Outdoor Music Took Off During COVID Shutdowns. SF Might Make It Permanent

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This live outdoor performance by Free Press Music at Kapwa Gardens in the SOMA Pilipinas Cultural District on May 30 2021 was made possible by a JAM permit obtained by Kultivate Labs.  (@theMogli)

A live entertainment program that launched in San Francisco during the pandemic could become permanent under a proposal by Mayor London Breed.

The city's Entertainment Commission has issued 250 Just Add Music—or JAM—permits since it launched the program last September. The permit allows neighborhood businesses, like restaurants and bars, to host outdoor music and other performances.

“The JAM Permit created this pathway for businesses to be able to provide entertainment and amplified sound in their outdoor spaces,” says executive director of the San Francisco Entertainment Commission Maggie Weiland. “And this is because all of our small businesses that were able to make it economically feasible to operate were taking it outside.”

Weiland says the entertainment commission has been issuing entertainment and outdoor amplified sound permits for nearly 20 years. But elements of the city’s police code and municipal code meant that San Francisco didn’t have a thriving outdoor entertainment scene before the pandemic.

“And so JAM has provided a way to do it temporarily, and now the mayor wants to provide our community with more of a pathway to activate on a longer term, more recurring basis,” Weiland says.

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Restaurant owner Aurore Martinez hopes the JAM permit will become permanent. She says it helped get her small French rotisserie in the Polk Gulch neighborhood, Cocotte, through the pandemic.

“Having the music every day, it’s a new vibe,” Martinez says. “It’s like a new business.”

Desi Danganan, executive director of Kultivate Labs, a neighborhood business development association connected with the SOMA Pilipinas Cultural District, says having a JAM permit has helped kick start economic recovery in his community.

A wide variety of artists have performed at the organization’s outdoor space at Mission and 6th Streets so far this year, filling it with the sounds of punk rock, spoken word and jazz.

“It’s allowed us to host all the different sectors of our arts and culture community,” says Danganan, who also hopes the city will continue the program. “Here in SOMA there are not a lot of performance spaces for our community, and once we have people in the door, then we are able to give economic opportunities to our vendor community and the food and beverage realm.”

Businesses and nonprofits KQED spoke with for this story say they’ve been paying artists modest fees in return for their services and/or encouraging customers to pay the artists in tips.

Jazz musician Dwayne Charles of the Dwayne Charles Project has relished being able to get back to performing as a result of the JAM program. He’s played outdoors, for both for fees and tips, at a variety of venues with these permits in the city, such as Word. A Cafe and Cafe Envy in the Bayview.

“Extending the JAM permits will give musicians a place to work because we’ve been out of work for so long through the COVID,” Charles says. “And long term, it will really benefit everyone.”

In order for the JAM permit, which is obtainable for businesses at no cost, to become a lasting fixture, the mayor’s office says the Board of Supervisors would need to approve two other proposals from Breed: one to keep the city’s Shared Spaces Program going, and another, the Small Business Recovery Act. Both of those measures are sitting in committee.

Meanwhile the entertainment commission is surveying the businesses that already received a permit to find out more about how the program has served them. Weiland says the survey will close on July 12 and findings will then be analyzed and shared at a public meeting on July 20.

Data already obtained by the entertainment commission and shared with KQED shows more than half of the permits have been issued to restaurants, and a third to bars. The rest, just over 10%, have gone to nightclubs and live music venues. Over 80% of the permits have been used for regular daily or weekly performances. The neighborhoods with the highest number of issued permits are Mission and Bernal Heights, closely followed by SOMA, Mid-Market and Yerba Buena.

“This program provided a lifeline for our artists and musicians to survive through the pandemic, and brought life back to our communities,” said Breed in a statement issued Tuesday. “As our city recovers, we need to do everything we can to support our small businesses and local entertainers, including making our Shared Spaces program permanent and passing the Small Business Recovery Act, which will provide an opportunity for outdoor locations to continue offering entertainment after the pandemic.”