09/25/2012 05:06 pm ET Updated Nov 25, 2012

The Chapel In The Mission: A First Look At San Francisco's New Music Venue

This article comes to us courtesy of SF Weekly's All Shook Down.

By Byard Duncan

Last Friday, amid an avalanche of accidental entendres (One of these, directed at a female SF Weekly correspondent: "Want to go down and see what happens to you next?"; another, aimed at no one in particular: "I'm really not that into VIP-ness") and crude cultural allusions ("It's like a Shakespearean fuckin' playhouse!"), Bay Area real estate developer and restaurateur Jack Knowles found time to show a small group of local journalists around his promising new venue at 777 Valencia St. in the Mission.

Officially, the space will be called The Chapel when it opens on Oct. 4. Its first weekend will feature an impressive lineup of musicians, from Elvis Costello to Steve Earle, and will correspond with that weekend's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festivities. The main selling point, however, is The Chapel's status as a sort of home-away-from-home for New Orleans' Preservation Hall Jazz Band, which will accompany the musicians in October and perform in residence at the venue three or four times per year.

With its official opening just two weeks away, the space appears gutted and skeletal. Its exterior is sprinkled with stickers and wheat paste murals; and wires, construction lights, and bags of Quikrete line the floors inside. Only a few of the walls are painted, and most of the windows remain boarded up. The stage area itself -- a church-like auditorium with 40-foot ceilings, red walls, oak buttresses, and plenty of exposed plywood -- will be beautiful when it's complete. The only remaining challenge is getting it to that point, and quickly.

Knowles, a compact man who spits when he talks and has a cotton candy whorl of hazel hair, doesn't appear too concerned. After popping a bottle of warm champagne in the unpainted, un-insulated bar area, he proposes a toast. "So we can all be together at night! And eat and drink together!"

From here, he leads the bewildered journalists upstairs to the balcony area (all things considered, a stunning sketch of a mezzanine, dotted with paint buckets, more construction lights, etc.), and explains his rationale for buying such a resplendent space in the middle of a recession.

"My financial people think I'm a idiot!" he exclaims, spitting a little more. "But the thing is, I didn't want to punk out. Everybody was punking out."

In one corner of the balcony, he points to a patch of exposed sheetrock, which will serve as a sound insulator during concerts. He explains that one of his workers' main challenges has been laying enough sheetrock in time for October. They've been working exhaustively, he says, to further insulate the venue in time.

"Sheetrocking around the clock?" one journalist offers.

"Yeah," Knowles replies, unsmiling.

The tour is briefly interrupted by a minor verbal tussle with one worker who may or may not show up the next day if he is not promptly paid. Knowles convenes with him while the journalists wait. Overheard: "I'm counting on you to lay a lot of rock," and "Stick with me, I'll stick with you." The issue appears to get resolved, and Knowles returns to his tour. "I don't feel good when no one's working," he says. "It makes me nervous."

If indeed Knowles doesn't punk out, and the space comes together in time for its slated opening, it could breathe life into a section of the city that is perplexingly, frustratingly devoid of serious large-scale music venues. The press release that one of four PR handlers distributes at the door includes a quote from Knowles about San Francisco's "evolving" musical history. "We believe the Mission is now to San Francisco what North Beach and the Haight have been to the city's cultural history in years past, and we're proud to be here."

Pride notwithstanding, there's work to be done. A shitload of it. Yet Knowles, with his impressive restaurant resume, boundless energy and pitter-pattering arsenal of self promotions, just might be the man for the job.

Visit SF Weekly's All Shook Down for more San Francisco music news.