Ben Jaffe sits in the rear office behind Preservation Hall. The Hall’s director — and son of Allan and Sandra Jaffe — is looking out the window, past the courtyard, his gaze drifting into space, crystalline blue eyes glittering in reflected daylight. “It’s always been my dream,” he says, “to create an outpost somewhere in the world for what we do here.” For close to a decade now, there has been talk of Paris, Montreal, Toronto, Seattle, Chicago — a whole host of possibilities, until several years ago, when San Francisco became the target, and the location, a reclaimed education center in the heart of the city’s rapidly gentrifying Mission District.
“What we do here” has been, shall we say, a little less precisely targeted. Technically, what happens in the executive suite of Preservation Hall is the daily operation of the venue itself: the confirmation of touring arrangements for the Hall’s A-list band; the fulfilling of orders and other minor tasks associated with the Hall’s retail offerings; and the frequent updating of its dual-purpose website, tracking activity at home and on the road. Of late, though, and especially during nearly two years of recent 50th anniversary celebrations, “what we do here” has been morphing at warp speed. They’ve showcased collaborations with museum exhibitions and dance troupes, remix deejays and bluegrass statesmen, folkies and rockers, rappers and film stars, newcomers and revered elders — in short, just about every form of grassroots and not-so-grassroots creative expression possible. Expect some of that and more as the Hall begins the process of settling into its 2,500-square-foot performance space — “getting its sea legs,” in Jaffe’s words.
The formal opening of Preservation Hall West on October 4 is scheduled to coincide with San Francisco’s annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, and a select number of performers from the fest will likely show up on the new venue’s stage. Also booked is a benefit show for an Elvis Costello-related nonprofit, with the erudite and multi-talented musician to perform a couple of numbers with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. After that, if you ask Jaffe, it’s hard to say. He says he envisions the new space as more than just a venue for presenting music, but as a “gathering place and community resource” as well. At some point in the future, there will be an official grand opening. Stay tuned as old Preservation Hall transfers its boundary-leaping aesthetic onto the wide-open spaces of the Western frontier.