In the early-2000s, things appeared to be going well for Tony Carracci. His San Francisco metal club Pound SF was one of the only mid-sized venues around catering to the metal, punk, and hardcore scenes. Even though it was located in the middle of nowhere (Pier 96 in Hunters Point), its shows were known to draw hundreds of people.
Thus, Carracci decided, perhaps ambitiously, to build an amphitheater and music center on the grounds of the venue. He and his partner Cip Cipriano put almost $650,000 into remodeling and building a fence and amphitheater. Then he was hit with bad news: His landlord, the San Francisco Port Authority, decided not to renew their lease. "I fought 'em for two years and in 2007 it got to the point where we couldn't do it anymore, so we had to leave," Carracci recalled. "They gave us no reason, no rhyme, and to this day it's abandoned, empty, they didn't rent it to anybody else. It's just an empty shell of a building. We were really bummed."
The Pound's departure left a void in the metal scene for large venues. Slim's stepped up, as did DNA Lounge and the Oakland Metro, but there were no dedicated venues like the Pound. Over the next several years, Carracci and Cipriano would host occasional shows around town — "not a significant amount but trying to keep it alive as much as we can."
Then one fortuitous day about five months ago, Carracci's friend Bryan Kehoe (M.I.R.V., The Kehoe Nation) invited him to a party at Soundwave Studios in West Oakland, where he was playing in a ZZ Top cover band. "As soon as I walked in, [I thought] damn, this place reminds me of the Pound," Carracci said. "I had never been there before."
As Carracci recalls it, at some point in the night Soundwave Studios owner Al Lucchesi approached him and asked what he was up to. Carracci said that he was looking for his next project, to which Lucchesi responded, "What about this place?" Carracci was floored: "Are you serious?" It seemed too good to be true.
Granted, Lucchesi had been trying to turn his monthly rehearsal studio space into a legitimate venue for years (at least ten, according to Carracci). He'd host the occasional show and 4/20 party. But for various reasons, the concept never really came to fruition. Carracci, on the other hand, was a guy who "gets shit done." He says that phrase will be his epitaph.
Carracci moved fast and got Cipriano to check out the space with him. And this is the part of the interview where Carracci's voice gets so excited that he's practically yelling into the phone.
"The beautiful part of this is, they have the bar area, and right outside the bar area, there's a big parking lot — we can do shows indoors or outdoors. But it gets even better! On the other side of Soundwave Studios there's a huge, massive warehouse. Al goes, 'I'm not doing anything with this.' I brought Cip in there, he goes, 'Oh my god, oh my god.' He's freaking out!"
Carracci and Cipriano removed all the debris from the warehouse and tore down some structures. They plan to install some large roll-up doors that Lucchesi had lying around, so the whole back of the building will open up into the courtyard area. In all, Carracci estimates that the main venue will fit two hundred people, with an additional four hundred in the parking lot outside. As for the massive warehouse next door, he says the capacity will be 600 to 800 people, and 1,200 in the outdoor courtyard. That's four stages total. Carracci and Cipriano will be co-owners of the rechristened Pound West Oakland.
Carracci's enthusiasm is palpable, and not just because he's yelling. He makes the project sound like it could practically save Oakland. His concept is thus: Not just a venue, and not just limited to metal, punk, and hardcore (though that will certainly be a focus). Carracci is aiming to create a self-contained music complex, including a music school for kids and a cafe that serves food, plus the rehearsal studios, a video editing studio, and a recording studio. Like the defunct iMusicast, the all-ages Pound West Oakland will record bands' performances and give them the video for free. A friend of Carracci's who's in the nonprofit sector is trying to help them get grants to teach music and video editing. Carracci also promises "family dinners every night" so people can "hang out and have a good time."
That may sound terribly ambitious, but Carracci says all the necessary officials are on board. Councilwoman Nancy Nadel has visited the site and is "excited about it." The Oakland Police are "totally behind us 100 percent." Oakland Fire Inspector Vince Crudele has "been really wonderful."
He says the support from the city is a far cry from the situation he encountered in San Francisco. "We've always wanted to reopen the Pound but couldn't find the space," Carracci lamented. "San Francisco is a nightmare — just with the bureaucracy and they try to discourage small business. It's so unfriendly to do business in San Francisco. There is red tape in Oakland, but man they are so encouraging."
And the fans? "The response is just phenomenal," said Carracci. "Everybody's just really excited about it, really happy. The buzz is unbelievable." He notes that the venue has a built-in fanbase, since there are already bands rehearsing at Soundwave, plus the excited teenagers who came to the Pound SF's shows are now in their early twenties.
Pound West Oakland's opening night will be Friday, October 21, and will feature performances by the bands Comadre, Heart Sounds, Hides, and At Our Heels. There will also be free pizza and a barbecue in the parking lot, with "high fives highly encouraged," according to the event's Facebook page.
The event is sort of a soft launch, since Carracci is still working on getting everything in order, including the annual occupancy permit and cabaret license. Until then, Inspector Crudele is allowing Carracci to have one-off parties. (The next one happens December 6.)
But Carracci is optimistic it will all work out. "Oakland seems to be so small-business friendly that my new logo is going to be a gorilla crushing the Golden Gate Bridge," he said. "Just to say, 'Heck with you, San Francisco, we're going to do West Oakland and we're going to be rocking.'"