By Max Otake
Photos by author
In high school, the act of going to see concerts starts to figure prominently in our social lives. It’s new and exciting. You anxiously check online, praying that your favorite band will be town. And as far as concert venues go, you probably know of the major ones – Oracle, Levi’s Stadium, Bill Graham, HP Pavilion, Regency Ballroom – where the big acts play. However, these shows are not the only concerts accessible to us, as high school students. For those looking for an alternative experience, one filled with good vibes instead of screams and shouts, you might be interested in the numerous smaller, low key venues in the city. These are places that, although quite different, can provide just as much –if not more –fun. One of the most well-known venues of this type is Bottom of the Hill.
Located at the bottom of Potrero Hill, Bottom of the Hill provides a mellow, intimate concert experience that is unique to itself. It’s a place where people of any age can see amazing music for $10 on any night of the week. It’s a place where you could find your new favorite band. In fact, many of the bands you may be waiting to see at a big time venue started out at Bottom of the Hill. A few of the bands that have played there include Green Day, Blink 182, and Death Cab for Cutie.
A few weeks back, I went to see a show at Bottom of the Hill. I had heard that The Walters – an alternative indie pop rock band – were playing. I was familiar with the band, but my knowledge of their music was limited. So on the day of, I decided to go, taking my 14- year old brother and musician, Oliver Otake with me, whose previous concert experiences had consisted of shows at The Greek Theatre and Shoreline Amphitheatre.
We were pleasantly surprised, to say the least. When we got there, there was a decent line to get in, but it wasn’t more than 10 minutes before we were inside. Maneuvering our way through the crowd, we had a perfect spot in no time. The band was extremely casual and laid back. My favorite part was the when the bassist and guitarist ended a song with a playful solo dual between them. The band’s personality was able to really come through in their performance. It’s perks like these that make seeing live music such an irreplaceable experience.
Shortly after the show, I went back to Bottom of the Hill to talk with owner, Lynn Schwarz, to get a sense of what it’s like running the place, how she got there, a bit of the history, and advice for high school bands. Schwarz, who has been working at Bottom of the Hill for 21 years, and has been co-owner for 15, started off thinking it would be “just another job flipping burgers.” It was her escape from recent job at Hitachi, where upon leaving, she “vowed to never take another desk job,” and being around live music every night was the perfect change of scenery. Schwarz then quickly made her way up at Bottom of the Hill. After being a cook, she created the position of manager for herself, then eventually became co-owner.
I learned that Bottom of the Hill has been around for 25 years. It was originally intended to be a full on restaurant and bar with the music venue piece being just another thing they did. But as this aspect grew more prominent, the music took over. According to Schwarz, the club “really hit its stride in the mid 90s,” as it became known as a big indie rock club. However, the genres of music performed are not limited to rock. “We are always trying to adapt,” says Schwarz.
With new wealth comes change, and as Potrero Hill becomes more wealthy, it is beginning to have an effect on the venue. When asked about the effect change in San Francisco has had on Bottom of the Hill, Schwarz admitted that it hadn’t really affected them until more recently. Apartment complexes are beginning to surround them, making them nervous. “All it takes is one upset neighbor who cares strong enough to potentially get us in some trouble,” explained Schwarz. Despite there being laws to protect music venues like Bottom of the Hill from being sued for noise complaints, she says that “you never really know.” However, the biggest issue with change seemed to be the result it has had on the venue’s demographic. Not just anyone can afford to live in the Bay Area, and as a result, longtime locals have left. “Hopefully people will come back, and rock and roll won’t die,” says Schwarz.
Bottom of the Hill is a place where local, up-and-coming bands can start off (although that doesn’t mean that this should be your very first gig). When asked specifically about bands in high school playing there, Schwarz assured me it does, in fact, happen. She explained that “anyone with some talent, a lot of energy and devotion, and not pushy or demanding” has a chance at Bottom of the Hill. Some of the other important factors include: “Putting themselves out there, having some internet attention, and being honest.”