Beer, Free Gigs & Sunshine: This Brewery Is California's Best Kept Secret
Lagunitas offers far more than your typical brewery tour...
Everyone’s looking for those unique experiences that elevate their travels into truly unforgettable adventures. Whilst the top tourist hotspots are as popular as they are for a reason, it’s often the unusual experiences that stick with us the most.
Finding those hidden gems, however, is difficult. Without knowing the locals, it often seems near impossible to seek them out. So, when we heard about the Lagunitas brewery and its eccentric musical ties, we knew we had to experience it for ourselves.
In Northern California, just outside of San Francisco, Lagunitas Brewing Company are doing something we’ve never seen before. During the day, from afar at least, it appears to be much like any other brewery. But each Tuesday night you’ll hear from a mile away that it is assuredly not - and it might just be California's best kept secret.
Walking into one of these music events, you’ll be surprised to be greeted by so much more than small-time local hobbyists. The intimate amphitheatre, with the stage mere feet above the ground and situated mere steps away from the audience, is regularly populated by huge international artists who typically perform on towering stages to thousands across the globe - the result of which is entirely unique and almost indescribable.
Seeing is believing, so it’s best to see it for yourself. Luckily, you can check out the breath-taking, high-energy performance from Toronto jazz group (and Kendrick Lamar collaborators) BADBADNOTGOOD at the Lagunitas amphitheatre below.
Whilst the brewery’s surrounding landscape is evocative of all things Americana through and through, the events held here cross the entire spectrum of genre. Asides from fantastic Jazz, they’ve reached into post-punk having hosted Parquet Courts, into Electronic-Pop with Sylvan Esso, all the way into psychedelic-rock with Unknown Mortal Orchestra. What’s clear is that they have an open mind to anything and anyone.
What’s telling too, is the scale of artists who have visited the brewery. We were caught off guard when we heard that before his passing they had hosted soul/funk legend Charles Bradley - and that despite his reclusive nature, blues/rock legend Tom Waits had also come to their small stage to stun the crowd.
That these artists would perform at such an intimate venue speaks a thousand words as to the respect they have for the musical soul that resides there. They’re not persuaded by money or publicity – nor do Lagunitas profit from the gigs (any paid for events are all for charity), instead there’s a genuine sense of solidarity in creating something truly special.
The chance to see such impressive artists up close and personal on a small stage is amazing enough – but the real icing on the cake is that these events are 100% free to attend.
The legends they’ve hosted are almost unbelievable, but what’s equally impressive is their desire to help smaller artists grow - supporting upcoming artists locally and across the globe. They’re proud that many of these artists have since rose to stardom yet still return to perform at Lagunitas, both in genuine thanks and because of their attachment to the wholly unique atmosphere.
This is typified by their yearly collaboration with NPR’s Tiny Desk to form a competition for upcoming talent. The 2017 winners Tank and the Bangas have since surged in popularity and you can check out their electrifying Lagunitas performance right below.
So, how did a brewery that humbly started in a kitchen (until overflowing the surrounding neighbour’s septic tanks forced them to think bigger) become so intertwined with music?
Well, simply, it was so from the very beginning. Tony Magee, the founder, attended music school before being gifted the home brewing kit that changed his path. When we visited Petaluma and spoke to him about how his pale ale and music were linked, he told us:
“To me, the whole world is some manifestation of music […] it’s not just central to the business and how we try to project it out into the world, but it’s central to how I think about the brand.”
Beer in hand, he continued:
“Here in my hands is a recipe – it’s a song, actually it’s the IPA so it’s the hit single off of the album […] in fact, the whole brand is a 20-yearlong symphony.”
From the amphitheatre being spontaneously built from the rubble of a desolate part of the site, to the passionate musical metaphors - it actually does feel more than mere tales to inspire a sense of grandeur. Instead, there’s a feeling of genuine soul to the place that is almost palpable, and so easy to get drawn into.
Since the music is weekly AND free, there’s no reason to miss it – and even more so the atmosphere of the place with its sense of community is totally unique, and can only truly be experienced in person. When looking for something to highlight a trip to California this is a totally unique and unmissable gem.
The memories left a lasting impression on us that we’ve carried all the way home – and as ridiculous as it seems that a beer and its musical spirit can do so, it’s best explained in Tony’s own words:
“These things continue to have meaning, if they’re rooted to something deeply enough. Sure, eventually the Beatles break up, BUT – the music continues to play, even today.”
Words by Alex Beach