Rave Recollections

A San Francisco Mason and musical impresario reflects on a life in shows.

By Lily Young

Back in his college days, in the early 1990s, Barry Synoground helped organize Chico’s first-ever rave. The exhilaration he felt running that DIY show has stuck with him for more than 30 years now, fueling a career that’s seen him produce hundreds of live concerts and dance parties. 

Synoground, the longtime general manager of the venerable San Francisco club the DNA Lounge, has tapped into that passion for art and connection time and time again. But he says the real allure of live music is the ever expanding community it introduced him to. So, too, is the appeal of Freemasonry, which he says deepens social bonds between friends like nothing else he’s found. “Sharing an activity and a set of goals really causes friendships to bloom,” says Synoground, the junior deacon of Pythagoras No. 862, who’s known locally for his eccentric suits and a bowtie collection numbering in the gazillions (give or take). “You get that by working in the live music industry too, but it tends to be fleeting.” 

Now, as he steps away from the DNA Lounge to focus on producing larger events, we asked Synoground to reflect on the shows he’s been to, produced, or taken part in that have made him who he is and introduced him to ”all those smiling faces that fill my soul with glee.” 

The Grateful Dead
Nevada County Fairgrounds, 1983

“My dad owned a record store in Nevada City and got us backstage passes to the Grateful Dead when was I was 11. It was my first experience at a big show. I held my dad’s hand and looked at the faces of all these people having an amazing time before the Dead took the stage. I didn’t realize at the time how amazed I was by it. To see the production happening, it sparked something in me.” 

Incredibly Strange Wrestling
DNA Lounge, 2002

“Incredibly Strange Wrestling was this high-flying lucha libre-style wrestling act, and the audience knows to bring stacks of corn tortillas and throw them during the matches. From the moment you walked in, people were flinging these tortillas like frisbees. After the show, our janitor was walking around in corn paste three inches deep. He said, “Barry, what happened?” For years after that, every time you were in the rafters, you’d find a tiny shard of corn tortilla. We were still finding pieces of tortillas 12 years later.” 

The Composer is Dead
S.F. Symphony, 2009

The Composer Is Dead is a children’s murder mystery about the death of a composer. Seeing something as offbeat as that at the symphony was pretty special: all the kids filed in, and Lemony Snicket [the author Daniel Handler] read his book aloud while the symphony played along. One thing I love about live entertainment is mixing genres. This was comedy, music, and education. It felt very unique to San Francisco.”

DNA Lounge, 2013

“I was lucky enough to host Prince for four shows in my venue and it was absolutely magical. In 2013, we had to keep the show hush-hush because it’s a tiny venue. I love the challenge of getting the whole audience in the building for a packed show. Most people show up 15 minutes before the band they want to see, and they want to check their coat, buy a beer, and turn around when the music starts. It’s a nightmare and a challenge and fantastic and terrible—and Prince was the pinnacle of that.” 

My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult
DNA Lounge, 2010

“I loved My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult as a teenager. They played the DNA Lounge when I was 19, but at the time, the venue didn’t allow minors in. So I sat on the curb listening while my friends partied inside. Years later, after we bought the club, we turned it into an all-ages venue. So the next time we hosted the band, I was so happy to think that 19-year-old Barry could see the show. That was the moment I realized I am doing good on this planet.” 

Chris Stone
Barry Synoground
James Buck

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