In another life, Kiyomi Tanouye might have been a CEO — or, at the very least, a high-end wedding planner. But for her asymmetrical pink haircut and blue-lined glasses, the bubbly 26-year-old Oaklander has all the typical qualities of a leader: initiative, enthusiasm, organization skills, conscientiousness, and a near-unhealthy amount of selflessness. And while she's had help, she's largely responsible for the Mission Creek Music and Arts Festival successfully jumping across the bay to become a bona fide Oakland institution.
In real life, Tanouye is the assistant manager at Issues magazine shop. But in her spare time, she's the music director of Mission Creek Oakland. Now in its third year, the Oakland music fest — an offshoot of the fifteen-year-running San Francisco-based Mission Creek Music and Arts Festival — has expanded to its most ambitious event yet, with more than two dozen shows throughout September featuring some fifty bands plus assorted DJs, two art shows, and a film night spread out over fourteen venues. True to Mission Creek's original goal, it's a mishmash of genres and styles, all focusing on underground and independent music.
Mission Creek founder Jeff Ray credits Tanouye with making the leap to Oakland so successful. "Kiyomi is so intelligent and smart and keyed in and energized," he said. "She is absolutely crucial to this expansion into Oakland."
Though Mission Creek has occasionally held sporadic shows in the East Bay, San Francisco has always been the focus. Tanouye, who started volunteering with Mission Creek four years ago and eventually became its volunteer coordinator (the fest is entirely volunteer-run, though it's officially a nonprofit), lamented the lack of an East Bay presence. "All the shows in San Francisco were very San Francisco-music oriented," she said recently during an interview at her West Oakland apartment. "There's always been this weird divide, I think, between San Francisco and Oakland. And I feel like people who live in the East Bay are always going to San Francisco to go to shows even though there's so much happening here. And it's very rare that it's the other way around, and that's always been, like, a little disappointing to me."
For Mission Creek's debut in the East Bay, Tanouye and other volunteers put on two shows at 21 Grand as a sort of kickoff party for the San Francisco fest, plus an all-day event featuring twelve bands at Rooz Cafe called OMFG Oakland. The second year they expanded to four days of shows, at 21 Grand, Totally Intense Fractal Mind Gaze Hut (a now-defunct DIY venue), and Club Oasis for another big outdoor all-day show called OMFG2.
This year's event ballooned into a full month of shows — thanks in part to more volunteers and interest than years past. "I think this year there are more people that wanted to be involved, and knowing that that support system was there, I thought it was possible. Why not go all out?" Tanouye reasoned.
In fact, Mission Creek Oakland this year far surpasses its West Bay counterpart. Over the years, Mission Creek in San Francisco has scaled down, in part because Ray went to grad school. He's no longer in charge of the festival's music programming. He says the San Francisco festival is "in transition." It now includes one all-day event at McLaren Park, plus a few other shows — but nowhere near the scale of Mission Creek Oakland. (The two festivals are under the umbrella of the same nonprofit but are organized by separate groups of volunteers.)
Ray says the reason for the expanded Oakland festival this year also speaks to the fact that Oakland now has a more spirited music scene than the City. "When I started Mission Creek in San Francisco, it had a similar vibe," he recalled. "Erase Errata, Deerhoof — all that energy was exciting and vibrant. And I think through the years it's tapered off a little bit and the real energy that I can see in the Bay Area is in Oakland and the East Bay."
That's partially the result of San Francisco's changing demographic; as rents have increased, it's become tougher for artists to live there. Many have moved to Oakland, including Ray three years ago. He likens Oakland to Brooklyn — cliché as that's become. He said the same thing is happening in Iowa City, where Mission Creek expanded to six years ago. That event draws much bigger acts; last year's featured Meat Puppets, Xiu Xiu, Camera Obscura, and Booker T.
Most of the acts playing Mission Creek Oakland are fairly underground to the general public. Scheduled performances include Horns of Happiness at the Uptown kickoff party, Dreamdate at 1-2-3-4 Go! Records' new location, Total Accomplishment at Gamma Space, Bare Wires at Eli's Mile High Club, and The Mantles at East Nile, among others. The bands were chosen largely based on the individual tastes of the people organizing the event, including local musicians Jon Lady and Spenser Cooper (who works at Amoeba), and Mike Melero, who DJs at Radio and Club Paradiso. Several acts feature members of the volunteer organizers, including two of Lady's (Field Trips and Pacific Ryhthm Co.) and Cooper's (Eastern Span and Wild Assumptions). But the organizers said they tried to get a mix of styles.
"One of our mission statements is, Oakland is this huge, diverse, beautiful place, and we want to have more than one type or one genre be represented just to reflect what's going on in the city itself," said Tanouye.
It's an ambitious undertaking, and has certainly had its share of challenges. First was lack of funding, which prohibited organizers from booking bigger bands. Their Kickstarter campaign failed, but they raised some money through benefit shows, bake sales held at Art Murmur, and donations via PayPal. That's an improvement over the way things were funded previously. "In the past I kind of did it out of pocket, and if we did make money I tried to pay myself back," said Tanouye.
In addition, some bands weren't available, or flaked last-minute. Getting venues on board required lots of persistence. "[Tanouye] just demanded that we go out and meet them face-to-face," said Lady. Ultimately, the tactic paid off.
But everyone has limits. Even Tanouye couldn't crack the byzantine bureaucracy of the City of Oakland. Initially, she and fellow volunteers wanted to hold an all-day, all-ages event at Mosswood Park Amphitheater featuring teen bands from Girls Rock Camp and the group Emily's Army. But after weeks of calling Parks and Rec, Tanouye said no one could tell her how much it costs to rent the venue.
Instead, the all-ages show was moved to Oasis. "That was disappointing to say the least," said Tanouye. "But maybe next year."
Count on it.