The Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse had its beginnings 51 years ago as an 87-seat space with a jury-rigged sound system, occupying the narrow space in the storefront of a bankrupt furniture store on San Pablo Avenue. The audience sat on second-hand chairs and ate homemade baked goods, brought in by the mostly volunteer staff. Today, the Freight is located in Berkeley's arts district, with space for 490 patrons and a state-of-the-art sound and lighting system. The venue is internationally famous for its dedication to traditional music. Its commitment to regional, multi-cultural artists — many of them making acoustically based music — makes it a unique performing space.
Always on the lookout for ways to expand the audience for traditional music, the club is ready to undertake the next step in its evolution. Last month, it launched Live From the Freight & Salvage, a television program created with the help of Northern California Public Media, airing on KRCB TV, Channel 22, on the third Saturday of every month.
"The show came about over a series of pot luck suppers with friends and supporters of the Freight," said the program's producer, Amy Boyd, of KRCB in Rohnert Park. "We began discussing the idea of an Austin City Limits-type program for the Freight. People at the station, and at the Freight, thought it would be a big success. With newer digital media technology, we felt we could do this more efficiently, and less expensively, than we could have done, even five years ago. The production and editing process can be faster, the cost of equipment is less, and it's more portable. We can film live performances, without having an impact on the performers, or the audience."
It took two years of discussion and planning to move the show from an idea to an actual program, Boyd said. She had to assemble a staff of camera people and editors, as well as a post-production and audio mixing team, to make the show a reality. "KRCB was interested in creating a local arts and culture program that would contribute to our station's lineup. I worked with Peter Williams, the Freight's booker, on ideas for the acts to present on the show. We wanted performers that would be a good fit for the PBS audience."
Williams made the decisions on the acts to be featured on the first season of Live from the Freight, with some input from Boyd and other folks at KRCB. "I went through the calendar to see what would give a well-rounded look at what the Freight does and also present a diverse bunch of musicians. I wanted what's on stage to look like the community in the Bay Area — people of different colors and different nationalities. That's one of the things the Freight has always done, by bringing traditional music from all around the world to our stage.
"The Freight aims to present a varied kind of programming, a mix of traditional music from all over the world," Williams said. "We've been around for 50 years and, while we don't want to change our basic outlook, we want to add more diversity, bring in new artists and to open up our fan base a bit. I worked with KRCB to make sure we presented a well-rounded program that reflects what the Freight does.
"We have a strong commitment to local music and are presenting Oakland's T Sisters and The Blues Broads — who have a couple of local members — in the first season. The performances on the show will be live, with an audience, but the programs won't be broadcasted live, they'll be edited down to about 55 minutes. If an artist says, 'Please don't air Song B,' we won't air it, but except for that, you should be seeing pretty much what happened on stage. There will be no staging, no cameras on stage, no special lighting, no crowd shots. Just a look at what's going on, on the stage. We want the process to be as unobtrusive as possible."
The first season also will include sets by DakhaBrakha, a woman-led folk band from the Ukraine; Red Molly, a trio of female singer-songwriters from upstate New York; and Perla Batalla, a longtime collaborator with Leonard Cohen. Williams and Boyd are hoping that other PBS stations will pick up the show, but PBS stations are all individual concerns, not part of a network, so for the time being, that will remain a hope for the future. "We're filming the second season of shows right now," Boyd said. "We're hoping we can make both seasons available to other PBS stations by 2020."
For the latest information on upcoming shows, visit Northern California Public Media's Live from the Freight & Salvage site LiveFromFS.org. The next broadcast, featuring Red Molly, will air on KRCB on Saturday, June 15th, at 8:00 p.m.