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    El Rio Rocks the 35

    PHOTO BY KIRSTEN KRUSE

    PHOTO BY KIRSTEN KRUSE

    El Rio, everyone’s favorite queer community space, celebrated its 35th birthday on October 19 with a lineup that took guests on a musical journey from the 70s to jam band sounds, psychedelics and good old funk.

    The party started with the mellow grooves of Sang Matiz’ Latin afro-rumba funk, which may have been a tribute to El Rio’s very early days, when it was a gay leather motorcycle bar with Brazilian flavor.

    Los Train Wreck with the Bad Mommies and the legendary Ben Fong-Torres followed up. Los Train Wreck is one of the Bay Area’s most fun jam bands that has entertained at El Rio many times, and they make a great pair with the sassy Bad Mommies. They may be bad mommies, but they make up for it by being excellent singers and entertainers.

    Queen Crescent continued the party with their unique neo-psychedelic sound, because no party in San Francisco is complete without psychedelics.

    But what took the cake was shELO, a band that created an actual time-warped ELO show by dressing in tube tops, mumus and giant hair wigs. Simply said, all of their songs were sing-alongs for which every single person in the audience knew all the words, even if they had never been at an actual ELO concert! It made for a truly amazing experience.

    A tough act to follow, shELO was in fact followed by the Shake It Booty Band with Maria Stanford and Judea Eden laying it down with funky disco. Maria and Judea’s voices, stage presence and sound are always reminiscent of John Lee Hooker’s funky blues. The band’s “You Make me Feel (Mighty Real)” performance builds such great dancing energy that everyone ends up on their feet.

    As with any birthday party, guests ate cake, BBQ and enjoyed a treasure hunt for rubber rats that could be traded in for free drink tokens. Bonus!

    Dawn Huston, owner of El Rio for the last 18 years, acquired the club from Malcolm Thornley and Robert Nett who opened it 35 years ago. The bar’s outer Mission location almost naturally turned it into a mixed space. It has even been called the Best Queer Revolutionary HQ by another local paper. Dawn said she loves this description of the club and added that it is “leftist and anarchist” and supports many local political causes, most recently the “Sleep-In” at Dolores Park.

    Ben Hippe, a regular since 1978, confirmed that El Rio started out as a gay bar not attended by many women. He said El Rio saw more women after the AIDS crisis in the 1980s when many gay men died. Then a new generation of gay men grew up who enjoyed the mixed and more inclusive queer crowd. Monthly Mango was the first party created 17 years ago to bring in more women.

    Dawn said that her intent was to keep the basic elements of the original club and to make a conscious effort to create a safe and healthy space for women and the queer community. She runs this community space like a non-profit, with a main goal of subsidizing worthy causes and to give away money. She estimated that at least 170 events per year are fundraisers. She expressed profound thanks to her staff, “the backbone of the club,” for adjusting to this philosophy.