Brian Evans had only been learning to play the guitar for a few years when the pandemic shut everything down, and he lost his job at a restaurant in San Francisco. As he passed the days isolated in a basement apartment at his family’s home in the Upper Dimond, Evans reached out to a high school friend, Phil Devencenzi, a professional guitar player, to see if he’d be interested in jamming with him outdoors on Friday nights. 

Both Evans and Devencenzi came from families of musicians. Unlike Evans, Devencenzi began playing guitar early. He attended the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston and now gives private guitar lessons in Oakland and Alameda. Evans is a Language Arts and History middle school teacher at a school in downtown Oakland.

While the friends had different experience levels, they both shared a love of rock music. Growing up, Evans listened to everything from the Misfits to Linkin Park and his favorite band, ZZ Top. Devencenzi’s musical influences include legends like Jimi Hendrix and Metallica.

“It’s been fun, watching him [Evans] progress over the years and getting to play together,” Devencenzi said. “He was progressing and getting better, and I [was] getting to work out my playing muscle a little bit.”

As the duo continued to play casually, Evans suggested they start busking on the home’s patio, which overlooks a popular walkway and is surrounded by trees that help to provide an insulated acoustic sound. 

Neighbors enjoying one of the shows by the Six String Mixtape. Credit: Brian Evans

The neighborhood was familiar to Evans, whose family has owned the home since the 1920s. It was the childhood home of his uncle Ronn Guidi, the founder of the Oakland Ballet, who passed away in 2021. Evans’ great-grandmother owned Blanche’s Luncheonette, now Sequoia Diner, in the Laurel District.

Evans and Devencenzi played their first official gig on the patio for neighbors and passersby on Jan. 21, 2021. By that point in the pandemic, many people went on walks to get out of their homes and engage with neighbors safely outdoors.

Evans said people would walk by, stay for a song or two, and keep walking with a smile. The duo noticed how grateful people were to listen to live music at a time when gathering indoors for concerts wasn’t safe.

Six String Mixtape upcoming shows:

  1. Saturday, Dec. 2, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., OceanCiders in Half Moon Bay
  2. Saturday, Dec. 16, 9:30 p.m., Persuasion Brewery in Modesto
  3. Saturday, Dec. 23, 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Adobe Road Winery in Petaluma
  4. Thursday, Dec. 28, 7 p.m. to 9. p.m., Kelly Brewing Co. in Morgan Hill
  5. Friday, Dec. 29, 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Rosie McCann’s in Santana Row in San Jose

“We wanted to give people a fun reason to get out and blow off steam,” Evans said.

As more neighbors and casual walkers noticed, Evans began putting signs up in the neighborhood to let them know about the next time the unnamed duo would play. He called their weekly gigs “Live from the Patio.” Eventually, the Friday night jam became a neighborhood destination. Some would even bring camping chairs and eat dinner while watching the two friends play.

Evans estimates their biggest crowd on a Friday night was between 20 and 30 people. Well-known neighbors and strangers alike loved listening to their covers of Neil Young’s Harvest Moon, and Summer Breeze by Seals and Crofts — two of their favorite songs to play — along with those by Tom Petty, Green Day, and others. 

The two share a Google doc with possible songs they could perform, and Evans sometimes takes inspiration from videos he comes across on YouTube as well.

“I’d say most often, it’s something we can pick up pretty easily,” Evans said.

From ‘Brian and Phil’ to ‘Six String Mixtape’

About a year after their first “Live from the Patio” gig, businesses opened up to larger crowds. Evans began reaching out to local breweries around the Bay and beyond to inquire about the possibility of live music. 

The duo didn’t have a name yet, so on Feb. 12, 2022, they played their first gig at Oakland United Beerworks—as “Brian and Phil.”

Evans didn’t think they needed a name at first until people at the show came up to ask them what the band’s name was. So the two settled on “Six String Mixtape.”

“Turns out that ‘Brian and Phil’ is not as catchy as ‘Six String Mixtape,’ if you can believe that,” Evans joked. 

The Six String Mixtape at the home in Upper Dimond, where they started playing on Friday nights. Credit: Carla Hernández Ramírez

In the year since, Six String Mixtape has continued playing at Oakland United Beerworks and has booked gigs at other breweries in Half Moon Bay, Livermore, and Pleasant Hill. 

Unfortunately, their Friday-night neighborhood gigs ended abruptly when Evans’ downstairs apartment flooded during the heavy storms at the beginning of this year, and he had to move out. But they haven’t ruled out the possibility of playing for their original pandemic fans again; they hope to organize a special jam session come spring.

Although they haven’t been able to continue their “Live from the Patio” gigs, Six String Mixtape has shows booked at breweries through the end of the year.

The duo never expected their casual pandemic jam sessions to blossom into a modest musical career. 

“When you’re playing in front of people and if they are into it, it drives you and keeps us going,” Evans said. 

Azucena Rasilla is a bilingual journalist from East Oakland reporting in Spanish and in English, and a longtime reporter on Oakland arts, culture and community. As an independent local journalist, she has reported for KQED Arts, The Bold Italic, Zora and The San Francisco Chronicle. She was a writer and social media editor for the East Bay Express, helping readers navigate Oakland’s rich artistic and creative landscapes through a wide range of innovative digital approaches.