Sara Butler | Editor
This weekend, North Park resident and musician William Santana will venture outside of his Uptown neighborhood to debut his sound in Ocean Beach.
More than 40 bands and 10 solo artists from all over the world will gather at Springboard West Music Festival from Jan. 10-12. The west coast event — an offshoot of the original Springboard in Houston, Texas — is a musical mashup inspired by South by Southwest (SXSW), but it is unique from other music festivals throughout the country.
Springboard West is discovery based — part learning, part performing. Its two-day “band boot camp” is an innovative conference full of workshops, panels and pitch sessions with industry experts.
Springboard Founder Barry Coffing said they pick bands at all different stages of careers for the event. They focus on teaching what they need to succeed and connecting them to the right people to help boost them to the next level, noting “education is our secret sauce.”
The mentors range from producers to managers to sound engineers and include big names like Guns N’ Roses’ first manager, Vicky Hamilton. Coffing added that the mentors “do [the festival] for free to help the next generation.” He books them after bands are selected to better serve both groups.
While last year leaned more to heavy rock, Coffing noted this year’s lineup includes a lot of “blue-eyed soul,” as well as many pop and Americana performers. Out of 3,000 submissions, only 50 acts were chosen, a third of those local to San Diego.
North Park newbie
One of these local talents is William Santana, a North Parker who has been jamming in the neighborhood for less than six months.
Chico-born bassist Santana brought his talent to Berklee College of Music in 2014, where he met his current bandmate and best friend, Marc Polit. Santana dropped out to hit the road with Polit and Boston-based band The House in Cliff, who he toured with until the end of 2017.
Though Santana enjoyed the experience, he and Polit decided 2018 was time for a change — leading them to leave the band and take their music to the west coast, settling in San Diego and forming the new rhythm-based duo WidowMade.
“I wanted to take it easier on myself and on my drummer [Polit] and on our health — our mental health specifically — and get somewhere with a better quality of life,” Santana said, referring to the move to San Diego as “a little bit of a Hail Mary.”
His current digs on University Avenue is near popular Uptown venues he frequents, such as Bar Pink, Seven Grand and Soda Bar, where he works as a security guard. The complex is also home to “super creative people,” such as producers, entrepreneurs and fellow musicians.
“It’s a vibe, dude, to be around that many creative individuals,” he continued.
And he has found these creative individuals all over San Diego, from bar hopping to the common Craigslist search. The latter is how he connected with The Frets, another local act performing at this year’s festival.
Formerly Lad’s Holiday, The Frets are a Pacific Beach-based alternative rock band also performing at Springboard West. Current band members are Liam Wilkes (vocals), Cody Seegar (guitar), John Martinez (drums) and as of October 2018, Santana (bass).
After a last-minute cancellation, Lad’s Holiday received the opportunity to open Springboard West as a small act in 2018. There, they met songwriter and producer Billy Smiley — which led to a whirlwind year.
“[Springboard West] really just kicked off the year and took [our band] in a direction that we could only dream would happen,” Seegar said.
The group rebranded, changed their name to The Frets, and recorded an album in Nashville with Smiley, which was released last August. Now they’ve been asked back to Springboard West as a closing band and will be returning to the stage as “a more polished artist, so to speak,” Seegar said.
“In terms of The Frets, they’re perfect. They’re part of why we realized that a lot of times, it takes more than one Springboard to do what we want to do,” Coffing said, adding that the band has come a long way since last year’s festival.
And part of The Frets’ rebranding and growth includes adding Santana into the mix, who joined the group as its new bassist less than three months ago.
“His music knowledge is amazing,” Seegar said of Santana, adding that the new bassist learned their songs “in one practice, literally 30 minutes.”
“He’s a contributing band member and the songwriting, I think, is only going to increase the creativity of the band,” he continued. “It’s great to have a bassist who likes to write songs as well and can help in that respect.”
“The best thing about The Frets — and the reason why it’s a good mesh — is because it’s the quality of product and writing good tunes and getting together, having a beer, having a good time, working it out,” Santana said. “And if it doesn’t work, making sacrifices — I don’t know, it’s a healthy process.”
Though this year is round two for The Frets, it’s Santana’s first time at the festival — and WidowMade’s first time performing, ever.
“[Polit and I have] been focused on getting the tunes out — just releasing the musical content when we want, on our own terms,” Santana said, adding that he’s excited to finally debut their songs on stage.
Bands, booze and beach
After the two-day educational boot camp on Jan. 10-11, all 50 artists will get a chance to show off their tunes to local music lovers, as well as professional scouts on Jan. 12 during the “Band and Brew Crawl.” The staggered stages are at various locations — including Winston’s Beach Club, OB Theatre, The Harp and Mother’s Saloon — with bands starting every 15 minutes.
“If you want to be crazy, you can literally see three songs from all 40 bands in one day,” Coffing said. “We like to joke, ‘It’s like a wine tasting for music.’”
Tickets are $20 online at bit.ly/BandBrewTix. All proceeds benefit local nonprofits, including Sustainable Artists, Pioneer Day School and Autism Tree Project Foundation. The charitable aspect of the event is Santana’s favorite part of the whole festival. As a former stage manager for Autism Rocks, Santana said the cause is very close to his heart.
So if you’re looking for a SXSW experience that’s arguably a bit more intimate, look no further than Springboard West. Catch Santana’s three back-to-back performances at Winston’s starting at 10:30 p.m. (In addition to performing as WidowMade and with The Frets, he’s also guest performing in the rhythm section of Sons of Levin.)
“There’s not like a huge, big name band, household name artist selling all the tickets – it’s us, you know,” Santana said. “A lot of local people showing that we have something to offer, which is fun. That’s the kicker — it’s for discovery.”
—Reach Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org.