Ah, the Internet. Here's what comes up if you type "history of bowling" into Google: "Bowling is one of the oldest and most widely played of the world's games. Its history has been traced back to the Stone Age, to the Egyptians, Romans, and right up to today's modern bowling centers. Chances are that the caveman's idea of bowling was to roll or throw a round stone at other stones or possibly logs." Alley-oop, indeed. When primates evolved into primitive man, they may've slowly lost the ol' sagittal ridge across the skull, but that opposable thumb stayed around for a reason.
Even today, in a world where drive-in movies have gone the way of the dodo, bowling alleys prevail, and we have our pick of some great ones -- especially the Holiday Bowl in Hayward. It's a gigantic edifice on the outskirts of town, built in 1958 and open 24 hours. It has an expansive lounge with deep red Frank Sinatra booths, a fireplace, and brick walls, as well as myriad billiard and banquet rooms, one of which used to be called "Ferdinand's Hideaway."
Jim Sommer's father built the place, and Jim's been working there in various jobs since he was ten. When his dad passed away eight years ago, Jim became "vice president," and his mother is the alley's "CEO," but whatever his moniker, he decided to make a major change after his dad died. "I always wanted to have some live music in here, but he would never do it," Sommer says. "He wasn't real progressive."
Well, thank god for that, or we wouldn't have a cool old bowling alley straight out of the '50s. And now, with Sommer booking, Holiday Bowl has live bands every Friday night in the Aquarium Room right off of the lounge. Just think: You can eat dinner, bowl, then see a band and drink beer, and then bowl some more. Plus, Sommer says, Hayward's scene is jumpin' off. "I've read a lot about the '50s and '60s, when there was the British Invasion, and all the bands that popped up by the hundreds," he says. "It's real similar to what's going on here now."
Last Friday the Bowl featured Double Wyde, a band out of Santa Barbara whose Web site promised dudes with white-trash costumes and fake bad teeth playing punked-up songs in the Jeff Foxworthy vein. Alas, they didn't deliver this live, preferring to play upbeat punkish stuff sans shtick. But they drew in a nice crowd of regulars, middle-aged men and young folks alike, with only one pair of fake boobs noted.
A few concertgoers were suitably done up in that "It's Friday night -- let's head for the live music at the bowling alley" kind of way, suggesting that Sommer was onto something when he decided to offer an option other than cover bands for music-starved Hayward residents.
But the lanes aren't the only family fun centers getting into the act. The Oakland Ice Center and the Fremont Iceoplex have been hosting live bands on Saturday nights. The Fremont shows run a bit longer, from 8 p.m. to midnight, but the bands play in a separate room from the ice activities. In Oakland, though, skaters can rock out to bands playing from 7 to 10 p.m. in the loft adjoining the rink. Pretty cool, especially if you're in high school and can't get into clubs to see bands -- or perform with your own. In fact, teenagers being the Ice Center's bread and butter, booker Dave Fies is actively seeking good(ish) high-school bands to play there. The Center's radio spots on Live105 calling for bands have already garnered the attention of Ygnacio Valley High's Fine By Me, whose mission statement reads as follows: "FiNe bY mE: The embodiment of rock. We like you, we like you a lot. We're ready to blow you away with dynamite rock if it's fine by you because it's FiNe bY mE!" Add a logo of a duck in shades, which they have, and you have a recipe for whupass, ma friend.
Having bands play at the ice rink is a way to get more repeat customers through the door on weekends, says Fies. "The problem for public skating is the product is always the same. You skate around in a circle to music. After you've done it a few times you think, 'Okay, let's find something else to do.' We thought if we got bands with a following we could get people in here who normally wouldn't be here, and also people would see a different band every Saturday night."
There are actually two stages, so when one group is playing, another can be setting up. The only downtime comes during the Zamboni floor show. One problem is that the rink doesn't have a PA, so the bands need to bring their own. This also means that listeners are at the mercy of whatever sound system the scrappy musicians manage to cobble together. Then again, this is a skating facility, not the Fillmore, and you'd probably expect the sound to be, well, a bit rinky-dink.
"Um, it was a little different playing there," says Geoff Svendsgaard of Fremont's the Stoned Messiah, which has played both ice arenas in addition to the Holiday Bowl. "There are a lot of kids. It's more of a family atmosphere. You have to watch your language." The band therefore stuck mainly to instrumental numbers.
These shows at offbeat venues could really get fun if the crowds start turning out. The Oakland Ice shows end at 10, so people over 21 will still have time to go out afterward, and if you're underage, you'll have about an hour for the pot to wear off before curfew. The bowling alley is always open, so you could stay there an entire week if you wanted, only leaving to take a shower. Or not. Now that, as they say, is entertainment.
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