Long live San Diego Content Partners
An ode to DIY venues, and why they matter — whether you knew about them or not
A light, a beacon for art, and a community that thrived in a shady alley // photo by Rees Withrow
Last month, DIY venue San Diego Content Partners quietly called it quits. They’re not the first venue to shutter its doors because of a worldwide pandemic, nor will it be the last. But for the small, fervent and loyal fans and musicians, the venue was somewhat of a mecca, a safe space where creativity could thrive without bureaucracy. At Content Partners, performance came first, and nothing was too weird and undeserving of a stage.
But if you’ve never heard of it, I don’t blame you — they relied on word-of-mouth over social media. And to many who’d ever stepped inside, it was obvious that it was too good to last.
Content Partners wasn’t exactly a legal venue. It was ostensibly a 21+ room, but no one ever checked IDs. If there was booze, it was BYO. I’d also be surprised if there was a maximum capacity limit. They couldn’t even advertise the address of their venue in fear of attracting unwanted scrutiny; “DM for address” was practically their slogan.
Such are the beauties and downfalls of DIY art spaces.
But what a cool space it was. It wasn’t so much a venue as it was a mini labyrinth of garages and practice spaces, accessible only through an alley off El Cajon Boulevard in City Heights. Perhaps if you’d walked past it after, say, a meal at El Borrego or a late-night workout at the Copley Price YMCA, you’d wonder why there was a group of misfits smoking in the shady alley. You’d be forgiven for not thinking it the most inviting place. Even though it did a great job booking diverse acts and touting inclusivity, there was an inadvertent exclusivity that worked in Content Partner’s favor. Like The Tree House, Habitat House or other San Diego DIY spaces before it, there became a sense of ownership among people in the know, a feeling akin to this is ours.
So, it doesn’t matter if you never went to Content Partners — you’ve nonetheless probably been in a place that felt too good to be true, which, in turn, impressed upon you the urgent power of art. These kinds of places burn bright and fast, but their effects last well after they’re gone.
Rees Withrow, one of Content Partner’s co-founders, grew up in a “boring suburb” outside of the Bay Area, but he spent his weekends riding BART into Oakland, San Francisco and Berkeley to catch bands at warehouses and house parties.
“This was my norm,” Withrow says. “So moving to San Diego in 2010, I assumed it would be more of the same. How wrong I was. For the most part it was a barren wasteland for DIY shows. I was in a studio apartment at the time, but I told myself whenever I was able to move into a place that can hold shows, I'm going to put them on.”
A few years later — and through some sort of The Secret actualizing — Withrow found himself living in a house where he could book shows. He dubbed this place “The Porch.” It was at a Porch show that Withrow met his friend, Bryan Drummond.
Content Partner’s origin story occurred during a week when Drummond was crashing at Withrow’s place. While Withrow was at work, Drummond roamed the neighborhood, which eventually led to a chance encounter with a vintage music equipment pawnshop owner. I mean, what good origin story doesn’t involve a pawn shop owner?
In the process of trying to sell his bass, Drummond began a long conversation with the shop owner. Taking a shine to Drummond, the shop owner eventually led him out of the shop, down and alley and into a storage garage to show off all the instruments he hadn’t yet put on display.
“From there, they basically just jammed together,” Withrow says. “The owner, who still hadn't made a sale, took Bryan to show him a different room in the building. He said, ‘We've got this room we're not doing anything with, I'll rent it to you for a good price if you or your friends need a practice space.’”
After checking it out, Withrow immediately knew that it would be an ideal location to book shows.
“It was literally built for sound. There's even a giant rectangular window separating the main room from where a giant sound panel once sat.”
The two signed a lease with the unspoken intention of turning it into a DIY music venue. “‘Practice studio’ was kind of just our cover,” Withrow says.
For a month, Withrow and Drummond busted their asses repainting, installing new doors, shelving, and making a makeshift sound booth. Shortly after, Content Partners — then named Title TK — began hosting shows.
Word quickly spread among the San Diego music scene. When my band Forest Grove started playing shows, I distinctly remember a conversation we had about wanting to play the cool, mysterious room in City Heights that packed bodies in without advertising their address.
Forest Grove // photo by @drea.marilyn
“As fun as being part of a secret club seems, that was never our goal,” Withrow says. “Our one restriction was kind of a soft 21+, which was really hard for me because it goes directly against my ethos. It was purely a pragmatic decision though. Towards the end of my all ages career with The Porch, I just started just getting absolutely overrun with young, drunk shit-heads...‘DM for address’ was my only system of checks and balances. If you came and caused problems, you probably messaged me or one of the bands playing in order to find the place. It wouldn't be hard to work backwards through my DM's to figure out who's not coming back to any more shows.”
A year into Content Partner’s operation, Drummond moved away and left Withrow to run Content Partners by himself, which quickly became a burden. After sending a message to friends and collaborators about having no desire to continue running Content Partners alone, Cara Potiker — mastermind behind the electro darkpop project wsprgrl, and who had already converted one of the adjacent rooms into the recording studio J Shark Soundlabs — stepped in and took over the lease.
“Soon after signing, I called Rees [Withrow] and asked him if he would be willing to continue booking and managing without having to deal with the landlord and financial responsibility,” Potiker says in an email. “The landlord was a bit of a slumlord and I had to manage repairs myself fairly often. The building was old and decrepit, and something would always go wrong — from the wiring to the garage door. I made sure that the building and space didn’t close or fall apart.”
Changing leases, makeshift repairs, dealing with slummy landlords — it all raises the question about whether operating a DIY venue is worth it in the long run. And truthfully, it’s a hard question to answer. Passion projects burn people up. But people do it, and will continue to do it, because the benefits far outweigh the tribulations. And luckily, Potiker and Withrow had a team that included Michael Buehl on sound, and Sal Esqueda to help with booking. It truly became a community.
Delana Delgado, co-founder of Artform Swapmeet (AFSM) — an event that provides a platform for underrepresented artists — found a fast home Content Partners, whose DIY ethics and focus on inclusivity were a perfect fit for AFSM.
“Having a space to host this event was everything,” Delgado says. “It enabled me to build a community, to better establish myself as a female art organizer, and to bring upward economic mobility/visibility to local artists in our region.”
Ultimately, it was Covid-19 that hammered the nail in Content Partners’ coffin. Without the income that shows brought in, they weren’t able to pay rent.
“We thought we could work something out with the landlord since he liked us as tenants, but he wasn't having it,” Withrow says. “He's also a total sleazeball slumlord, but that's a whole other story. We got everything out with less than a week's notice, and everyone involved is just as relieved as they are saddened.”
Content Partners will inspire others and live on as memories of scenester lore. Although the space that Withrow and Potiker created was short-lived, its impact will be long-lasting.
“I think that DIY is so important in every city,” Potiker says. “It gives a sense of control back to artists, and there’s an intimacy and freedom that you just don’t get in bar venues. The sense of secrecy creates a level of engagement and passion that I don’t see in dive bars.”
“Coming from a punk background, I liked it there and felt more safe than I did at bars or large venues,” Delgado says. “It was one of the few music venues in SD that encouraged complete artistic freedom of its participants, without exploiting them.”
A WORD ABOUT THE TRAVELERS CLUB
A woman has recently come forward with allegations of abuse against Andy Coronado, founder of San Diego culture site The Travelers Club. Coronado has since scrubbed his entire social media presence and locked down the TC site.
I don’t know the details, but I don’t really need to. It’s the same story we’ve heard too many times.
I’ve never met Andy, but I’ve championed Travelers Club a few times in this newsletter, and he’s a paid subscriber to this newsletter. I was only a casual consumer of Travelers Club’s content, but it seemed to play an important role in signal boosting and spotlighting a lot of great art from the South Bay — an area of San Diego that, unfortunately, does not get enough coverage in the local press. Because of that, I was enraptured by what they were doing.
Unfortunately, that admiration clouded my judgement, and I gave them a seal of approval.
I should’ve been more skeptical of Travelers Club. In ways that are both explicit and implicit, my cheerleading was complicitness, and it validated a power structure that encourages and rewards abuse. Power breeds entitlement, and any attention that the men in TC got — including praise from this newsletter — fueled that power. Men have an incredible knack to destroy the things they create, and rarely do they consider the lives they ruin in the process. Or as the film theorist William Beard says: “The male subject is the author of his own catastrophe.”
It’s hard to not come away from this without feeling cynical, but there are so many great creators in San Diego that aren’t abusers. I’ve seen talk of letting women/BIPOC take the reins of Travelers Club, but that feels like handing over damaged goods — no one deserves that sort of tainted, second-hand brand. Let Travelers Club die.
Thank you to all the survivors for speaking up. You are incredibly brave.
Believe women, hold your scene accountable and take care of each other.
THE WEEKLY GOODS
Tananarive Due // photo via IMDB
I’ve been reading a lot of short stories lately because my attention span is pretty shot these days and I need those sweet, sweet hits of escape while tethered to the masochistic void that is the news cycle. If you feel the same, then check out Ghost Summer by Tananarive Due. Like the title says, it’s the perfect accompaniment to this goth summer we’re having, because Due’s writing is creepy. Possessed babies, underground frogs and lots of ghosts haunt these stories, which are a mix of Southern Gothic and fantasy, but underlying everything is the real-life horror of Black history in America. Due’s academic understanding of the genre (she’s interviewed in the great documentary Horror Noir) is obvious throughout, but she writes with a conciseness that makes this one of the fastest literary page-turners I’ve ever read.
I was curious about what movies have historically made the most money in July, and I came upon this list. Look at this shit. Apart from Dark Knight, can anyone actually describe what happens in any of these movies apart from a general gist? Anyway, you should watch Return of the Living Dead if you haven’t seen it yet. It wasn’t released in July, but it’s set in it— July 3, 1985, to be exact.
Now, we all know that Re-Animator is the greatest horror-comedy of all time, but Return of the Living Dead is a very close second. I’m pretty sure that this is the movie that established zombies’ very specific desire for braaaaains. One of my all-time faves.
Our very stupid president made a speech at Mt. Rushmore last weekend. I didn’t see it because life is too short and even though we’re all just sitting in our homes with not much else to do, I’d rather stare off into the middle distance and bask in my own filth than watch anything that guy did. However, it seems that the dipshits who voted for him are pretty stoked on the performance, and there’s already a bunch of petitions to get his face added to the corny-af monument.
So, in the spirit of deciding on new things to put on Mt. Rushmore, I want you to photoshop your ideal foursome that would go on the monument. It can be anything: people, animals, inanimate objects, Sex and the City gang, Ninja Turtles — whatever.
Since this is a little bit more involved than the photoshops I usually ask you to do, I will send the winner a copy of So Awkward, a collection of award-winning columns from my days at San Diego CityBeat. Send your entries to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Last week, I asked you to write some fanfic about those two suburban normcores who pointed guns at BLM protesters (or as Jim Ruland referred to him in his last newsletter, Pink Scarface and the Hamburglar). Jeff Sites sent me this beauty:
DISPATCH: Fort Whitestone is completely besieged by Antifa high-horse cavalry. Last night Karen and I saw to the grisly task of reinforcing our defenses with stacks of our canceled comrades under cover of darkness. It is absolutely piercing, the mean things they've said about us! But these grim efforts can only briefly forestall the inevitable. Our broadband is severed. Our sidewalk is desecrated with "BLM" and can no longer be reliably traversed by Amazon Prime reinforcements. Someone has erroneously, maliciously, scheduled a prolonged vacation pause-of-delivery for our Sunday delivery of the Wall Street Journal. We are surrounded and completely starved of the unanimous moral validation we require.
Our only hope is that by brandishing our second-amendment appendages we can express ourselves in an acute and vicious burst of violence; such that we are at last seen (nay, heard!) as suffering equally. Equally! Pray our final moments could at last be persuasive!
Yours in glory,
Kenneth Whatabout II
Also, a few weeks ago, I asked for photoshops of Antifa Duck — one of the great heroes to come out of the pandemic. San Diego photographer Cari Veach sent me this picture of Lars Ulrich with caption “Snare in justice for all,” which is as concise as it is perfect.
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Julia Dixon Evans edited this post. Thanks, Julia. Go follow her on Twitter.