The New Parish joins the Oakland music scene
on June 7, 2010
Off of 19th and San Pablo in downtown Oakland lies an unassuming two-story building; if it’s a quiet night, the only giveaway that something is going on inside is a big bouncer with an ear-piece standing out front and a small black and white sign that says “The New Parish.” But inside, the New Parish is Oakland’s newest music venue.
The New Parish opened in January and for its owners it’s about focusing on music that caters specifically to Oaklanders. “It’s about showing Oakland is its own market,” says Namane Mohlabane, the general manager and a partner of the New Parish, “similar to the relationship between Manhattan and Brooklyn.”
Mohlabane hopes to bring both mainstream independent artists and upcoming artists to East Bay audiences eager to see them without having to cross the bridge. “There’s a population in the East Bay that would stay in the East Bay if given the opportunity,” Mohlabane says. “That’s a key factor in what we’re trying to do here.”
For the past three years, Mohlabane and another New Parish partner, Michael O’Connor, would get together every few months and drive around Oakland looking for a space that would be just right for a music venue. These two men know about music: O’Connor is the co-owner of rock venue The Independent in San Francisco, while Mohlabane has been working at the independent Emeryville-based Skyblaze Recordings record label for the past 10 years.
Finally in June 2008, they came across a spot at 579 18th Street in downtown Oakland. They got to work fixing the space up, had a few events in 2009 and then officially opened in January 2010. Over the past few months, the New Parish has showcased music from several different genres, including hosting The Coup, Ra Ra Riot, Mos Def, Kid Sister, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Junior Reid, and J. Tillman from Fleet Foxes. They also have had comedy shows, including a two week stand by Dave Chappelle in February.
Last week, Adam Stephens, the singer and guitarist from Two Gallants, a folk-rock duo based in San Francisco, played with a new band he recently formed. As a stylish crowd, many with Wrangler-style jeans, striped shirts and fedoras crowded towards the stage, Stephens tried out some recent work on the audience. “This is a really new song,” Stephens announced as he showed off his finger-picking guitar mastery and harmonized his lyrics with a female singer who also played the bass. “We really don’t know what’s gonna happen with this one.”
The New Parish’s interior has a speak-easy feel, with exposed brick walls, a small stage and a bar that serves up specialty drinks like the Parish Punch—a mixture of ginger, lime juice and rum. The night Adam Stephens played, folding chairs were set up in front of the stage and the upstairs lounge was roped off to accommodate a smaller audience.
The New Parish’s owners have bought the small cluster of buildings on the same block and hope to establish reciprocity between nearby businesses. Next door, on the San Pablo side of the New Parish, is the restaurant Hibiscus, which serves up gourmet-style Caribbean Creole cuisine. Nearby, three retail spaces are soon to open. Mohlabane says that they will include a clothing store and a café. Even though Hibiscus is a separate business, “We have a close relationship and a similar partnership,” says Mohlabane.
But his real focus is the New Parish and giving Oakland its own music venue, and for San Franciscans to visit to either discover new music or come see a favorite band. “We’re just as close to BART as the Warfield is and as the Mezzanine is,” he says, “and we’re only three stops away from San Francisco.”
Upcoming shows at the New Parish include Vetiver, Bert Jansch, Dizzy Balloon, the Warlocks and Slim Cessna’s Auto Club.
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