Feeling Like the Queen of Folk Music at the Freight & Salvage
I was 10 the first time I visited the Bay Area. It was my birthday and my parents flew me down from Portland to visit a dear aunt and uncle in Walnut Creek, CA. We took the BART to San Francisco, walked the wharf, sat and ate lunch in Ghirardelli Square. It was a heavenly vacation. I’ve always dreamed of living in that city, up a redwood tree in Marin or somewhere nestled in East Bay. So when I started my life as a touring musician – a job where you can literally choose your own adventure – as you can imagine, I planned many tours that routed through California. Driving up and down the most glorious coast in the world, I played whatever gig I could find in order to spend more time there. From Arcata to San Diego, there’s nothing like the 1 and the 101.
The Freight & Salvage has operated in multiple locations in Berkeley, CA, since its inception in 1968. This all-ages, nonprofit venue gets its name from a furniture store that used to occupy the original location. The ethos of the ’60s Freight remains intact: it offers classes, still has a monthly open mic, and promotes public awareness and understanding of traditional music. I have managed to play in the two most recent iterations, at the open mic in 2007 and then in 2011 opening for the beauteous Red Molly at the fantastic theater it has become.
The luscious space, which boasts a green roof covered in vegetation, now seats 440 lucky people. (440 is, by the way, a number with great musical significance, since it’s the numeric equivalent of an A note, the universal tuning note. Coincidence?) All throughout the green room, you see the signatures of performers past. It’s a yearbook of this generation’s greatest musicians, done all in Sharpie across the walls. I spent a half-hour mentally cataloging the incredible musicians who have graced the stage at the Freight, like Mike Seeger, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Odetta.
When you sing songs for people from all sorts of vantage points – living rooms, coffee shops, college cafeterias – a venue like the Freight & Salvage makes you feel like the queen of folk music. It has a wide set stage, a low and broad sweeping seating area, perfect lighting, and skilled sound technicians running a top-of-the-line Meyer sound system. I can only imagine it’s as pleasurable an experience for the audience as it is for the performer. Sit and watch the blue lights dim and give way to a true community event centered on one of the grassroots genres of music this club has sworn to protect and foster. This is how music was made to be experienced, in a venue that is somehow as intimate as it is grand.