Shrouded in the dappled moonlight that filtered though the eucalyptus trees in John McLaren Park, a crowd of more than 80 people swayed to the acoustic sounds of a guitar. Coordinated by the Secret Show Society, Saturday night’s concert is part of the larger trend of invite-only events held under a cloak of secrecy.
“We started this because the city is changing, and we wanted something of our own,” said Peter Ryan, an organizer of the event and a member of Cloves and Bones, the opening band.
Ryan said that, because most of the artists involved in the Secret Show Society have only moved to San Francisco within the last few years, it’s been difficult to land gigs without any connections in the business. Along with creating an opportunity for up-and-coming musicians to play shows, Ryan said that the Secret Show Society hosts events to establish a sense of community among people who share similar interests and taste in music.
Brendan Page, one of the Secret Show Society founders, said the society has already done five of the secret shows around San Francisco.
The crowd for Saturday’s show swelled to more than 70 by the time the fourth band was setting up around 10 p.m.
“Yeah it’s secret, so don’t share this online,” read the flyer, sent via text or email, for Saturday’s show. The invitation had a map to help party goers navigate though the darkness of the park after hours.
“We’ve done full shows with generators — this is just our first show back from a brief hiatus, so we didn’t want to stress,” Page said.
The lack of electricity didn’t slow down Echobends, one of six different acts featured Saturday.
“This is a little stripped down compared to our normal set, but was still great,” said Echobends guitarist Ryan Elliott.
Page said he worked to collect groups of local performers who have something different to bring to the stage.
Julian Borrego, who usually plays keyboard and sings in the band Paisano, took the stage as a solo artist for the night.
Melodic love songs flowed from his guitar as the crowd bubbled with laughter during his comedic ballad, “You Looked Better from Far Away,” a song about the experience of finding someone attractive from afar, but not up close.
The spectators, mostly SF State students, came to support live music and, of course, to have fun, said SF State students Erin Stokes and Paulina Leon. Stokes and Leon said endured the fog and cold to enjoy the live performance.
“We just came out because our friend was playing,” Leon said. “It’s a really cool idea.”
Page says he considers a number of factors when choosing a band for a show. The Secret Show Society chooses bands that can draw a crowd, are enthusiastic about their craft and have a good energy during their sets, according to Page.
“We try to tailor each one,” Page said. “We stay away from stages and distancing the performers from the audience as much as we can.”
To find a secret show may prove slightly difficult, though not impossible, Page said.
“Part of it is who you know. We want to make it just a little difficult to find out,” Page said. “We figure, if you’re willing to put the time in to find it, you’re not just going to get drunk.”