The Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse is a nonprofit community arts organization dedicated to promoting public awareness and understanding of traditional music—music that is rooted in and expressive of the great variety of regional, ethnic, and social cultures of peoples throughout the world. We are supported by your attendance, grants, musicians' benefit performances, volunteer efforts, and your generous tax deductible donations.
Click here to download our 2015 Annual Report
California, in the 1960s, was characterized by a free-wheeling mix of
anti-establishment politics, radical life-style experimentation,
struggles for racial and gender equality, and a profound respect for
traditional cultures able to survive and even flourish outside the
This ethos was vitally linked to the
city's music scene. Country Joe & The Fish, Barbara Dane, Alice
Stuart, Asleep at the Wheel, Lightin' Hopkins, R. Crumb and his Cheap
Suit Serenaders, Brownie McGee, Utah Phillips, the East Bay Sharks, and
the Cleanliness & Godliness Skiffle Band are just a few of the
artists who contributed to and were nurtured by this mix. Performance
venues, including the Odyssey, the Cabale, the Jabberwock, New Orleans
House, the Longbranch Saloon, Keystone, Mandrakes, and the New Monk, all
had periods of glory.
Today, there is but one performance venue
that continues to reflect those heady times. Since its founding in
1968, the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse has been deeply rooted in
that aspect of Berkeley's culture that embraced freedom, tolerance,
cooperation, and innovation. It has resisted the bottom line mentality,
and, instead, has been a mission-driven non-profit organization. The
club not only survives, it has become a world famous venue for
traditional music, be it folk, jazz, blues, bluegrass, world-beat, or
It all began when Nancy Owens took over the lease and
the name of a failing used furniture store at 1827 San Pablo Avenue.
Keeping her predecessor's business sign, telephone number, and yellow
page listing, she re-opened the door as an 87-seat coffee house in June
of 1968. "It was the first place that was available," Nancy recounts. "I
had a vision of a place where people could be whatever they wanted to
be, as individuals and as members of a community. Almost immediately,
kindred souls gathered around and gifted musicians emerged to fill the
room with song." In those days, everything was done by hand. Volunteers
baked cakes and cookies and brewed tea and coffee on a small stove, and
augmented the inventory taken over from the furniture operation with
tables and chairs accumulated from a thrift stores, garage sales and
"In 1968 psychedelic rock ruled the Bay Area, and
the pop charts, and folk music was written off as dead," Nancy recalls.
Nevertheless, players picked guitars and plucked banjos and the
Freight's impact grew. By the end of its first year, we had presented an
amazing array of talent from all over the world -- Mexican, Chinese,
bluegrass, acoustic delta blues, jazz, Celtic fiddling and dancing.
"From the start, my hope was to be multi-ethnic and multi-racial," Nancy
continues, "a group of men and women and children who could get
together in a spirit of community. Somehow, our dreams came together and
meshed, and we created this community."
By 1972 the Freight was
the hub of a growing folk and old time music scene so remarkable that
traditional Appalachian folk performer, Mike Seeger, documented it with
the album Berkeley Farms (Folkways). At the same time, the Freight
welcomed new and experimental music. When mandolin player David Grisman
created his dawg blend of bluegrass and jazz, he brought his ensembles
to the Freight to develop the new approach. As women's music broke out
of its underground confines, the Freight welcomed Teresa Trull, Meg
Christian, and Cris Williamson. Delia Bell and Bill Grant brought in a
band of Nashville heavyweights to play a mixture of bluegrass, acoustic
country, and blues that has become known as Americana and alt-country.
The Terminators of Endearment skewered and barbecued every sacred cow in
sight with original tunes that sounded like they were written by the
bastard children of Tom Lehrer and Noel Coward and arranged by Phil Ochs.
By 1983, with Owens moving on to other endeavors, patrons,
performers, and employees formally incorporated the operation as the
Berkeley Society for the Preservation of Traditional Music. Thanks to a
solid base of community support, astute business practices, and a little
bit of luck, the club was on its way to becoming a secure cultural
institution. Steve Baker, a guitarist and "recovering lawyer," came on board at that time. "The Freight already
had the attributes of a community organization," Steve recalls. "The
change-over was more of a formality and the success of our new group
became obvious within the first year. Mayne Smith was the organization's
first board chair. A talented songwriter and performer, he understood
that the primary asset of any community organization is trust, and he
set a standard for good faith and for commitment to service that
continues to set the tone for the organization. Allison Fisher managed
the club during that period. She was very effective at bringing new
people into the audience, and after four years many of us were casting
about for a way to expand our seating capacity."
After a year's
search, the organization settled into its facility at 1111 Addison
Street. Only three blocks from the original storefront, and with 220
seats, unbroken sight lines, and a new sound system (thanks to
Berkeley-based Meyer Sound Labs), the new facility became one of the
best spots in the San Francisco Bay Area to see and hear live music.
Randy Pitts, hired to do the booking at Baker's urging, did yeoman work
in expanding the scope of the music before moving to greener pastures in
Nashville. Within a year, the audience was growing sufficiently to fill
the seats and the "new" Freight was off and running.
celebrated its 40th Anniversary in June of 2008. It remains a valuable
community resource, and continues its eclectic booking policy. World
music now makes up a goodly portion of its programming, and the club has
hosted Hawaii's Dennis Kamakahi, Tarika from Madagascar, Hungary's
Muzsikas with Marta Sebestyen, Iraqi oud player, Rahim Alhaj, and
Tlen-Huicani, Mexico's leading exponents of traditional gulf coast music
along with such favorites as Greg Brown, Dar Williams, Alasdair Fraser,
Dan Bern, Ricky Skaggs, Cheryl Wheeler, and Odetta.
don't have a standardized approach to things," Baker confesses, "we
remain dedicated to promoting public awareness and understanding of
traditional music—music that is rooted in and expressive of the great
variety of regional, ethnic, and social cultures of peoples throughout
the world. People often us ask us what it means to be a nonprofit
community arts organization. The best way I can explain it is to say
that we are motivated by these mission-oriented considerations; we're
nonprofit because the music we present is too important to be subject,
exclusively, to the commercial dictates of the music business."
Freight continues to fulfill its mission without compromising its own
business status. The organization meets more than 85% of its budget through ticket and food sales, while grants and donations fund capital improvements. In 1993 the organization purchased its facility
and the adjacent parking lot. Seven years later, with the help of the
City of Berkeley, the organization purchased a new property, in the
heart of Berkeley's downtown Arts and Cultural District, and has
transformed this property into the site of its new home.
The Freight's superb sound system is composed of speakers and amplifiers exclusively designed and installed by Meyer Sound Labs of Berkeley. We offer our sincere thanks to the folks at Meyer Sound for the generous support and assistance they have provided year after year. Their contribution has been indispensable in establishing the Freight as a premier listening room.