Born-and-bred San Francisco singer-songwriter and local pop music ringleader Andrew St. James’ big spring 2020 tour got derailed by the pandemic, but he’s making the most of the situation in more ways than one.
Not only is his rock band Fast Times kicking off a series of live-streaming fundraisers on July 15 by releasing the tune “Tuesday Night” — the video is out July 10 — he’s been busy in The City doing free “drive-by concerts” in which he shows up, by request, outside residences to perform several tunes outdoors for appreciative audiences.
“We had a lot of plans, a lot of music; it all kind of fell apart,” says St. James, 25, referring to Fast Times shows scheduled at the Rickshaw Stop and a Pacific Northwest tour with bandmates (guitarist Duncan Nielsen and drummer Cody Rhodes, both of Geographer) that were canceled in March.
After two months of sitting around, feeling bad, he and his friend, publicist Ashley Graham, cooked up the idea of doing “concert delivery” around town, at first to homes of friends and acquaintances, then later hooking up with the Balboa Theatre at its popcorn popup events in the Richmond, which spurred more interest.
“It went really swimmingly, it went really well,” says the versatile St. James, mentioning, “I was taken aback by how responsible people were being, keeping their distance from each other.”
Since mid-May, St. James has been doing the brief weekly concerts — though taking a small break in June during the first major civil rights demonstrations — arranging them through messaging on Instagram.
He adds, “It just keeps ramping up the more we do it. It’s been really great and fairly surprising. I never would have expected it to be received so positively.”
Graham, a promoter for 13 years with Live Nation who launched a “Sunday Serenade” series on The Fillmore’s social media after the pandemic hit, has been joining St. James on the drive-bys, and is equally thrilled by the response — by friends and strangers telling her how good they feel when they watch the performances.
“Everybody’s extremely deprived. Nobody has had the live music experience for months,” she says, adding that the concerts are working on many levels beyond St. James’ desire and need to play.
Shows have taken place in the Richmond, Sunset, Upper Haight, Noe Valley and Western Addition, as well as Oakland. Sometimes St. James is joined by friends such as Scott Padden of Brothers Comatose or Tim Cohen of The Fresh & Onlys.
One notable mini-concert was on June 25 at a stop in front of a house in Alamo Square, when, St. James said, “the whole neighborhood came.” The audience included Shahid Buttar, who’s running for U.S. Congress, challenging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
For St. James — a Dylan-esque songwriter who released his first solo album when he was 17 and also is in a fun band called Juan Wayne with his Southern California pal Cesar Maria — that show represents one of his long-term goals.
“Music is almost secondary to the community that’s being created in those moments. It’s a very big part of it,” says St. James, who’s known around town for reaching out and promoting other musicians’ work.
His group Fast Times was the house band for monthly parties, also called Fast Times, he threw for years at Amnesia, which got so popular, they moved to a larger venue, The Chapel, before COVID-19 stopped them.
St. James also is pleased to release Fast Times’ new songs in benefits for the Rickshaw Stop — “Dan Strachota who runs the place is a fantastic guy and has been supportive of local acts,” he says — as well expand and diversify in light of Black Lives Matter.
To that end, Hip Hop for Change, an Oakland education and music nonprofit, is also a beneficiary and will participate in the July 15 stream, an interactive event also featuring Rickshaw Stop staffers, friends who’ve played the club as well as Fast Times’ songs. There are plans to have three streams, on the third Wednesday of July, August and September, Graham says.
St. James — who’s been performing since he was a kid, appearing in a boys choir in San Francisco Opera productions at age 10 as well as being mentored as a teen by producer Jim Greer, who mixed Fast Times’ new “Tuesday Night” — doesn’t necessarily aspire to playing arenas with his band, though he says, “That would be great.”
His aim is to have a life surrounded by kind, creative people, something that’s happening now, and is “awesome.”
“The goal is to make as much art as possible. Wherever that takes me or takes us. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. With good art, good things will happen, and good things do happen. I’ve seen that personally with people I know,” says St. James.
To join the Fast Times live stream, visit The Rickshaw Stop’s Facebook page.
Connect with Andrew St. James on Instagram.