Fil Maresca answers questions about SoFA and upcoming SoFA Street Fair

Fil Maresca slowed down long enough for San Jose Downtown Association to ask him a few questions about the SoFA Street Fair coming up on Sept. 24 and his long history helping build SoFA as a destination.

Fil, how do you generally describe SoFA Street Fair?

SoFA Street Fair celebrates live music by showcasing more than 100 bands on 16 stages all within three blocks for one day, twice a year.

How is SoFA Street Fair different from Street MRKT and SubZERO?

That’s a good question because some people are confused. The Street MRKTs and SubZERO are amazing art-focused events with additional outdoor music and vendors.

SoFA Street fair is a music event with multiple stages and 100-plus bands. At any one time, eight bands are playing 30-minute sets. We encourage people to see as much as they can in one day.

People come to SoFA Street Fair because they love music and want to discover new bands and venues in SoFA.

There’s an easy way to figure out who’s producing these events. My events – SoFA Street Fair twice a year, plus SoFA Sundays and Love Seat Sessions at Forager, both one time a month – are always on Sunday. South First Fridays, Street MRKTs and SubZERO produced by Brian Eder and Cheri Lakey are always on Friday and sometimes continue into Saturday.

SoFA Street Fair’s “SCHED” app — how does it work?

We use It allows all our attendees to join for free and create a personal schedule for the SoFA Street Fair day. They can digitally plan the entire day in advance if they choose, or they can use the app in a more spontaneous way and see who’s playing where instantly. It also links to the band’s social media, so you can get a taste of their music.

It works so well, that on the day of the SoFA Street Fair, people get so excited they are literally running down the street to see a band.

What is your involvement with the event, SoFA and downtown over the years?

In 1989, I came to the Market-Almaden Gateway Arts and Entertainment District to open a night club (F/X) in an old porn theater. South First Street used to be San Jose’s red-light district. The end of that district came when the Pussycat closed in 1998 and the Cactus Club opened where the Bachelor Club was.

We began calling it South First Area (SoFA). I’ve heard some people call it the South First Arts District, and that sounds good, too, but I always intended it to be South First Area, like SoHo is South of Houston in New York City.

Then in 1992, we started the original SoFA Street Fair with SJDA to help build the identity of the district. It turned out to be very successful. After five years, it became too big and we started a cover charge, changing the name to the SoFA Festival. In five more years, it was determined that continuing the SoFA Festival was not in the best interests of downtown at large, so we discontinued it.

That was 2001, the year we postponed the 10th annual festival for two weeks because of 9/11.

In 2014, I decided to bring SoFA Street Fair back. And now there is one in the spring and one in the fall.

What’s the story behind Sofas in SoFA?

For the first SoFA Street Fair in 1992, we used sofas to fill the space where we didn’t have a vendor. In 1992, there weren’t so many tattoo artists, piercing salons and other vendors willing to take the risk of setting up business at an alternative street fair.

We found out right away that the sofas were popular places for socializing – this was also before selfies – and paid photographers would naturally gravitate toward the sofas. As a result, pictures of people hanging on sofas showed up everywhere and that became part of the identity.

We’ll get 12-20 sofas for SoFA Street Fair and like to put one in the front row of each stage, including our four outside stages – two for live music, one for DJ music and one for wrestling. I get the sofas from my facebook friends and off Craig’s List – all for free.

SoFA Street Fair then vs. now – what’s the difference?

We try now to get as many businesses interested as possible. SoFA has evolved into a district destination, and the SoFA Street Fair is now a part of the district happenings. There weren’t as many businesses on the street when we first started as now. We use the event to expose non-traditional business venues to our music supporters.

The Street Fair generates big business and everyone makes money off the day except me. I’m OK with that because the event works for my community – SoFA – and the event collides with another cause for which I am a strong advocate – live local music. It’s my way of contributing to both.

Highlights for the Sept. 2017 event?

• Content Magazine will host the Urban Rooms at Parque de los Pobladores, turning the rooms into an outdoor nightclub with DJs.
• The Underground Wrestling Association (UGWA) is returning for the sixth time to put on a wrestling showcase, and that’s always a lot of fun.
• The Live and Local San Jose stage will be at San Salvador and Second Street and feature six of the top live local bands San Jose has to offer.
• The three art galleries across from Parque – ICA, the Quilt Museum and MACLA – will all be open and full of art and mellower music.
• Forager will again host the Love Seat Sessions, with all bands kicking off their sets with one legendary cover song. As usual, these will be all ages shows.
• We’ll have food trucks and vendors and a Zen Den that allows attendees to escape to musical healing.
• And Haze Dispensary will sponsor the main stage at First and San Carlos streets.

Looking ahead, what can we expect?

We’re already showcasing the best that the San Jose music scene has to offer. I think the scene is ready to explode – that is there are maybe a half dozen local acts ready to hit in a big way like Smash Mouth or the Doobie Brothers did. All they need is the right break.

It would be great five years from now if we could say, “Remember so and so when they performed at SoFA Street Fair.”

SoFA Street Fair nurtures these bands in front of our eyes and we will continue to embrace each other to create a vibrant musical community.