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Artizenship Sails Again

Artizenship is a monthly column exploring what it means to be a citizen of art in Napa County.

Artizenship is a monthly column exploring what it means to be a citizen of art in Napa County.
Last night some friends texted me late to tell me to come down to the Blue Note jazz club, where they were finishing their bottle of sparkling wine while waiting for the Dixie Giants to take the stage after their set break. “There’s a fun band playing!” they said, “and it’s free for locals!”
So I dropped everything and hiked over.
Once there, I looked over the crowd and pondered why so few people were in the audience. I guess not everyone in Napa-town had heeded their friends’ bat signal-like texts to come running?
And what’s more, though the band was made up of people our age (20 to 30-somethings), my friends said that when they arrived they were by far the youngest people in the small crowd. This, too, is something I’ve experienced again and again, especially when I first arrived in Napa: all the things I thought sounded so cool, all the events I was interested in–the live music, poetry readings, chamber music, art gallery openings–were absent of young people like myself.
We got to talking about why and how a band–or an event, or a venue–wouldn’t garner the crowd and attention it deserves–and why people like us weren’t there. The Dixie Giants were awesome, and it was wild to know that great, fun music is being created right over the hill in Sonoma, but so disappointing to see so few people enjoying it. I suggested “people like us,” i.e. former band geeks and orchestra nerds who get a kick out of New Orleans-style funeral dirges and second lines, probably aren’t too prevalent after all. Am I really a rarer bird than I think? Do people my age really only want to hear and see the big Top 40 names?
But maybe it’s a marketing thing? After all, I had only known about the show, and it’s locals-night deal, halfway through the show, and I just happen to live a two-minute sprint away. I remember when the Opera House was operated by City Winery, how so often I would see a poster for a show that happened a week ago and I’d wonder how I didn’t hear about the show earlier.
It’s likely much of this is due to Napa’s peculiar industries, location, and cultures. By the numbers, Napa’s population is pretty evenly spread across ages; however the differences between the ages are vast: its youth are more likely to speak Spanish, and either work in the vineyards or in service industry. Meanwhile, the older residents are more likely to be white, retired. The “people like us,” in this town, are still serving tables at 9PM, or are saving their tasting room tips so they can afford to stay here another year, or they’re talking over the phone to their loved ones who remain in Oaxaca.
Further, if you’re a young person who wants to be in a scene, why stick around Napa, when Oakland and San Francisco are a short drive away?
As an artist, and an organizer of arting events, events that I’d like both people like me and people not like me to attend, I need to keep these questions in my head. How do I get the word out? How do I go beyond the usual crowd? How will my art find itself in the greater community? How can I create and support a thriving artistic scene here, in my backyard?
How do we make art cool?
Jeremy Benson is a writer, editor, and farmer who lives a short sprint away from downtown, and who once played alto sax. Why didn’t he see you at the show last night?