It began in a San Francisco apartment in 2009 and continued for three years as an open mike at cafes and bars, then gained traction when creator Ned Buskirk was introduced to a then-under-the-radar venue called Viracocha, which agreed to host the show on a monthly basis. In conversation with a friend who asked him why he did the show, Buskirk replied: “You’re going to die.”

That line became the name and essence of the show, which developed a feature component to complement its open mike. The new venue and format coalesced into something with momentum.

“Half the show, once I got to Viracocha, was Viracocha,” Buskirk said by phone. “When you come into that space, you’re already halfway into it, you’re already trippin’ out a little bit, like: ‘What is this space? Where’s the venue?’ You’re going through this secret door to get downstairs, and it’s like you’re in this rectangular coffin-shape, underground, beautiful venue that’s dark and has this huge painting on the wall with all these ghostly black-and-white figures that seem to be gathered in an after-world, afterlife version of San Francisco.”

As Buskirk pointed out, funerals and memorial services generally provide an opportunity to confront death in a secondhand fashion, by providing an immediate cause for gathering. “What the show does is take it that next step, and says, ‘We’re living life every day and can we just step out of all that and be with each other and confront this together?’”

YG2D by Rishi Oswal

Photo by Rishi Oswal

A handful of invited artists perform for five to seven minutes, and when the room is “most alive,” the feature — a musician or writer — gets 20 to 30 minutes to perform. An intermission follows, succeeded by the open mike, so naturally people drop off as the night continues. “The show ends in a way that has this kind of dying quality to it,” Buskirk said. “I don’t end with the strongest part of the night.”

Though it will continue, the next “You’re Going to Die” (or YG2D) will be the last at Viracocha, which recently announced its closing.

“There’s a lot of ways that Viracocha’s had this energy of survival, but there’s this part of the conversation of survival where you fight as long as you can to remain, and be alive, and make it last … but there’s a point where you have to let go.

“The whole point of this show is to deal with this kinda stuff. It’s not always just about someone’s dying; I lost someone; I’m going to die — that’s for sure — but one of the ways we learn about all that, or get used to it, or practice it, is by going through this stuff and trying to do it gracefully, trying to be connected while we go through the loss, because that’s what we’re experiencing in losing Viracocha, is this little death. But we get to go on and take whatever we can from that and go elsewhere, and see what we can do with what we went through.”


You’re Going to Die: 7 p.m. Friday, July 24. $10. Viracocha, 998 Valencia St., (415) 374-7048.

This article originally appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle.

Cover image by Max Silverman