The Return of the SoFA Street Fair

Think of your favorite sofa. When you sink into it- it just feels right. It’s worn in and it gives in just the right places. Whether you are taking a nap or watching TV; you are with a friend, or a family member- there’s just something about it that feels like home. Maybe there’s memories associated with it- your first kiss or a meaningful conversation with a loved one or a special holiday get together from years ago. Whatever the memory, there’s a wave of nostalgia that hits you when you see it or feel its comfort.

IMG_0880The same can be said for a “sofa” of a different kind, that is, the SoFa Street Fair- a festival that many San Joseans remember and love. This music festival was held every year in the SoFA district from 1992 to 2001. It’s back.

The original founders of the festival teamed up with C2SV to bring the legendary South Bay festival back to the public. Jimmy Arceneaux and Gary Avila organized this year’s SoFA and, and Fil Maresca (the original co-founder) co-founded. It was free on Sunday, just as it had been in 1992.  Of course, it would not have been the SoFA Street fair without colorful sofas placed all around South First Street and in front of the stages. Couples sat in them with their arms around each-other. Friends sat together taking a rest in between performances. A lucky few even got a sit in them during a performance. The lineup was a combination of legendary bands from San Jose’s 90s’ glory days and top-notch talent from the present. The SoFA Street Fair comes at a time when downtown San Jose is going through a noticeable redevelopment and cultural renaissance. Perhaps the Street Fair was a introduction to a music scene that is ready to reemerge..

Bands like Salmon, Insolence, and Monkey- whose names were familiar to many San Joseans back in the 90’s and who were a big part of the subculture that brewed and exploded in the SoFa district – gave incredible performances. They too would speak of the legendary (and no longer existent) clubs and the music scene of those years ago- and they sang and played with the gusto and fury of artists that were elated to be back on the very street that had cradled their talent and creativity all those years ago. The community has come together again to support a music scene, the same community (with many new members of course) that had established San Jose as a powerhouse in its own right for musical talent and innovation.

The SoFA District, in case you are new to San Jose or the festival, refers to the South of First Street Area from San Carlos Street to East Reed Street in downtown San Jose.  The SoFA Street Festival has been reupholstered and returned to us and it was exploding with energy yesterday. Thousands of people from all over the Bay Area came to support its return on a warm, gorgeous September day.

The years from 1992 to 2001 are sacred to many San Joseans who remember them as the golden era of San Jose music. The music scene was rich, gritty, creative, and diverse. The SoFA district produced some incredible talent, many of whom performed yesterday.  We met the wife of one of the members of the band, Salmon, yesterday, who told us, “I met my husband at the Cactus Club all those years ago. And now we have these two,” she said, pointing to her two little boys. The Cactus Club (mentioned by quite a few artists during their sets yesterday) was a landmark club- where many of the bands present at SoFA  made their mark. It is one of a handful of clubs that locals would go weekly too see the newest and best local talent. Some called it the CBGB of San Jose. Click here to watch a documentary about the Cactus Club.

The lineup featured over 50 bands, several outdoor stages, and many indoor venues such as South First Billiards and Heroes. In addition to a variety of food trucks (Mexican food, ice scream, strawberries with spongecake and cream, to name a few), the festival’s booths promoted San Jose private businesses and local artists, such as the Vape Bar, the 7 Stars Bar, the Aye Dios Mio! shop, and Classic Loot (featured recently in Content’s print issue). Everything was uniquely San Josean- you could distinctly feel the pride. People were thrilled to have the community support the music scene again, and many of the attendees and performers alike, expressed the hope that it will continue for another decade.

Many brought their children not only to enjoy the food and warm weather, but also to the performances themselves. You could see that many of the regulars from the “original SoFA scene” were parents now and wanted to share the experience with their kids. New generations of SoFA fans were formed yesterday. The performers welcomed having children, alongside the adults, dancing and bobbing their heads to the music, sometimes right in front of the stages. The festival was a great opportunity for young San Joseans to learn and hear about the bands of the past. It also ushered in a wave of new bands who will be a part of a new decade of locally created and inspired music.

IMG_0071The music not only sounded great, but was also incredibly diverse. You could hear punk rock raging from the Pounders (who even did a Pink Floyd cover) and Stunt Monkey, from the stage set up in Heroes.  The rap/rock/reggae sound of Insolence and 880 South was infectious from the outdoor San Salvador stage. The large, happy, sweaty crowed screamed and threw their arms in the air as Insolence yelled, “Representing the 408!”.  Fishbone’s horns, live poetry, and crowd surfing- was as amazing to witness as their jaw dropping stage presence. They sounded just as good. They even did a cover of their favorite band, Sublime.  More recent bands such as The Trims and AVRY- impressed and dazzled the audience with their beautiful voices and soulful songs. Michael Lee Firkins’ expert electric guitar playing and blues rhythms had people standing and dancing at South First Billiards. His cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” wont be forgotten by the lucky ones who got to hear it.

The vibe was a happy, cheerful, optimistic one. People were smiling and loving every minute of it. You just held your schedule in you hand or pulled it up on your smart phone- and walked quickly from one stage to another. The lines for food were not too long and the treats reasonably priced. You could even walk over to the Red Bull tents and take a break by dancing to some great dj’ed EDM beats.  Unfortunately, it was impossible to see every band- but each performance was high quality. The vendors were a lot of fun and came from a variety of industries. You could go home with a t shirt that showcased your San Jose pride from There There, a painted skull from Ay Dios Mio! or a sacred geometry painting by local artist Sean January.

Whether you were seeing a band for the first time  or were familiar with their work- the beats, lyrics, and talent were impressive and incredibly entertaining. You could get close to the performers themselves and chat for as long as you liked with the vendors. The community full-heartedly embraced the resurgence of the SoFA Festival.

Just as it had been a yearly staple of the San Jose art scene and a symbol of our city’s cultural pride all those years ago, the healthy turnout and beaming elation from everyone involved in putting the event together, and from those who came out to support it, may be a sign that there are more SoFA Street Fairs to come.  We will toast to another decade of community-supported, blazing San Jose talent. Get comfortable in those sofa cushions, spread yourself as languidly as you like, squish all your friends in- the SoFA Street Fair is back.

View the full lineup here.

Visit the SoFA Street Fair Facebook page.


Photos and Review by Anna Bagirov.



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