Saturday Night: Exprescion at Alcatraz

Categories: Last Night

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Exprescion at Alcatraz
Better than:
Watching The Rock on cable; serving 25-to-life

It’s hard to think of a more “ultimate” San Francisco party experience than meeting 800 adventure-minded hipsters at Pier 33, boarding a boat, and sailing to that once-foreboding maximum-security prison, Alcatraz, where live music, DJs, a fashion show, and a bizarre burlesque performance await. That’s just what happened at Exprescion at Alcatraz, a regional promotional event sponsored by auto maker Scion. Other than a few video screens with the Scion logo, and a couple of souped-up, tricked out vehicles conveniently parked on the pier and along the winding walkway to the prison, the product placement was minimal, however.

“The Rock,” as it’s known, is certainly part of San Francisco folklore. At one time it housed a population of convicts who had escaped from other prisons, and was considered the toughest and most unforgiving of all the federal penitentiaries. Cold, monolithic, and with its share of secrets (and, some say, ghosts), the building itself has considerable character, as well as history. What better place for a party, then?

After stepping off the boat and on to the dock, attendees were treated to a circus troupe of performers, then a brief lecture about dos and don’ts from one of the guards, a native American gent who related a bit of the island’s lore. The biggest “don’t,” apart from smoking only in designated areas, was don’t wander off, which made a lot of sense. Though the massive building and its surrounding areas practically begged for exploration of all its nooks, crannies, passageways and corridors, one can only imagine how spooky it would be if you were to get lost there for the night.

Once inside the prison, folks were free to roam around. Walking down a central hallway with rows and rows of tiny cells just big enough to fit a person was a bit disconcerting; one could only imagine how claustrophobic it would feel to be locked up in such a small space for the rest of one’s natural life.

A fashion show with prisoner/native American themes took place in the shower room – an odd setting, perhaps, for a glamorous runway show. Girls and guys strutted by confidently as onlookers oohed and aahed and shutterbugs logged pictures. Meanwhile, a large room (the mess hall, perhaps?) had been converted to a stage, where various hip-hop groups performed and guests crowded around the sake and wine bar. It was a party atmosphere, for sure, one that perhaps brought some positive karma and good vibes to the lonely, possibly haunted, island.

The undeniable highlight, however, took place upstairs in the hospital ward – an area with somewhat larger, high-ceilinged cells -- which apparently once housed Robert Stroud, the “Birdman of Alactraz,” among others. The space had been converted to an erotic cabaret, which went nicely with the prison theme (if you’re into that sort of thing). Instead of lifers, the cells housed women dancing with glow-in-the-dark hula hoops, and a large central area became a staging ground for an intensely sexually-charged, somewhat acrobatic and quite artistic performance by a Cirque du Soleil-affiliated troupe, San Francisco's own Vau de Vire Society, backed by a klezmer band (featuring Fishbone’s Angelo Moore on saxophone).

After that, it was back to the boat, where folks ordered more drinks from the bar, chatted each other up, and watched the Rock fade into the background from the ship’s deck. All in all, a pretty interesting evening, but then what else would one expect from an event produced by the Flavor Group, who specialize in promoting unique events?

Critics Notebook: Al Capone reportedly once played banjo in the Alcatraz band; there was no sign of reported invitees Margaret Cho and Robin Williams, but hip-hop celebrities Stretch (of Thizz Ent.), Trackademicks, and Kirb & Chris were in the building, however. -- Eric K. Arnold

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