Glowing Stars at the Rockage Festival in 2012. Photo by Jessica Shirley-Donnelly.
Eric Fanali doesn’t want you to go to San Francisco. The man behind the scenes of many downtown music events, from no-cover Blank Club concerts on Wednesday nights to the SubZero Festival and shows throughout Silicon Valley, puts all of his resources into nurturing the local music scene and connecting fans. His most recent effort, Rockage 2.0, arrives this weekend and goes even further—linking not only music fans with each other but also connecting music fans with gamers and gamers with bands. It’s all one big, rocking family.
I met up with the Rockage founder and concert promoter on a busy afternoon at Philz in downtown San Jose. Fanali looks the part, with shaggy black hair, a Cardigan, skinny jeans and a quirky personality that belies his not-so-secret ambition.
Originally from Connecticut, Fanali moved here as a youngster and grew up in the area. In 1997, at the tender age of 16, he took it upon himself to organize and implement an all-ages ska show—because he wanted to go to an all-ages ska show.
Since then, his DIY production company, Grand Fanali Presents, has put on thousands of concerts at a clip of eight or nine per month, ranging from indie to hip-hop to the new Bay Area–bred genre of “chiptune,” which transforms vintage electronic devices like Game Boys into musical instruments.
“I’m not profiting from these,” Fanali says. “Basically any money that comes in goes to things like gas and copies.”
He really just wants to provide San Jose music fans with somewhere to go—himself included.
Major cities such as New York and San Francisco, because of their geographic location and cultural cohesiveness, have an easier time maintaining a healthy music scene, the kind where you see the same people at every show you attend.
This area, however, doesn’t have the luxury of quick subway rides and accessible popular concert venues.
“San Jose is so large; there are too many factions that don’t know about each other,” Fanali says. His goal is to plug all the bands, fans, gamers and artists into the same system, and he’s already made headway in crafting a collective musical identity.
“It’s been a South Bay love affair between Eric and the chip-music scene,” says Matt Payne, of the eponymous solo “chamber-chip-doom-folk” project Matthew Joseph Payne, who performed at Rockage last year. “He’s been amazing about importing all the S.F.-based chip artists to the San Jose area, and we love him for it.”
The idea for Rockage came to Fanali five years ago when he thought about combining two of his passions, music and video games. He spent the next few years recruiting artists, raising funds and checking out venues.
“I went to 50 to 60 churches, auditoriums, Knights of Columbus halls,” before settling on the San Jose Woman’s Club on 11th Street across from San Jose State University, he says.