19-Jan-2022 (Wed) Wherein the Castro Theatre is the latest COVID casualty

The Castro Theatre is turning over control to Another Planet:

The 100-year-old theater, known throughout the world as one of the symbols of San Francisco's historic LGBTQ Castro neighborhood, will be renewed as a live events venue with music, comedy, film and more as Another Planet Entertainment takes over its programming.

The Berkeley independent [sic] concert promotion company -- which promotes hundreds of local concerts annually at venues like Berkeley's Greek Theatre, the Fox Theater in Oakland and the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, as well as co-produces the Outside Lands music festival in Golden Gate Park -- has signed a long-term contract, with plans to [...] broaden the programming at the 1,400-capacity venue to include live music, comedy and community events. The Castro will still screen select films, but the changes are sure to be earthshaking for many Bay Area film organizations and movie fans who have been filling the Castro for decades.

"It's heartbreaking, devastating, and not surprising," said Marc Huestis, who has presented special events at the Castro Theatre for 40 years. [...] "Even before COVID, it was like repertory theater was kind of on its last legs," Huestis continued. "It makes me very emotional because it's just such an important cultural institution and the heartbeat of not only the neighborhood but of the city."

As a fan of both old movies and live music, one might expect me to feel conflicted about this. While losing another repertory movie theatre is awful, gaining another live music venue should be good, right? But, no, this is just another tragedy. Understandable, perhaps, but still tragic.

I don't understand how anyone gets away with calling Another Planet an "independent" company, unless your definition of "independent" is "not publicly traded". I guess NIVA defines "independent" as "anyone who is not Live Nation or AEG", but the reality is that Another Planet are the short leg of the corporate triad who monopolize the live music scene in the Bay Area and beyond.

It's true that APE is the smallest of the three, and they're "local", but they have the same business model as Live Nation and AEG: anti-competitive lock-in through vertical integration and festival radius clauses. They're still monopolists, they're just smaller.

And even though whatever kind of live music they end up doing at The Castro won't be the sort of thing that we do at DNA Lounge -- we're not a "1,400 capacity all-seated" kind of place -- this sort of corporate consolidation hurts all of us small businesses who are actually independent, because it increases APE's monopoly power.

As I explained in detail back in 2018, monopolies are bad. They are bad for consumer choice, they are bad for ticket pricing, they are bad for artists getting paid, they are bad for your local music scene, and they are bad for our culture as a whole.

But as with Slim's (RIP) and Mezzanine (RIP), it's hard to fault the Castro's owners for taking whatever Faustian bargain is offered. It's grim out there.

12 Responses:

  1. Dude says:

    This being Aidin Vaziri, part of me wants to believe that his use of the word "independent" was his usual sarcasm.

    In hindsight, the Matrix: Resurrections premiere was a prelude to this. I know The Castro's done premiere's before (hell, I acted in one of the films that got a big celeb premiere there), but the Matrix: Resurrections premiere - and its reportedly low COVID-check standards - packed a full house of people around London Breed, who had a cameo in the flick.

    If that wasn't a test run for today's announcement, I don't know what was? It's redundant to have The Castro do the same things as Bill Graham or The Mezzanine, but monopolies gonna monopoly.

    A zillion great memories at The Castro. It's weird that upon reading this news, my first thought was "Where is Peaches Christ gonna go?"

    • Dude says:

      Sorry: I wrote "Mezzanine" when I meant The Warfield.

    • Eric says:

      Doesn't Peaches Christ still do shows at the (admittedly much smaller) Victoria Theater? They have a lot of drag shows there, and it's also the theater where Church Of the SubGenius founder J.R. "Bob" Dobbs was "assassinated."

      But yeah, fuck this shit. I have many fond memories of the Castro Theater. Also wondering what's going to happen to their theater organ.

      • Dude says:

        To my knowledge, the majority of her shows have been at The Castro, with specific exceptions (Immortal Reckoning, etc.). In fact, she was about to do her first proper in-person Peaches show in February, until she made the following 2-min video (out of character) cancelling it.

        Another reason to love Peaches: unlike certain local politicians, Peaches will not comprise safety just to make a few bucks by cramming in COVID crowds.

        That video was made and posted excactly one week ago today... just listen to that optimism about playing in The Castro again. As someone who fondly remembers the original Peaches shows at The Bridge, this is all the more 💔 for me.

      • jwz says:

        I wouldn't expect them to do something crazy like dismantle the pipe organ; there would be literally blood in the streets. But they're talking about spending millions of dollars on remodeling. Their investors are going into this with the intention of recouping that cost. How do you think they're going to do that? It won't be with Showgirls and Rocky Horror.

        • Eric says:

          They recently crowdfunded nearly a million dollars on a new pipe organ -- and I contributed to it -- so yeah, I'm already polishing my pitchforks "in antici...pation" to quote Dr. Frank N. Furter.

        • Rusty H says:

          The pipe organ was removed from the Castro by (the organ's) owner in 2015. The current organ is electronic. The current crowdfunded one was initially planned to be installed as a digital organ, with the console capable of controlling ranks of pipes of which would be installed later and at additional expense.

  2. Steve Ward Moore says:

    I enjoy reading your blog. So thanks for that.

    I am happy that the Castro will survive but at what cost, right? Wouldn’t it be nice if APE made space for local talent? There’s a pretty fucking cool scene in San Francisco. Oh well. Guess we will just keep doing our thing no matter what

  3. PLURR United says:

    If investors are smart, they will provide for what the majority demands. Keep promoting LGBTQ and let your voices be heard not only in your local community but around the world. Living in Thailand but hearing your voices loud and clear.

  4. nooj says:

    I read that control was going to another planet, and now I really want to see shows performed by aliens.

  5. HH says:

    Man, this one hurts. I grew up going to the UC theater in Berkeley all the time - and hold a special place in my heart for ornate repertory movie theaters. Once this closes there will be pretty much none that I know of left in the bay area.
    I guess Quentin Tarantino is fighting the good fight for them (buying them) in LA at least.

  6. jwz says:

    Here's a letter from the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District to APE that says, in the politest possible way, "You know we can prevent you from getting any permit ever, right?"