Megan Neikirk

Over 200 people gathered at the East Beach Batting Cages off Milpas Street to say goodbye to FUNZONE, Santa Barbara’s local music venue, on Oct. 20.

As Santa Barbara’s only all-age concert space, FUNZONE has operated for over three years in the former batting cage maintenance workshop and garage.

FUNZONE FEST, the final show, was comprised of performances by Uranium Orchard, Roper Rider, Little B!tch, Share, Memory Leaks Onto the Rug, Speedway Jr., Swear, and Cave Babies, local artists that are integral to the space’s history.

At the “door,” or the folding table where volunteers took donations, attendees were greeted with never-before-seen FUNZONE merchandise. Merchandise included pins, posters, and stickers that read, “I Was There! FUNZONE FEST.”

Spencer vonHershman, FUNZONE’s founder and the manager of East Beach Batting Cages, noted that the crowd at this final show was the biggest that he has ever seen.

“Enough people double-donated to the charitable cause that it equated to 230 people ‘paying’ to be [here], which is an incredible show of generosity and community,” vonHershman said. 

The entire night was full of energy and excitement, culminating in a performance from local artist Cave Babies, the do-it-yourself pop project of Josh Hoshwa Redman. The audience was ushered into the center of the batting cage, where people sat on the floor and listened to Redman reflect on the space’s personal significance.

Redman estimated that Cave Babies played around 120 of the 180 plus shows that were organized at FUNZONE.

“[When I was young] I didn’t have a space that encouraged me like FUNZONE does,” Redman said. “A space like FUNZONE really can help shape us and guide us as we get older. It’s a good grounding.”

During a separate interview after the show, von Hershman looked back on the three years that he organized the events.

“The first FUNZONE show was on Aug. 27, 2014. It was more of an experiment than anything else, there was no immediate goal/plan for it to be a regular occurrence,” vonHershman said. 

However, after nearly 80 people came out to see the first show, it was clear that there was interest in a new do-it-yourself space. DIY refers to venues that mostly host indie or alternative rock artists.

“We’ve had other DIY spaces in Santa Barbara over the years I’ve been around, but this one definitely drew the most under-18 people, and I think that that’s really special,” Redman said. He has been a prominent figure in the Santa Barbara DIY community for over ten years.

As a consistent venue for alternative shows, FUNZONE acted as a community space and allowed people of all ages and backgrounds to come together and create art. Over the past few years, FUNZONE hosted multiple band lotteries, community music workshops, and open jam nights where folks were encouraged to form music groups and were given access to a free practice area.

“I can’t forget, [our band] was created in that space,” Syd von Stein, drummer and vocalist of Santa Barbara-based duo Share, said. “That’s where Justin and I got to know each other, running into each other at shows and helping out, and ultimately forming a band.”

The closing of FUNZONE leaves Santa Barbara without an established, all-ages DIY venue. Although there are some general music venues in Goleta and Santa Barbara, age restrictions, bars, high ticket prices, and event organization problems create problems with creating a comparable environment.

“All-ages spaces allow young people to get involved and participate in ways that they can’t at larger venues,” Redman said. As an an alcohol and drug-free space, with a small, donation-based entry fee, FUNZONE was an accessible and unrestricted destination for Santa Barbara youth.

In addition to inclusivity, DIY venues create support for independent and underrepresented artists. Many artists who come to play in Santa Barbara are signed to legitimate record labels and have significant fan-based support.

VonHershman remembered growing up in Santa Barbara when the area had “a strong reputation as a city to play in as a musician.”

Over time, Santa Barbara’s living cost increase forced younger people and DIY establishments to relocate to more financially viable areas. Santa Barbara is no longer considered a feasible city to play in for independent artists.

DIY spaces like FUNZONE are sometimes the only way small touring bands can make money. Even then, profit is entirely dependent upon the community’s support.

“The other venues in our community operate on a near complete denial that independent music is financially viable,” vonHershman said. “We were able to financially support musicians just as much as ‘official’ establishments but we truly had to do it five dollars at a time.”

Although FUNZONE closed, von Hershman believes that people will continue to carry the torch for all-ages and independent music.

“FUNZONE was just a room and all I did was ask a question, make a plan, and work hard to make that plan happen,” vonHershman said. “Collectively, there has to be a way that the people still in Santa Barbara can make something similar happen.”