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LEFT OF THE DIAL If there's one thing Allen Scott remembers from opening the Independent 10 years ago, it's the rush. Not the emotional high (though surely that was a factor too), but the literal rushing around that was necessary to open a state-of-the-art live concert space with a capacity of 500 "on a shoestring budget."
"We barely got open on time," recalls Scott, the managing owner of the venue at 628 Divisadero — the latest in a long line of storied San Francisco clubs that have shared that address. "We had friends painting it right up until about the day before we opened. We'd moved the sound system in but didn't have alarms set up, so we were taking turns sleeping on the stage overnight. People would come by and say 'When are you opening?' and we'd say 'In a couple days,' and they'd laugh, like 'Good luck with that.' The night we opened, the fire department signing everything off while the band was sound-checking."
That band was I Am Spoonbender, and that show was the first of more than 2,500 that have taken place within the Independent's walls since February 2004. If the space feels like it has a deeper history than that, it's for good reason: In the late 1960s, it was home to the Half Note, a popular jazz club that saw the likes of Miles Davis and Thelonius Monk; the house band featured George Duke and a young Al Jarreau. In the early '80s it became the VIS Club, and served as a hub for local punk, new wave, and experimental bands; by the late '80s it was the Kennel Club, and hosted up-and-comers like Nirvana and Janes Addiction. In the mid-'90s, it was reborn as the Justice League, nurturing burgeoning electronic and hip-hop acts — Fat Boy Slim, Jurassic 5, the Roots, and plenty others all found enthusiastic crowds. To put it mildly, if those walls could talk, they'd tell a lot of good party stories. Next week's lineup of shows will only add to the vault: From Feb. 19 through Feb. 26, the Independent will host Allen Stone, John Butler Trio, Beats Antique, DJ Shadow, Two Gallants (below), Rebelution, and Girl Talk in a series of special performances to celebrate the club's 10th anniversary.
As the club has changed, San Francisco — as it is wont to do — changed around it. The formerly gritty Western Addition is now shiny NoPa (at least according to real estate agents); what was once a bustling center for the city's African-American population and jazz scene is now more of a bustling dining destination for the upper-middle-class. Regardless, says Scott, there's no question that the Independent is "in the heart of the city...being part of this neighborhood, this community, is so important to us."
Scott was just a young San Francisco promoter with an impressive track record when he was approached in 2003 by Gregg Perloff and Sherry Wasserman — proteges of Bill Graham and owners of the scrappy, barely-year-old concert promotion/marketing team Another Planet Entertainment — to run booking and promotions at the unopened venue.