Hauling Freight In Berkeley

The Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse in Berkeley, Calif., is celebrating its 40th anniversary as one of the country’s foremost purveyors of traditional and folk music by building a new state-of-the-art $11.3 million facility in the city’s Downtown Arts & Cultural District.

Construction has already begun on the Freight’s new home, with an official groundbreaking ceremony April 1st. The Berkeley Society for the Preservation of Traditional Music, the nonprofit that operates the Freight, has raised all but about $3 million of the construction cost of the new building, expected to open next year.

The new building will about double the current capacity of 220, and include additional space for a café, teaching program, classrooms, folk and traditional music archive, and rehearsal space for musicians.

"The new building will be informal, with exposed infrastructure," Freight & Salvage Executive Director Steve Baker told Pollstar. "The scope and size will definitely be different, but I tell people it will be the same old Freight; we’re just going to be in a different building on the same street but closer to downtown."

Baker says that moving to a bigger, better space won’t change the Freight & Salvage, which was recently named the Folk Alliance’s small venue of the year.

"We’re mission-oriented and nonprofit. It’s like asking the opera if they got a bigger spot, would they change what they present?" Baker said. "I don’t think they’d change what they would present any more than we would change what we present."

But, he added, "The program is going to change. There are people that we have trouble presenting in our current location and present off-site because they draw more people. We’ll probably have much less of that. Hopefully we’ll be able to present all of these people now."

The Freight & Salvage currently does most of its booking and promotion in-house, but hopes to do more co-promotes and work more closely with an expanding pool of agencies that represent artists that fit the Freight’s mission.

And perhaps also staying true to its mission of preserving traditions, the new facility – like the current Freight as well as the location before it – will be housed in what was once an automotive shop.

"I guess we’re sticking to a theme there, and we’ve had to do some environmental cleanup to get to this point," Baker said. "We did the cleanup and what we’re saving of the old building is the front wall, some of the back wall and some of the interior supports that go from front to back about 30 feet.

"Everything else, we’re dismantling or recycling either into the new building or we’ll sell it off to recyclers. Right now there’s an open field. They’ve taken off the roof, and the front and back wall we’re saving. They’re starting to pour concrete now."

The Freight is in the consulting phase for a lighting vendor, but is working with Meyer Sound Labs of Berkeley on a state-of-the-art sound system for the new building. Meyer Sound also designed the sound system at the present venue.

"They’ve been a supporter of ours for many years," Baker said. "We have their equipment in the current facility and they are very much a key player."

In addition to constructing a new home for itself, the Freight & Salvage is celebrating its 40th anniversary in June with a series of concerts featuring some of the most revered artists to play its stages over the years.

The lengthy list of folk and traditional musicians to grace the stage over the years includes Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys, Tom Paxton, Loudon Wainwright III, Patty Larkin, Country Joe & The Fish, Barbara Dane, Alice Stuart, Asleep at the Wheel, Lightnin’ Hopkins, R. Crumb and his Cheap Suit Serenaders, Brownie McGee and Utah Phillips.

As part of the ongoing fund-raising effort, spearheaded by committee chairs Warren Hellman and musician Danny Carnahan, the Freight has commissioned a four-disc, 40-year retrospective of live archival performances that will be offered to donors as a premium later this year. – Deborah Speer