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PianoFight SF to Permanently Close

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via Rob Ready and the PianoFight website.

“Of course it’s sad to close,” says Executive Director Dan Williams. “But we’re so grateful and so proud of what we’ve been able to do.” 

On March 18th, PianoFight SF will permanently close. The venue has hosted 6,702 performances since it opened in 2014 at 144 Taylor Street in the Tenderloin. PianoFight directly paid Bay Area artists $1.3 million according to a press release. That means 198,000 tickets sold and approximately $25 million in city revenue. 

PianoFight’s closure comes as yet another tragic blow to a beleaguered theater scene already struggling to recapture pre-COVID traffic. “We’ve hosted comedy, plays, music, dance, drag, magic, burlesque, circus, podcasts, films, video game tournaments, and game shows,” said Williams. “We said yes to everything because we could, we wanted to, and it was more fun than saying no.”

Williams’ approach fostered what was at one point the West Coast’s busiest live performance venue. In its short life, PianoFight estimates more than ten thousand artists have graced the stage. They hosted a wealth of icons like SF SketchFest, Killing My Lobster, the SF Improv Festival, and Faultline Theater. PianoFight was also a good neighbor, partnering with district outlook groups Code Tenderloin, Safe Passage, and TLCBD. 

Another COVID Casualty

It’s a story you know too well by now. Some of your favorite San Francisco haunts are probably ghosts themselves. For all the momentum PianoFight gained on its way to becoming a primary entertainment magnet, COVID-19 was a brick wall. “We designed the SF space to serve a diverse community of indie artists and adventurous audiences,” said Financial Director Kevin Fink. “And that community funded its creation, fueled our business, and kept us going during the pandemic.”

That same community raised a hundred grand to float PianoFight through a rough 2020. That was the Year of No Shows, pictured below in a mixture of sadness and defiance. After some false starts, PianoFight finally reopened for business full-time less than a year ago in February 2022. “We made a lot of assumptions about the pandemic, most of which ended up being wrong,” Operations Director Duncan Wold explained. “The most off base being that once we reopened artists and audiences would be so hungry for live performance the business would be there. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case.”

Dan Williams at the One Year Dark event held by NIVA (National Independent Venue Association). Courtesy

“Almost the entire community was scattered by COVID,” Wold said. “In 2019, 80% of our customers were returning. In 2022, 80% of our customers are new.” Traffic hovered around thirty-five percent of pre-lockdown volume. Last year PianoFight, the host of 719 shows during 2019, booked only two hundred and one. “There’s been a massive restructuring of people’s lives: where they live, their habits, how often they go out, but those Bay Area expenses just keep going up.”

As if the closure of PianoFight weren’t bad news enough, it isn’t just San Francisco’s loss. The Oakland PianoFight at 16th and Broadway will close its doors as well. 

PianoFight SF has another hundred or so more shows lined up before the final curtain call. 

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Jake Warren

Jake Warren

A Potawatomi nonfiction writer and Tenderloin resident possessing an Indigenous perspective on sexuality and a fascination with etymological nuance. Queer decolonial leftist, cannabis industry affiliate, seasoned raver, and unofficial earthquake authority.