It All Started Here: 1 Year of The Come Up

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written by Riley McShane

The Come Up began, as you might expect, at a table outside Cafe Stritch. On Wednesday, October 18th 2017.

I didn’t know Isaiah Wilson that well, but I liked him. We met up and he told me about his idea for a show.

Just one show.

The thought sparked some excited chatter between us, and someone leaned over from the neighboring table. Without so much as introducing himself, he chimed, “what you guys are talking about…I like this. How are we gonna make this happen?”


Leopoldo Macaya was in, without a note of hesitation.

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Above: the photo Leo took for his contact info in my phone, so that I, “could remember what he looked like.” Oct. 18, 2017.

I look back on that night, and it’s hard to describe it without a word like fateful, which feels grandiose. But if not for that moment of sheer coincidence, this whole thing may never have happened.

Certainly not the way it did.

We parted ways that night with a loose framework for our show, under the working title “Orange Sauce Fest.” And you’ll have to forgive us for that one, we were younger then.

Isaiah and I reconvened the following month to pitch an evolved version of the idea at Pitch Please?!, an event sponsored by Exhibition District at Local Color in Downtown San Jose. The purveyors of the best idea, as chosen by a panel of judges, would receive $1,000 to help make it a reality. Our pitch boiled down to a central mission: building a platform for artists in San José to perform, and to be seen.

IMG_0431Notes from the original pitch.

Pitch Please?! became the first of several instances in which a person, organization or business within the greater San Jose community heard the idea of The Come Up, and decided to take a chance on it.

With that $1,000 we had tangible evidence of someone else believing in the idea, and that was all the motivation we needed to turn our scrappy dream into something real.

At Uproar Brewing, The Come Up found its true and original homeland. Against a red-brick backdrop, and with a borrowed sound system we made our debut on Friday February 2nd, 2018. Four musicians, 3 comedians, and 2 bright-eyed, nervous hosts (myself and Isaiah).

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Above: Pictures from the debut. February 2nd, 2018.

The first show was a quiet, albeit significant success. It burgeoned into a monthly showcase of some of the best performers in the area, with the messy-yet-magnetic energy of something new, slowly figuring itself out. Uproar gave us the best start we could have asked for, and helped give The Come Up a visibility that allowed us to tackle new projects: a new performance series at SoFA Market, and the job of curating a stage at SoFA Street Fair. 

Meanwhile, we started to focus more on our visual identity. Guided by Leo’s talents with visual storytelling and incredible eye for capturing live performance, The Come Up began producing high-quality visual content on a regular basis, and cultivating a distinct brand.


Above: Some early work from Leo, our Creative Director.

During the first wisps of summer, Leo brought up the idea of a backyard show-slash-barbeque. Being the resident skeptic of the group, I resisted slightly. Anyone who has been in San José long enough knows the complications of trying to do anything as spontaneous and fun as a backyard concert. Oh, just wait til SJPD rolls up. Oh, just wait for those noise complaints, etc.

Fortunately, Isaiah subverted my doubts and introduced us to the good folks at 363.

Cue: someone taking a chance on us.

IMG_2101Above: building the scene at 363.

We had our backyard, but it needed work. Over the first two weeks of July, along with the residents of the house and a group of phenomenal collaborators, we completed the DIY music-scene equivalent of an Amish barn raising. A stage and deck were built. Lights were hung. The whole place was cleared out and prepped for a show.

The night prior, as Isaiah, Leo and I attempted to cook an unfathomable amount of Smart-and-Final ground turkey for tacos, a feeling of dread crept over me.

Are people really gonna show up to this thing?

They did.

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Above: Scenes from the Backyard. Captured by Leopoldo Macaya

The shows at 363 vaulted us into the next stage of The Come Up. Presented with an essentially blank canvas, and together with a community of brilliant and dedicated artists eagerly holding brushes, we painted a gritty and gorgeous portrait of what we’re about, and what is great about San José. We were able to create something simple and powerful: a place to hang out and enjoy music. To meet interesting and like-minded people. For me, 363 is a place to feel just a hint of childlike freedom, the infinite possibility that comes with playing in the backyard. 

FY6A7954.jpgAbove: Joy Hackett and Brandon Walters at the “SJW: San José Winnin” Show. Photo by Leopoldo Macaya.

Coming down the home stretch of 2018, we finally got a chance to catch our breath; to appreciate all that had happened and strategize for the months ahead. And most importantly, to take time and be self-critical. We realized our primary area for growth was inclusivity. Not only in being considerate of who we choose to present on stage, but also how we make ourselves more of an open platform. We, the founding members, have never striven for exclusivity. The Come Up is our baby, and we are overprotective parents. We still need to improve this regard, and it is a process we are very much looking forward to.

FY6A5293.jpgAbove: Kamiko performing at “Sound Scaping” at the San Jose Museum of Art

The start of 2019 has been electric. Sound Scaping, a partnership with SJMADE at the San Jose Museum of Art, was a success beyond what we could have hoped for. A deeply humbling milestone. And only this past week, The Younger Lovers gave an unforgettable performance at Cafe Stritch, right where it all started.

FY6A7789Brontez Purnell of The Younger Lovers. Photo by Leopoldo Macaya.

The founders of The Come Up are forever indebted to those who took a chance on us. This idea was born of a very complex love for San José, and the desire for a way to express it. It’s not always an easy city to pursue your passion in. But the brilliant creative-entrepreneurs who work at it, who see the potential instead of the obstacle, who hold up the light and help others find the way, are a miracle. We’re honored to be a part of this extraordinary time in our city.

There’s more work to be done. We are still on the come up, after all. 

FY6A8188.jpgLeft to right: Leopoldo “Jon Jon” Macaya, Isaiah Wilson, and Riley McShane. Co-Founders of The Come Up.



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