Faithful Patrons Follow Music House

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The musicians climbed onto the stage and the audience cheered. "Welcome to the Freight and Salvage," said someone into the mike. "Do you know that this is the oldest music barn this side of the Mississippi?"

Met with a chorus of "yes" from the enthusiastic crowd, the Irish group Solas began to perform.

Yet another successful evening in the life of the 32-year-old Freight and Salvage coffee house was underway.

The institution, devoted to promoting traditional music, has developed a loyal following of music lovers, many of whom say that they love the Freight just for being what it is - a cross between a listening room and a concert hall, where they can relax and focus on the music.

The Freight now wants to improve on what it offers its clientele. To do that, it plans to relocate to Berkeley's Downtown arts district, across the street from the Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

The primary consideration in the decision to move was space, or the lack of it, at Freight's current Addison Way site, where they have been located for 12 years.

"A lot of our shows couldn't accommodate all the people who wanted to buy tickets," says Steve Baker, the general manager of Freight and Salvage. "There were some problems with the amenities we had for the artists who came to perform. We started wishing we had some more space."

According to Baker, the absence of an active nightlife in the area was also an incentive to move.

"A lot of people would often ask us where they could go after the show, and we didn't have anything in walking distance," he says.

Baker says he hopes to find the solutions to these problems in the arts district, where the Freight will be in the company of the Berkeley Jazz School, the Aurora Theatre Company, the East Bay Media Center and, of course, the Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

But not everyone shares Baker's excitement about the move.

"It's pretty sad," says Paul Raxakoul, who works in a grocery store across the street from the music house. "There'll be nothing left in this area after that. Only stores and bars."

Some of the Freight's regulars say they are also rather upset by the thought of a new location, especially those who discovered the coffee house at this address. That is the case for Bob Andrews, 56, a San Carlos resident, who comes to Berkeley just to visit the Freight.

"I'm not really keen on (the move), because I like this place," he says. "I like the size of this place. It's small, and so you can be close to the stage."

Many others had similar opinions about the size of the Freight, and said they were worried that the move may mean a bigger and more commercial establishment. While the coffee house can now accommodate up to 190 people, the new site will be able to seat 350 people.

Baker, however, insists that there is nothing to worry about, pointing out that in the new theater, the people in the last row would be 20 feet closer to the stage than they are in the present setup.

"And we're going to do as much as we can to retain the style and flavor of our current location," he adds.

Despite some Freight patrons who are pessimistic about the move, there are still others who are looking forward to the change. They are often the people who had visited the Freight and Salvage at its original site on San Pablo Avenue, and have already seen it move once before.

"This is not an ideal room," says Ken Hayes, a stage actor. "You can't see the stage so well. And it's not even a coffee house."

The Berkeley Society for the Preservation of Traditional Music, the organization that owns the Freight and Salvage, has also bought The Capoeira Arts Cafe, which is adjacent to the garage that will be converted into a music theater. The purchase of the properties was funded though loans, grants and donations.

"Our supporters are great," Baker says. "Our donations ranged literally from one dollar to a $100,000."

According to Baker, the properties have been bought, but a lot of renovations and redesigning need to be done before the Freight can open its doors at the new location. And for the project, the organization still needs to raise $3.5 million more. But it has a lot of well-wishers, and the support it enjoys should easily carry the Freight to its new home.


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