Oakland United: A Retrospective


On December 2nd, 2016, there was a fire that took place at an underground art and music venue called Ghost Ship, where 36 precious lives were lost. Niko and I traveled to the site to pay our respects to those lost and those affected by the happening.

A Ghost Ship retrospective by Justin Navalle


I visited Ghost Ship today.

I rolled through Oakland’s foggy mist, apprehensive to confront that which I mulled over and over on my trek from San Diego.

As the robot signaled that I reached my destination, the warehouse screamed like mic feedback on a PA.

A scorched structure, fences lined with forest green scrim, a rose filled street altar, amidst a charred campfire musk.

Observers paced back and forth a line of memorial pieces, fixing pictures, relighting candles, I joined in.

I saw our own community in there.
I saw my friends.

Socialites, jesters, introverts, extroverts, dreamers, techies, audiophiles, work horses, students, teachers, explorers, bloggers, blue collar, white collar, movers and shakers, freaks, geeks, gay, straight. A community.

I felt compassion, immense pain, responsibility.

Later that evening: The Fox Theatre, Oakland United.

Wise words from deep within the souls of community purveyors filled the
grandiose theatre like a full moon’s reflection on a body of water.

Every speech piled on more strength, perspective, intelligence, and grit.

The musical performances left a placid stream of goosebumps from top to toe.

Swagger of attendees emitted from distinct garments, patches, kicks, jewelry, spectacles.
Native art in itself, all around.

With whiskey on my palate, I shared a post-show embrace with Dan Deacon. Only moments ago, he was a stranger to me.

Devotion for his craft proved evident as he stood modestly outside the theatre greeting fans, tee still damp from his performance, which included an impromptu dance battle on an unsuspecting GA floor. Memories.

And for a brief moment, a communal lift in a collective pain.


We recognize that those who are lost will remain so, the future feels unfathomable, the hurt is more real than we can ever know, and still, we know we must press on.

I admire those that have dedicated their life to create opportunities for artists to thrive; I will continue to do so with great fervor.

From this unexpected pilgrimage I have come to the following conclusions that I will attribute toward my efforts to preserving a sustainable artistic community:

  • Art is important and we must keep creating, believe that you are doing something of value and take yourself seriously. Do not stop doing what you’re doing.
  • In the conversation of creating a safer space for underground experiences, all involved in the creative process must be cognizant of increased precautions to ensure the safety of all participants. Landlords, venue operators, event producers, agents, managers, artists, ticket buyers alike will all have to adapt in ways that only the future can tell to ensure a feasible future; let that dialogue be open and equitable.
  • Continue to be bold, vulnerable, and take chances. Create a footprint rooted in good business practices, long term goals, with the community in mind. These roots will create an unfounded legacy, to be determined.
  • Do not let your efforts be marginalized by the cities that you create in, instead, work with city officials to curate a dialogue of cohesion whenever possible.

We will endure and triumph.

Infinite love to you Oakland.

Justin is the co-founder of The Deep End, a collective of event producers, artists, and musicians in San Diego, CA. They embrace underground music, art, and the people that are dedicated to enhancing left of center awesomeness.

Justin is co-founder of West Coast Weekender Festival & Conference: A Weekend of Music, Dance & Culture in Southern California taking place at Balboa Park May 4-7, 2017 & Director at Quartyard, an outdoor venue in East Village San Diego. 

Donate to the Oakland United Fund

Read about the 36 victims of the Ghost Ship Fire

Read about the Oakland United event at Fox Theatre

Read about recent San Diego crackdowns on art spaces  


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