HUSHconcerts creates unique experiences for live entertainment aficionados and provides top-notch production and promotion services for artists, producers, promoters, managers, agents, and brands. Founded in San Francisco in 1998 as Sunset Promotions/SunsetSF, this independent, boutique, entertainment think tank launched the nation’s leading silent disco production brand called ‘Silent Frisco’ in 2007. In 2015, SunsetSF and Silent Frisco merged and re-launched as HUSHconcerts to better serve its growing national client base. Among the properties managed by HUSHconcerts are some of the nation’s most innovative experiential events such as Sea of Dreams NYE(www.seaofdreamsnye.com), Ghost Ship Halloween (www.ghostshiphalloween.com), HUSHfest, and the SF Funk Festival. In addition to full-service concert promotion, HUSHconcerts provides concert and festival production, talent buying, marketing, and a variety of silent disco services. to its growing client base. HUSHconcerts is a thought-leader in the global conversation about how to preserve sustainable entertainment and culture in urban settings. With over 100,000 dedicated and responsive followers, and fans, HUSHconcerts has created a boutique community of educated entertainment connoisseurs who have come to expect excellence and creativity.
1998 – Sunset Promotions & North Beach Jazz
John Miles and Robbie Kowal moved to the Bay Area in the mid-1990’s and almost immediately began to influence the local music scene. John cut his teeth working for SFJazz, New Orleans Jazz Fest and booking concerts at Red Devil Lounge and Mario’s in North Beach. Robbie was an entertainment writer and DJ who began to build a following around his classic funk revival party and email newsletter Whatdafunk. In 1998, the two met and realized a shared passion for New Orleans music and culture and shortly thereafter launched the SF Mardi Gras Ball. The success of the Ball led to more events and the name Sunset Promotions, a shout out to the ocean-view Sunset District apartment that each would share for the better part of the next 15 years.
SF Funk Festival: In 2001, inspired by Berkeley professor Dr Rickey Vincent’s definitive work in Funk, the Music, the People & the Rhythm if the One, Sunset Promotions launched the SF Funk Festival. With a broad mission aimed at growing the appreciation for the funk as America’s “third great art form” Funk Fest launched an extremely ambitious annual program of concerts, film screenings, and art shows that roll out every November in some form to this very day. The festival has energetically worked to help legendary artists find new audiences, and new artists to find educated ears. Among the leading figures presented by the SF Funk Fest were reunion shows of The Family Stone in 2000, and Fred Wesley & the JB’s in 2013 as well as intimate venue performances by George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic in 2001, Mandrill and the Headhunters in 2002, and Morris Day & the Time in 2012.
Among the next generation of funk family that SF Funk Fest and Sunset helped to uncover throughout the years were the first Bay Area performances by artists such as Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, Ledisi, The Budos Band, Lee Fields, Rebirth Brass Band, the Soul of John Black, Goapele, and Martin Luther. Early on, SF Funk recognized DJ’s and producers for their vital contributions to the advancement of funk culture and launched the annual “House Party : DJ Night” in 2000. Over the years the House Party has featured Grandmaster Flash, Z-Trip, Cut Chemist, DJ Spinna, Rich Medina, Peanut Butter Wolf, Q-Bert, Shortkut, Kraak & Smaak, Gigamesh, A.Skillz, DJ Greyboy and Motion Potion. The SF Funk continues today, sometimes with as many as 10 shows (as in 2011) or as few as one (as in 2013). In 2014, SF Funk featured the House Party and two big nights with the band most associated with Sunset through the years, Rebirth Brass Band.
2002-2004 – New Orleans – Funkfest @ JazzFest
Sunset’s passion for New Orleans music and culture couldn’t be contained by the Bay Area alone. In 2002 Sunset partnered with local New Orleans promoters to produce a series of concerts during Jazz Fest, affectionately known as Funk Fest @ JazzFest. With a stated mission of bringing new ideas, genres and musical modalities to this venerable gathering, Sunset produced shows with the likes of Jurassic 5, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Ozomatli, Blackalicious, Soulive, George Clinton & Parliament-Funkadelic and even the massive 65-piece Dakah Hip Hop Orchestra. The centerpiece of Funk Fest @ JazzFest was the annual multi-club Frenchmen Block Party. In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina, Sunset discontinued this series to instead focus on raising money FOR New Orleans in the Bay Area, and throwing its support behind local promoters struggling to revive their businesses. To this end we produced a series of benefit shows that raised thousands for artist resettlement and Bayou restoration. To this day, HUSHconcerts is a key cog in the incredible connection between the Bay Area and the Crescent City.
2007 – FoggFest
In 2007, Sunset sought to capitalize on the success of SF Funk and North Beach Jazz by launching a fresh foray into the Bay Area summer festival scene, the Festival of the Golden Gate (or Foggfest). Taking place in August 0f 2006, FoggFest would feature a bevy of legendary performances by artists old and new including Dr John, Brian Setzer, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Leela James, The Donnas, Lyrics Born, Sean Hayes, and the final Bay Area appearance by the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. The event would live up to its name, suffering from two days of the thick, cold, Bay Area August weather, that only parted into rays of glorious sunshine when James Brown hit the stage. The few that had survived the cold were treated to one of the great late performances of Mr Brown’s illustrious career, culminating in 7 glorious encores. Weather-shy, Foggfest would not return as outside forces would begin to challenge not just this event, but the very idea of outdoor entertainment in urban settings.
Innovation in Dance Music
Sunset was an early proponent of the universality of dance music and categorically ignored any difference between those who chose to dance to bands or to DJs. To this end, Sunset created some of the earliest examples of cross-genre dance music exhibitions, beginning with the Tribal Summit Series in 2001. Tribal Summit was an effort to provide common ground between the Bay Area’s vibrant live dance music scenes and house/edm scenes. Among the early Tribal Summit’s were a concert featuring Colorado world-funk stalwarts the Motet and Bay Area house legends Dubtribe Soundsystem. Another Tribal Summit would feature Canada’s The New Deal and the Bay Area’s BLVD as well as burgeoning Burning Man tribal techno supergroup the Mutaytor with an emerging Bay Area DJ known then as DJ Lorin, later as Bassnectar.
Later forays into live electronica would feature nascent superstars like Chase & Status, Trentemoller, Kinky, Los Amigos Invisibles, Datarock, Neon Indian and Ghostland Observatory. In 2005, Sunset joined forces with the Burning Man arts collective The Fringe (later Janky Barge) to launch the annual breakbeat soiree Icebreakers Ball, and springtime getdown Freqo de Mayo. In 2015, both events will celebrate their TENTH anniversaries. A proponent of pulling the underground dance music world into the light, Sunset was an early champion of such future stars as Bassnectar, Miike Snow, Tipper, Beats Antique, Amon Tobin, The Glitch Mob, Emancipator, The Polish Ambassador, Green Velvet, Modeselektor, Rusko, Caspa, Shpongle, Borgore, Boombox, Gramatik, Griz, Gorgon City, Ana Sia, Krafty Kuts, Mr Scruff, A.Skillz, Adam Freeland, Random Rab, NASA, The Freestylers, The Juan McLean, Aquasky, NAPT, Deekline, Dieselboy, Toddla T, Eskmo, Kraak & Smaak, Kill Paris, Gaudi, and Fort Knox Five. In 2007, a fresh faced producer named Diplo, played Sunset’s first New Years event, MetroTech at Temple Nightclub. At the same time, Sunset applied its propensity for shining a light on underappreciated production legends with shows featuring the likes of Mad Professor, Roni Size, Mr Scruff, DJ Food, Afrika Bambaataa, and LTJ Bukem.
Sea of Dreams NYE
The huge success of the 2007 Diplo-led Metrotech event demonstrated the transformational potential of New Years Eve shows and led Sunset to a sustained partnership in 2008 with one the Bay Area’s most notable cultural events, Sea of Dreams NYE. Founded by anonEvents and already 8 years old at the time, Sunset brought ample experience in urban festivals to the effort in 2008. Featuring Thievery Corporation and Bassnectar, Sea of Dreams 2008 was a raging success leading to a glorious string of incredible cutting-edge experiences that lasts to this day.
Sea of Dreams NYE is now produced by a three-headed monster of production expertise: anonEvents, HUSHconcerts, and Another Planet Entertainment, and takes place at the legendary Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. Over the years the event has defined the nexus between music, transcendance, and counterculture with lineups featuring Santigold, Thievery Corp, Bassnectar, The Glitch Mob, Gogol Bordello, Shpongle, Beats Antique, Trentemoller, Modeselektor, Amon Tobin, Shpongle, A-Trak, Dillon Francis, Little Dragon, and most recently Pretty Lights. For more in depth info and all of the past Sea of Dreams lineups click here.
Sunset’s deep connection with North Beach led to the North Beach Jazz team taking over a tiny Spanish restaurant in 2006. Transforming this run down, but historic art space into a vibrant tribute to Havana’s legendary La Bodequita del Medio, Mojito opened its doors in 2006 just in time for that year’s North Beach Jazz Fest. Mojito would serve as an able headquarters for SunsetSF’s ongoing musical obsession for more than 5 years.
Hosting a remarkable 7 nights/week of live music, the venue would become famous for “Holy Sh*t” shows that had no business showing up on the marquee of a 75-capacity space. Among the legendary nights that graced Mojito’s incredible run was packed appearances by Rebelution, the Headhunters, Alice Russell, The Masters of Groove, Pucho & His Latin Soul Brothers, Rebirth Brass Band, and an unbelievable run of shows with a nascent Grupo Fantasma. With the demise of North Beach Jazz Fest in 2011, Sunset chose to move on and left the space in the capable hands of longtime Bay Area musician Teague Kernan who continues the space’s storied tradition under the guise of Tupelo to this day.
North Beach Jazz, Silent Frisco
North Beach Jazz, Silent Frisco and the Struggle to Preserve Outdoor Entertainment: Starting in 2006, Sunset found itself in the midst of one of the greatest challenges to face the future of urban entertainment, the rise of “NIMBYism”. As defined by Wikipedia, NIMBY stands for “Not in My Back Yard” and refers to a trend among urban dwellers who may support a thing, but don’t want it close to their home. In the case of San Francisco specifically, this trend has most commonly manifested itself in property owners opposing music clubs, music festivals, outdoor concerts and generally connoting “music” with “noise” and “noise with “nuisance”. This trend came into clear focus in 2008 when a small group of powerful neighbors set out to cancel or curtail the (then 10-year-old, incident-free, and generally beloved) North Beach Jazz Fest.
Secretly allied with sympathetic forces in the city bureaucracy, NBJF’s opponents used the clever tactic of trying to disrupt the event’s financial lifeblood, namely, its bar sales. Stating (incorrectly) that the festival was allowing unchecked beverage consumption in a public park, the opposition brought into focus many of the inconsistencies in City code that were already allowing many a great local artistic institution to flee or fold.
No shrinking violet, SunsetSF formed a powerful coalition of pro-entertainment forces around North Beach Jazz and garnered the powerful and decisive support of (then) Mayor Gavin Newsom to fight back. The battle raged for more than 4 years in the halls of various committee hearings, neighborhood meetings, newspaper clippings, and in the streets and parks of North Beach. In time, however, the forces of attrition, (and sadly not the truth) became the demise of NBJF. With every concession given to the special interests, North Beach Jazz became more expensive to produce, and with no additional revenue sources from a FREE festival, Sunset decided to put the event on hiatus after 2011.
North Beach Jazz would be just the first in a sad parade of beloved Bay Area institutions that would fold due to the rise of NIMBYism, including festivals like SF Blues Fest, LoveFest/LOVEolution and Power to the Peaceful. But these lost battles led to greater victories in the ongoing war as a broad coalition of entertainment and cultural interests formed powerful blocs to support nightlife, including the SF Latenite Coalition, the (Sunset led) SF Outdoor Events Coalition and more recently the extremely influential California Music & Culture Association (of which HUSHconcerts’ founder Robbie Kowal is a past board member).
More importantly, this bitter experience led Sunset’s partners to seek a way to innovate out of the NIMBY problem, which led to Silent Frisco and eventually to HUSHconcerts.
2006 – on Silent Frisco:
Throughout this whole period, HUSHconcerts founder Robbie Kowal continued to moonlight as a touring DJ under the monicker Motion Potion. With an unusual style catered to live music fans, he became a top choice for the burgeoning American festival scene, including an 8-year run as a resident at Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival. In 2006, Bonnaroo introduced a recent innovation they had experienced at festivals in Europe: Silent Disco. MoPo was the guinea-pig DJ, playing three nights to hundreds of stunned listeners on KOSS wireless headphones. (For those curious about Silent Disco’s origins in the US, it’s important that credit go exactly where it is due, to Superfly Presents, AC Entertainment, and KOSS).
Kowal immediately fell in love with the concept and realized that Silent Disco had the potential to solve many of the recent challenges that the North Beach Jazz experience had brought to light, not only for him, but for arts impresarios throughout the world. The basic demographic issues around growing urbanization, gentrification, and NIMBYism are not going to change, nor is there really a “RIGHT” answer or “CORRECT” side in the equation. Rather Silent Disco as a concept presented a potential middle ground where the arts could survive while the neighbors slept.
To test these principles, Kowal founded Silent Frisco shortly thereafter and merged it with Sunset in short order to lean on his company’s extensive production and promotion resources. With no clear “roadmap” on “how” to activate this amazing technology, Silent Frisco‘s early efforts were largely experimental, and often quite groundbreaking. In 2008 Kowal produced the first nationwide Silent Dico tour Silent Soundclash kicking off at WMC Miami, and then hitting venues in South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, New York, Michigan, and Missouri. Along the way, they produced the first-ever American Silent Discos on a beach (Miami Beach!) and a boat (the Rocksoff Cruise in New York Harbor). In short order, they brought the concept home to the Bay Area producing the first-ever HUSHfest on Ocean Beach, San Francisco on Mothers Day, May 8, 2008.
That summer, the festival bookings began and Silent Frisco’s years of festival production experience clearly separated them from a growing number of well-meaning but lesser experienced competitors. Silent Frisco proved it could assist with every aspect of a production, from headphones and transmission, to the talent buying, stage management, marketing and more. Legendary events like Gathering of the Vibes, Camp Bisco, Earthdance, Lightning in a Bottle, Treasure Island Music Festival, Electric Forest, Sonic Bloom, and High Sierra Music Festival became clients, many lasting to this very day.
More important to the original mission than the festival activations were the “distress calls” that began to come in almost weekly. Around the country, promoters, producers, and patrons of the arts were facing the same challenges that North Beach Jazz had once faced. New York City’s legendary Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts wanted to extend its “Midsummer Night Swing” concerts in Damrosch Park just a few extra hours. Soon more than 1000 Silent Frisco headphones were on the scene, leading to this incredible display of a silent “Hustle”.
Austin Enchanted Forest, a beloved local art space with a history going back more than 30 years was the next to reach out, facing noise complaints from a single neighbor. Starting with SXSW 2010, Silent Frisco produced a series of concerts at the Forest that would enable this venerable art space to extend its incredible run for an additional 5 years. Along the way Silent Southby and Silent City Limits (during ACL Fest) demonstrated the magic that could be conjured from the perfect setting, this nascent production methodology, and people who knew how to use it. Silent Frisco curated lineups that spoke to music communities almost overlooked in the rapid growth of SXSW. They included some of the world’s most skilled DJ’s and producers like Nickodemus, DJ Kentaro, Rob Garza, Nick Thayer, Quantic, Paul Devro, Rhettmatic, Fort Knox Five, Thunderball plus live Emcees like Lyrics Born and Aceyelone. But just as importantly, Silent Frisco made sure to champion Austin’s amazing local DJ scene. The results were not only some of the best parties that Silent Frisco ever produced, but (according to many) some of the best parties ever produced during SXSW.
Ghost Ship Halloween: Just as Sunset’s experience was feeding Silent Frisco, Silent Frisco‘s remarkable experiences working to preserve sustainable arts communities was inspiring innovation on the concert front. In 2008, Sunset was asked to join the legendary Bay Area arts collective the Space Cowboys in their efforts to expand and improve their recently birthed Halloween party Ghost Ship Halloween. Over the next 7 years, this incredible partnership would turn Ghost Ship into the USA’s most unique and spectacular Halloween event.
From the early days at Treasure Island Hangar 180 and Hangar 3, to the recent years at San Francisco’s massive Pier 70, Ghost Ship’s basic ethos remains unchanged: “The Art Comes First”. Unlike most large events, Ghost Ship does not begin by booking big name musical talent, hiring production vendors and then pasting “decor” around it. Instead, Ghost Ship begins with the vision and execution of more than 300 local artists, creators, and volunteers who work for weeks to create an entire universe of large-scale art from scratch. In fact, the majority of Ghost Ship’s art is built using the same wood and cardboard every year, turned into something incredible, then stored, and re-built into a different form. Add to this central art process the cream of the Burning Man arts community in the form of frequent contributors like Peter Hudson, Michael Christian, Marco Cochrane, the Unbreakables, and Kate Raudenbusch.
That isn’t to say that there isn’t music at Ghost Ship. On the contrary, every year, dozens of the finest local collectives participate and bring hundreds of DJs to the fray. But unlike most festivals, almost all of the talent is local, paid relatively equally, and expected to participate in the build as well. In 2013, Ghost Ship moved from Treasure Island to to San Francisco’s Pier 70 and in 2014, expanded to two huge nights. With the growth of the event, Ghost Ship also decided to extend its art curation ethos into the musical world as well, inviting two legendary musical figures to headline the event, hip hop pioneer DJ Afrika Bambaataa and rock-electronica pioneer James Lavelle of UNKLE. The 2014 event was Ghost Ship’s greatest success yet with thousands of ecstatic attendees enjoying the event’s biggest production. Ghost Ship Halloween has grown from humble beginnings into one of the clearest examples of the power of the West Coast arts community.
2011-2015 SunsetSF, Growth, Change, Metamorphosis: By 2011, with the sale of Mojito pending and the future of its business clearly in the experiential side of the street, Sunset Promotions re-launched as SunsetSF. Shortly thereafter, they moved from the home office “Sunset House” into beautiful offices on San Francisco’s Treasure Island. The new office space would give SunsetSF necessary space to grow and further refine its remarkable independent vision. In the summer of 2013, Silent Frisco would partner with Fiat USA produce the nationwide Silent Disco tour “Fiat Urban Surf Party” hitting beach-side locations in Miami, New York, Chicago, San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Additional corporate clients and professional conferences like MacWorld, Oracleworld, Dos Equis, Instagram, and Anchor Brewing would call on Silent Frisco to bring that unique magic that only it could conjure.
The lessons learned on the road would also lead to clear benefits in California. The concept of a HUSHfest, or a “festival without sound” would grow from humble beginnings on Ocean Beach into elaborate multi-stage affairs, sometimes gathering thousands of people. HUSHfest: Great Lawn 2014 would feature the likes of LTJ Bukem and Mark Farina on one channel and a live jazz band Jazz Mafia Silent Orchestra on the other. The Ocean Beach event grew into a biannual fixture on the summer concert calendar, in many ways the perfect revenge for the evil NIMBY’s who chased away North Beach Jazz.
From 2012, the company grew from just the original partners to more than 10 in the office on a weekly basis. In 2012, 2013, and 2014 SunsetSF and Silent Frisco doubled its annual revenue and by 2014 managed more than 122 days of total activation, from concerts to silent discos to production work, to marketing work. In 2014, SunsetSF and Silent Frisco’s combined registered user base grew to over 100,000 emails and their combined social followers broke 30,000. All of this success had garnered the attention of their peers and in 2014 SunsetSF was thrilled to be recognized by its peers with the Nitey Award as San Francisco’s “Best Club Promoter”.
Expanding southwards, Silent Frisco would produce a monthly club series in Los Angeles that would lead to historic concerts on the west edge of Santa Monica Pier. As of 2015, the club series is set to launch a new chapter in Hollywood, and the Santa Monica Pier Series is set for its glorious return. Contrary to its humble expectations, Silent Frisco’s Southern California fanbase may be even more enthusiastic than that of its hometown. Silent Frisco is now a factor in the national concert scene and SunsetSF has become a promoter, producer, and production vendor, nationally recognized for extraordinary creativity and quality. These facts have led us to the exciting next chapter.
HUSHconcerts: In 2015, recognizing that their baby had grown up far beyond its humble beginnings, John, Robbie, and their incredible staff and family made the decision to merge SunsetSF and Silent Frisco and relaunch as a new brand: HUSHconcerts. HUSHconcerts will take everything that the team has learned from the past 18 years of triumph and tribulation, and share that wisdom, and love with its clients, partners, fans and friends. More than a production company, we are a nationwide family who strongly believe that the arts come first, and we are willing to devote our lives to ensuring that they do. We invite you to help us as we write the next exciting chapter in this unlikely and inspiring story.
2018 served as one of HUSHconcerts most successful and exciting years ever. In the spring, the company welcomed a new partner, former Magenic Inc founder Judy Fridman. In the summer, the company expanded its San Francisco operation with new equipment and staff, and opened new offices in Brooklyn New York, Austin Texas, Las Vegas Nevada, Chicago Illinois, Reno Nevada, Portland Oregon, and Kansas City Kansas. We also expanded our operations in Southern California, opening an official HUSHla office, and forged an alliance with Georgia entertainment production ninjas Island Sound to deliver silent disco production to the southeastern US. In the fall, HUSHconcerts produced its first activation at the glorious KAABOO Del Mar festival with thousands of headphones over two huge nights. As we enter 2019, the company has never been better positioned to lead and capitalize on the exponential growth of the radio headphone production space.
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