heights United Church sets the ideal stage for fostering the Flamminian (I made this word up, but it works) listening room environment that helped catapult Jason, Jewel, and Poltz into the stratosphere of household names and world tours. Beyond its physical charm, the church emphatically welcomes individuals of all backgrounds, ages, and identities (weird that that feels like a selling point when it should just come standard for any tax-exempt institution, but here we are trying to kick drag queens out of library storytime while still not really admitting where rampant indoctrination actually tends to happen, but I digress), making it the perfect setting for an evening that, according to Berkley, “resonates both audibly and spiritually.”
Growing up a preacher's kid who has spent decades performing in not only churches but also living rooms, backyards, bars, concert halls, amphitheaters, and everything in between, Berkley knows precisely what it takes to whip up and tap into a collective energy created by heartfelt music and engaging storytelling.
“Getting to help set the stage and help guide folks into that magical space is one of my favorite things to do,” he said.
Where WRSD is a casual space for songwriters to hone and test their craft in rowdy (but quietly respectful during performances) weekly camaraderie, Songwriter Sanctuary is a place where seasoned performers have the freedom to delve deeper into their unique expressions and the hearts of attendees. These attendees, in turn, show their appreciation with financial donations, which go directly to the artists in a beautiful exchange of reciprocity, gratitude, and mutual aid. In a region where $50-150 entertainment budgets (no matter the set length, number of performers, or cost of living) have stuck to venues like decades-old crusty turd dust on the toilet, we love, love, love to see a venue that doesn't touch the door.
As much as I believe that community-building and creativity can help take care of our “earthly” needs (bills, housing, quality content, lol) I would also argue that the needs of our spirits, or souls, or higher selves, or whatever vernacular you choose are similarly fulfilled by gathering energetically in a space where we can grieve, laugh, heal, and ultimately be reminded of our divine oneness. This is the kind of energy that hovers above all Songwriter Sanctuary shows.
“It’s a profound experience for artist and listener both," said Berkley. "Something happens to music in that room. It blooms and blossoms. It multiplies exponentially.”
What About You? Yeah, You.
Here’s the implore-y part of my weird little blog that is now officially a collection plate moment. (Cue: Arms of the Angel by Sarah McLachlan). Cynical skeptics might think, okay, but are we really going to solve the woes of our world, or even our zip code, with creativity and community?
As a recovering cynical skeptic turned spiritual cocksure, I’ll just offer:
So my question is, how will you, dear readers and friends, practice ongoing community care to help sustain creativity in San Diego? There are endless ways to do it, but here are some suggestions:
As for the housing/financial travesty, I have some other ideas:
This list can go forever because grassroots community-building is always in action and grassroots community-builders always need more support. It feels like a lot in succession, but it's not. Cause all YOU have to do is pick one or two things and make a communal choice. Start with $5 a month or an hour of volunteer time a week. If my wiped out, struggling, barely-hanging-on-in-San Diego self can do it, I KNOW you can do it, too. Compassionate community and creativity is the only way to ease the overwhelm of these hashtag unprecedented times. Are you in? Hope so. Shoot me an email and let me know what you picked.
I’ll close with a quote from Martin that I absolutely double dog ditto:
“Show up. Regardless of your financial situation…What we are building is important and anyone can be a part of it.”
And this one from Berkley, for funsies:
“Can’t wait to see you there and tell some stupid jokes while I tell you where the bathrooms are! Being a preacher’s kid I’m just lucky I don’t turn into a pillar of salt when I walk in.”
This article feels like a pillar of salty, thanks for reading the whole thing. :)
Writer’s Round San Diego is every Monday at the Ould Sod. Follow on Instagram for info/signups.
The next Songwriter Sanctuary on Friday, September 29. Follow on Instagram, RSVP via Eventbrite, and visit the Songwriter Sanctuary website.