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Local Musician Working To Build A San Jose Scene

In Music
The Believer: Cliff Rawson wants to see San Jose’s scene grow. ‘Any city of our size should have a bigger scene.'

The Believer: Cliff Rawson wants to see San Jose’s scene grow. ‘Any city of our size should have a bigger scene.'

Walking around the recent SubZERO Festival at the beginning of last month, Cliff Rawson was suddenly struck with a sensation he doesn’t often feel in San Jose. “I felt like I was walking around San Francisco or Brooklyn,” he says. “There were a lot of people there. It felt really good.”

The reason it felt so good is that Rawson wants San Jose to have a scene on par with its neighbors to the north and other comparably sized metropolitan areas around the country. He really wants it.

Unfortunately, Rawson says, many of the best musicians and artists in the South Bay are “looking to leave at their first opportunity” for places like L.A., San Francisco or New York.

“There’s no reason that should have to happen,” he says. “San Jose is a big town. We have great bands here. And now, with San Francisco being so expensive and Oakland getting that way too … there’s starting to be a good core scene in San Jose—people who are not leaving.”

He names local indie rock acts, such as Rex Goliath, Dinners, Joan & The Rivers and more, as examples of highly talented, home-brewed acts, who should be drawing larger crowds in San Jose, but aren’t.

“People are discouraged,” Rawson says. “Even the really good bands. They tell me, ‘I can get my people to come to Stritch for free, but I can’t get them to pay $10 at The Ritz.’”

Rawson, who has lived in some of New York’s toughest neighborhoods in order to avoid high rent while still remaining close to high culture, isn’t afraid of a challenge. This character trait, combined with his love of rock & roll music and experience with promoting makes him an ideal foot soldier in the fight to make San Jose relevant.

And he is responding to that very call. Working with his promotional partner, Laura Patterson, Rawson aims to unify what he sees as a fragmented community with carefully curated shows designed to bring together a wide swath of San Jose’s music and art-loving denizens. If he is successful, he says the result will be a stronger San Jose scene that provides proper support to local musicians and artists.

He has already organized one well-attended local showcase at SLG Art Boutiki—which he simply called “Show!”—and is hosting a second this Friday at The Ritz, which he will call “Scene!”

His plan is that both “Show!” and “Scene!” will be ongoing events held on a regular basis at both venues. Rawson says that “Show!” drew about 150 people to the Art Boutiki and he is hopeful that “Scene!” will bring even more, with it’s lineup of local acts, including his band, Cola, Joan & The Rivers, Them Slack Jawed Sons of Bitches, as well as local rapper, Anthony Mastrocola (who also goes by the name Cola on stage).

After many years on the East Coast, Rawson moved to San Jose in 2012 to take his current position with Ballet San Jose, where he now serves as director of educational outreach and is a full-time pianist.

Though he has a formal musical education, outside of work Rawson uses his talents to play alternative, indie and punk music. His recently formed band, Cola, sounds very much like New York in the ’70s. Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground are the most readily discernable influences, but he says The Stones, The Clash and Tom Petty are also key inspirations.

Rawson recalls first moving to San Jose and hanging out at Willow Den. It was there that he realized how important these groups were to him, as they were the majority of what he chose to play on the dive bar’s jukebox.

“I’m kind of going for something that’s between The Velvets and Stones,” Rawson says—“something that’s right on the edge of punk rock.”

He wrote many of the Cola songs on his own before putting together the band, which includes Evan Bautista, a drummer who has worked with Dr. Dre; Matt Davis on bass; and Peter Colclasure on keyboards.

Between his day job, his band, and his passion project—promoting local shows—Rawson keeps a schedule that doesn’t leave him much down time, but he’s fine with that.

“I do this thing because I love it,” he says. “I’m very positive and excited about doing all this kind of work in San Jose. Any city of our size should have a bigger scene.”

Scene! will be held July 10 at  8pm at The Ritz.

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