“I had all these visions of that scene from Almost Famous, where that guy says, ‘I’m a golden god!’ and jumps into the pool from the roof.”
When Jake Feala signed up for Better Than the Van, an online meeting place for traveling rock bands and people willing to accommodate them, he made connection with a New York group called the Volunteers. They had a gig at Bar Pink in North Park. Feala, 30, offered up the use of his tiny poolside Hillcrest apartment.
“Instead of one or two people crashing on my couch, it was, like, five or six dudes.” And their equipment. “It was kinda packed, so I slept over at a friend’s house and just completely let them take over my apartment when I realized the amount of space they needed.”
When Feala returned the next day, the Volunteers were gone.
“I thought I was gonna see some major damage,” he says. “But, really, I came back and they had eaten my cereal. That was about the extent of the damage.”
Better Than the Van was started in 2008 by Todd Hansen, a drummer from Minneapolis who now works for South by Southwest, the music showcase headquartered in Austin, Texas.
“It was more of an experiment, really,” he says, “just to see if it would work out and if people would be into it and not think of it as some weird groupie site — which it’s not — and provide a service for bands who get out and tour.”
Hansen says the free service earns revenue through advertising but that BTTV is not generating enough cash flow to live on. “We still have our day jobs.”
Johnny Stein works the door at Rich’s in Hillcrest. He found out about BTTV from a neighbor who is a member. So far, Stein has hosted the Dead Wasps. “They’re from England. We had such a great time. They were really cool. I wasn’t sure how it was gonna work out. You never know anybody until you actually meet them.” They ordered pizza, listened to music, and Stein took the Wasps’ singer shopping for new clothes.
Feala, a research scientist at the Burnham Institute in La Jolla, says that BTTV is geared more toward lesser-known indie rockers of an age group who are willing to sleep on the floor and their younger computer-savvy fans.
“Partying with a band is different than partying with normal people,” says Stein. “They really do stay up late. They really do party all night...in a lot of cases, anyway. It’s a good time.”
“It’s how [bands] do it, unless you’re U2,” says Stein, “and I would never let them stay at my house.” Why the U2 ban? “You gotta be real indie, and you gotta really need a place to stay.”