The demise of live music in San Luis Obispo

February 24, 2015


It’s official, live music in all its glorious and magical splendor is on life support in America’s happiest city. But you know it probably has never been the most fun place.

Due to a major seismic retrofit of its current building soon, SLO Brew will be closing its doors in July, marking the end of a 27-year run that saw many highs and a few lows along the way. I spoke with some industry people at a recent sold-out show by local favorite Night Riots and they all confirmed what most of us already suspected; their new location on Higuera Street will not include live music.

Other local venues like the Z Club shut down last year and the Graduate no longer holds concerts. Frog and Peach stages bands nightly but good luck booking Snoop Dog there. New hangout Bang the Drum Brewery is doing a songwriter show on Monday nights and the venerable SLO Blues Society present a handful of Vets Hall concerts every year.

Still, that leaves us with a big, fat bagel in the diverse, large nightclub vein. SLO Brew was absolutely the cornerstone of the county’s live music community during the past decade.

Todd and Korie Newman recently divested their interest in the popular Garden Street hot spot and started Good Medicine, a concert promotion entity that has recently put on some great shows at the Fremont Theater. Along with Eddy’s Numbskull Productions and Bruce Howard’s Otter Productions, our county is blessed with cool, smart promoters who are committed to a vibrant local music scene.

If nothing is developed, preferably downtown, to fill this huge entertainment void when SLO Brew shutters, local concertgoers are pretty much screwed.

So where do we go from here? Unfortunately, it was clear from all the public meetings about SLO Brew’s relocation that city leaders were more interested in a quiet dining and shopping vibe downtown than a thriving music venue. And there’s a much too complacent, comfortable element here who don’t really care if The Tubes are performing on New Year’s Eve.

Sure, there already are a bunch of bars downtown with hard-partying youngsters roaming the streets. However, a nightclub offering headliner bands of all genres as well as up-and-coming local acts is a completely different animal, a unique, priceless one that will soon be non-existent. The best thing about SLO Brew was they were really the only place where all demographics and ethnicities would happily mix together.

The demand, and even more importantly, a need desperately exists for a strong, locally-owned entertainment establishment. This area has too many talented musicians, dedicated music lovers and savvy entrepreneurs/property owners not to make it happen.

Look, they just need a place to play. Build it, and we will come.

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Josh Payne

Who needs live music when we have Wild 106? We should all stay at home and bump Bieber, Gaga, and Minaj! OBEY, MARRY AND REPRODUCE, NO INDEPENDENT THOUGHT, CONSUME, WATCH TV AND LISTEN TO WILD 106, THIS IS YOUR GOD $6$6$6.


The Graduate no longer holds concerts??? They just recently held a few concerts this month. Feb 4th The Graduate had a SOLD OUT concert featuring RL Grime. Sorry but music is not dead here in SLO. I just wish that Colin Jones and Cal Coast News did their research before posting a false story!


RL Grime? really?

Just because there was a “concert” at the grad does not make anything “false”.

If you had lived here for decades you would realize that there used to be many concerts every weekend at many venues.

It’s a logical fallacy for you to think, your experience somehow makes decades of history false.


Will “we” be able to pay upwards of $4/sf? I’m thinkin’ that’s the reason.


YeeeeeeeHaaaaaaa Beer Pong back at the dorm…..with AC/DC on the player.


We didn’t need to play games to drink beer. ,I and any person I would consider socializing with, drank at the pace of one’s own choosing.


Do you think they are going to retrofit the building, just to tear it down for the HOTEL monstacity that Hamish wants to build in THAT spot. They are giving him a million bucks of SLO money to help finance this POS, and there are no studies , data or good reasons that we need to lose the buildings AND the parking in that block. Why not look at at BS politics that are involved in this GRAB. And specially with the new 100 room 4 story motel that Firestone is gonna build by 1865….do we really need this? City Council is falling all ovah themselves to blot out the sky.

the Burg

It started long before the Graduate, back in the early 70’s.

Anybody remember Crazy Horse, the big log cabin which became a place of worship after Crazy Horse left? It’s on 227 just south of the Grad, as we used to call it.

How about Ethel Red’s (dime beers on Fridays), or The Irishman aka The ‘I’ across from the old court house, even the restaurants 1864, Tortilla Flats, and McClintock’s had live music.

Those were some fun times back then, now it’s nothing but coffee.


Don’t leave out the Pizza Pantry or the Morocco Club on lower Higuera.


And don’t forget The Cigar Factory.


Also there was DK’s West Indies Bar and the Dark Room.


And The Crest where Carl’s Jr. is on Foothill.


This is seriously ridiculous. It is going to destroy what young people have grown to love for so many years. It is a place that kind of keeps our area safe when it comes to concerts. Now people are going to be trying to get into concerts in cutty areas that are less likely to be “watched and monitored” like the scene was downtown….If i could give the bird to whoever pushed this through the books, i would. So dumb. So freakin dumb. All because what, some old cook doesnt want his tea time ruined or something. seriously, so lame. Im not the only ne feeling this way. Hmm i wonder how we could show our dislike of this decision as a united front.


Ideological blinders on, so you see what’s in your head instead of what’s out there. Simple fact: this is good old fashioned capitalism at work, not some huge conspiracy. It goes something like this. Good old gals and guys at city hall give developer a city parking lot so he can make moolah for himself by building a huge boutique hotel ($200+ per night) with valet parking so fancy tourists can come here to patronize all the overpriced under-quality restaurants downtown. Now, you better bet a sound-off place like SLO brew sharing a wall with that hotel doesn’t fit in with that scheme, so the slimy developer buys SLO brew, moves it out of the block where his hotel is, then decides to return it towards its original roots (local craft brew place) at a new location, but still plenty close enough to annoy his fancy hotel guests if there’s a lot of noise coming from it. Business decision, plain and simple. Do you have a problem with a businessman running his business the way he sees best for him?

Does SLO lose? Well, we sure lose by having that stupid five-story hotel blocking our views, casting shade on our sunny streets, taking away our convenient parking lot, and bringing more fancy people to town to buy our $700k “workforce” houses for second homes. I’d say you’re mad at the wrong stuff this time.

If there’s actually a viable market for a commercial music venue, don’t you suppose capitalism will provide one?


I’m sure the too many local wineries will be pleased to hear this. Less competition.

Last few “local” concerts I’ve been to have all been at wineries. I’m still shocked at how under-developed the airport area is for entertainment and dining. Most middle-incomers are right there, plenty of parking, do not have to deal with downtown (most locals would agree on this, I bet) and traffic is just as good/bad.

I really expected some bland Applebees/Chili’s type place to open across from the Shell on Broad and Tank Farm Rd. Now they’re looking to rubber stamp an unexciting piece of meh on the corner of Higuera and Tank Farm. Doubt there’ll be anything for local entertainment, apart from a movie rental throwback.

A good live venue place would be the Golden Gong (formerly Carl’s Jr.) on Madonna, great spot for a nightclub… though that driveway into Madonna Rd might be tricky for the drunk drivers. Great property, totally underutilized.

Or how about doing something with the abandoned Mc D’s on Foothill? Too “Cal Poly” for adults, but not a bad spot.

Jorge Estrada

Home venues maybe the future. They are small, allow more contact with the performers and better regulated for all issues. As far as I’m concerned, the noisey venues can be up north or down south and a fiscal liability on their local taxes.

I’ll admit that my comments are due to my personal dislike for large crowds. There are enough other large crowd local venues and they come with road risk too.


Jorge – I’m with you on the large crowds to an extent but, I’ve been to a few SLO Brew shows in my day & for whatever reason it never felt like I was packed in or smothered. They put on a decent gig and the air flowed. Admittedly I only went when I knew the band or something like that so I was conditioned to “like it” you know?

End of an era I suppose.