From open mic nights to unconventional concert series, KC Turner has been helping to unveil some of the best independent talent across the nation right here in the Bay Area.
Turner’s will is strong and his vision is unique. He has organized everything from backyard concerts, to “house shows” (literally shows in peoples’ houses- with notable names like The Mother Hips and G Love); to managing Megan Slankard, who’s on her way to selling out venues like the Great American Music Hall and the Sweetwater Music Hall, even making her first appearance at this year’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival.
Perhaps KC’s story could parallel Bill Graham, a notable concert promoter in the 1960’s. Both men were San Francisco transplants with a hand in shaping the live music landscape of their respective times. Bill Graham, who the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium was named after, was a musical impresario who started modestly, and began his career managing the San Francisco Mime Troupe, who later went on to work with legendary acts like the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin. Like many successful entrepreneurs, musicians, promoters or politicians, they started with one seemingly underwhelming opportunity that led them toward greatness.
I was pinching myself that this could be a possibility…
So what drove KC to move from the small town of Columbia, Missouri to the fast-paced ways of the Bay Area? “Shoes. While I was in college I was working at a shoe store and was always playing music,” KC explains, “I entered a crossroads and was going through a breakup. I thought I was gonna move to Austin or Minneapolis, both great music towns and two of my favorite cities. Then I got a call from the shoe store I was working at and the corporate office of the brand of shoes we were selling was located in Marin County.” After brief deliberation, KC came out to visit San Francisco for the first time and was awestruck by its beauty, finding himself in a “very different world” from Missouri, for all the right reasons. “I was pinching myself that this could be a possibility,” KC admits, “and then I took a chance, packed up my car and moved out here.”
KC moved to Petaluma in 2005, when Lagunitas was still a small-time craft brewery and the Phoenix Theater was presenting local battle of the bands competitions. Though the market was small, KC began his involvement with promoting live music events. He found a venue that hosted open mics, and after about eight months, migrated closer to San Francisco, moving to Novato, a “stones throw” away from his job which initially brought him here. That’s where things started to change for KC, creating a unique challenge in his musical journey.
“Novato is one of the biggest towns in Marin County but one of the sleepiest towns as well,” he explains. “I was finding myself going to San Francisco all the time, but I noticed a lot of people saying we should do something in Novato. Everyone’s attitude was sort of like ‘Novato Sucks’, even the record store guy was like ‘you’ll never get anything going in this town.’” And with that sentiment, Turner responded to the challenge. A few months later, a small bar named Finnegan’s opened downtown. KC’s friend hosted the trivia night and urged him to pitch the idea for an open mic night to the owner. “I told him what an open mic was and that I actually had a PA that I brought with me from Missouri and he loved the idea and he was like ‘ok, we’ll start two weeks from tonight.’” Without any real hosting experience, KC fell comfortably into the roll that became a weekly event for six and half years.
The open mic series didn’t pick up without hard work and trepidation. “It was challenging at first, the first few times I played for about two hours because no one was there.” Turner turned to social media to help foster a movement in a scene that was slowly building momentum. “I would go on MySpace and search singer/songwriters. I remember I messaged this girl named Jennifer Weaver, she was only like 17 or 18, but her music sounded great online so I emailed her and asked her to come out. I think she thought I was a weirdo at first, and she admitted that she didn’t play outside her bedroom, but finally with some persistence she came out with her dad and played the open mic and killed it. Then she came every week for years and was my featured performer many a times.
I realized those moments to have this platform to get people like that to come out was super important, and that was a huge perk for me.
Along with hosting the open mic, Turner was also dabbling in another commitment, managing his friend’s band, The Courtney Janes. “I learned so much from those guys because they were great musicians but they didn’t really know what they were doing on their side, and I didn’t really know what I was doing, so we kind of figured things out together. It was a huge learning curve for me and kind of helped me carve out the path that I’m in now.” In 2010, KC moved to San Francisco and quit his job to focus on his other endeavors, hosting an open mic at San Francisco’s notorious rock and roll club, the Red Devil Lounge, and curating a singer/songwriter concert series called Acoustic Bistro, initially hosted by San Francisco musician Roem Baur at the small Italian café, Osteria.
In 2014, The Red Devil Lounge closed its doors, but not without huge success for KC’s open mic, which would often have a line of performers down the block up to an hour before opening. In August, the Acoustic Bistro also held its farewell show, but with closed doors comes new beginnings. KC Turner is now managing the extremely talented Bay Area singer/songwriter, Megan Slankard, has his own listening room series at the HopMonk Sonoma, which has featured sold out performances by Tim Flannery among others, a successful Cookout series at the HopMonk Novato featuring acts like Chuck Prophet and Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket, and elevated his house shows with the legendary Alejandro Escovedo, and Tim Bluhm and Greg Loiacono of the Mother Hips.
Turner has continued to create opportunities for independent singer/songwriters. He hosts a new open mic at Doc’s Lab in North Beach once every month called SHHHongwriter’s Open Mic Night, an exclusive experience with sign ups held in advance with over four hours of time slots to choose from. And so what is KC’s end goal? It’s pretty simple. “To keep growing the fan base for live music and provide a platform for really great songwriters that people don’t know.”