Opening a new independent music venue in a pandemic is a risky business choice, but the founders of Oakland’s upcoming Crybaby say the vision for their new space started long before the world knew about COVID-19. The 400-capacity Crybaby – set to open in March in Oakland – has been five years in the making between friends Dominic Green, Jesse Tittsworth, Miles Palliser and Conrad Loebl.
The founders set their sights on opening a larger venue prior to the pandemic, but saw an opening in the market when the 15-year-old Uptown Nightclub in Oakland closed in 2020.
“We thought it would be cool to build an ecosystem,” says Tittsworth, who understands how difficult the independent live music scene is at the moment with high no-show rates and shows canceling or postponing. He adds that, as independent owners, now is the time to make a difference in the competitive market “before all the larger entities gobble everything up in the world.”
The founders envisioned Crybaby – named after the John Waters film Crybaby starring Johnny Depp – as a nightclub without social barriers. Instead of bottle service and roped off VIP sections, the venue will be a black box where every different community in Oakland can come to listen to local and national acts and DJs.
According to Green, the focus of Crybaby will be on the dancefloor where people can meet and interact with each other and come to see their favorite band or discover a new local act. “I felt like a lot of that was being lost, particularly in some places here in Oakland,” says Green. “I thought that was a lane for us to really gravitate.”
Green is deeply attached to his hometown in the Bay Area. His grandfather served as the mayor of Berkeley and his father was a local independent jazz promoter. Palliser owns sports bars in Oakland and Tittsworth has worked in the music industry including U Street Music Hall in Washington, D.C.
Loebl — who has multiple decades of experience booking a wide variety of shows across the country — will book talent for Crybaby from hip-hop to punk to EDM. “I hit every kind of sweet spot and that’s what these guys want to bring and encompass to all our spaces,” he says.
The venue owners intend to welcome all forms of music starting with acts like Shortkut + Miles Medina, Dam Funk, Trash Talk, Yehme2 and Machinedrum in March and finding ways to both serve and reflect the Oakland area.
Crybaby is set to be the first venue for the founders, who want to build a local independent ecosystem for emerging artists in Oakland. With a 400-capacity space and a larger venue on the horizon, the founders can grow with talent as they gain popularity and perform for bigger crowds.
“We’ve always enjoyed being that incubator,” says Tittsworth, who explains that bigger promoters like Live Nation and AEG will go on to book artists from smaller venues once they can sell upwards of 1,000 tickets per show. “It is kind of our job to determine what they’re going to make money on later.”