Mission Creek Music Festival

Extra Action Maching Band

The Mission Creek Music & Arts Festival: 
Evolving and Explosive

A once-navigable subterranean creek, originating from the foothills of San Francisco’s Twin Peaks region and curving east towards Mission Bay, quietly flows beneath San Francisco’s Mission District. Above ground, indie kids, yuppies, and bohemians party and promenade on the bustling city streets, having no idea what lies beneath their feet. And if they happen to attend a music festival named “Mission Creek,” they probably just think it’s a catchy title.

Years of urbanization and development have pushed the hidden body of water under ground and into obscurity, yet Jeff Ray knows it’s there.

Ray, a musician from Washington D.C., moved to the San Francisco in the early ‘90s. Playing several local gigs with his band, Ray soon noticed what he found to be a void in the local music scene. There weren’t enough venues for local artists to play; no real way to build community. So in 1996, Ray decided to create a music festival. But what would he call it? Nothing came to mind. What about that smelly creek, the one that, for reasons unknown, flowed through the bottom of the elevator shaft in his band’s rehearsal studio?

Running from July 15th to the 25th, the Mission Creek Music and Arts Festival (MCMAF) promotes local bands, performance art, and dance as a means to build community. And as the festival approaches its 13th year, it appears that Ray was right.

Ten music curators select the bands for the festival each year, listening to submissions and scouting acts. “Fresh, exciting, different, talented, experimental,” is what Ray says he’s looking for. “It’s organic,” he adds.

And the bands at MCMAF truly fit that criteria. That’s why they’re picked; and that’s why some bands, such as the Extra Action Marching Band, return each year. In their annual ruckus at Soma leather bar, The Eagle, Extra Action dance, drum, and blow their way (on the horn, of course) to a climax. This year, the Vanishing’s Jessie Evans will perform with them as well. “They do this song together; it’s like an explosion,” Ray says with excitement.

Ray is also very involved with the festival’s other focus: new media and performance. This year, performance artist Ann Magnuson is on the calendar. “She’s amazing,” he gushes. A number of Scandinavian acts, including performers from Gothenburg, Sweden, will appear at the festival as well, thanks to a grant.

When asked about the festival’s role in defining the local music scene, Ray is very humble. “People are just happy it’s there,” he says. Sticking to the festival’s founding principles of community building, one can’t help but wonder about it’s influence in the Bay Area: the existence of the local stage at Live 105’s BFD, the prominence of local bands at the Outside Lands Festival, or the future success of bands who launch their careers at MCMAF. Still, “I would never say that I take responsibility for that,” Ray says. He’s just proud that people still discover new bands when looking at the roster of events.

Ray has always hoped that one day all events can be free. He knows that will only happen “if a magical grant or person wants to invest.” But this year, Music Producers Neil Martinson and Kymberli Jensen are taking a step in that direction, fronting $5,000 to host a free concert as part of the festival’s lineup.

So how do people really feel about the festival? “Anything from annoyance to faithfulness,” Ray quips, joking that San Franciscans are “proud and cynical.” According to Ray, they’re “not as blasé as New Yorkers, but a little bit spoiled,” which makes San Francisco the perfect audience—sure there are high expectations;  but there’s still an appreciation, and a willingness to indulge in a treat.

Visit online at mcmf.org

– Heather Pennington