Worshipping in the Heart of San Luis Obispo: The Fremont Theater’s Active Church

“My church back home was a bit more reserved and traditional, but Active is very lively, youthful and energetic. The worship goes HARD and is so much fun,” wrote Amanda Sabin, an anthropology and geography first-year student in an email.

She was talking about the Active Church services that are held at the Fremont Theater in downtown San Luis Obispo every Sunday. Sabin just recently started attending the services this quarter, but the church has been a part of the San Luis Obispo community for years.

Active Church planted roots in SLO when the Lead Pastor Adam Magana and his wife, Stacy Magana, “felt an overwhelming sense that God wanted them preparing for a new season in the Central Coast” in 2014, which they wrote in a pamphlet that is passed out to new members of the church. The church is a Non-Denominational Christian Church and is apart of the Association of Related Churches, an organization that has helped establish over 700 churches.

Since starting, Active Church holds two services on Sundays, one at 9:30 am and another at 11. They also host Active Kids, which is a way for children that are newborn to fifth grade to learn about Jesus and the Bible in an “age-appropriate way.” Then there are youth groups for middle school and high school kids and young adult outings for those that are 18 to 30.

“Since the set up for the service has to be put up and taken down, it is the people who attend that make up the foundation for the church, not the building.”

Nicole Tribelhorn, first year

What makes Active Church different than traditional churches one might think of, is the fact that it is actually not held in a church.

“They are an in the box church,” said Jennings Jacobsen, the house manager at the Fremont Theater. “They come in here every single Sunday, put their thing together, and then load it out. Their whole church is in a trailer.”

While this unconventional method of existing might deter some people from going to Active, it is a reason many attendees choose to stay.

“Since the set up for the service has to be put up and taken down, it is the people who attend that make up the foundation for the church, not the building,” emailed Nicole Tribelhorn, a first-year environmental management and protection major. “However, I think that Fremont is a perfect location for Active since it is in the center of San Luis Obispo.”

This is the set up of the worship stage for the services inside of the Fremont Theater.

Having the services at the Fremont truly allows its patrons to focus on the communal aspect of attending church. It also influences the overall feeling of the worships. Worship service guitarist and singer Michael Menga talks about that feeling and what it is like being at the Fremont.

“It’s really energetic, really meant to get you ready for the week, and really just encourage you,” said Menga. “ I think its super rad [it’s at the Fremont]. It’s a super historical place and it’s super cool that we get to worship in there. You definitely feel like you’re apart of something, like apart of this culture, because you’re literally in the Fremont which is the heart of San Luis Obispo.”

Tribelhorn then goes into more details about how the worships feel for her being an audience member as oppose to the team like Menga.

“It almost feels like you are at a concert. The stage is perfect for the worship team and elevated enough so that everyone can see the pastor,” said Tribelhorn.

Attendees like how the services feel like concerts.

Tribelhorn is not the only one who feels and enjoys the concert vibes during the services. First-year psychology major and Active Kids volunteer Lauren Hansen says it allows her to be more expressive.

“The worship, they just take over the whole stage and everyone just stands up because its theater seating. It’s not pews or anything. It’s different than a regular church, but I kind of like it because it feels like you can connect more to the message,” says Hansen, who goes on to explain how the church adapts to its unique setting.

“It’s super cool that we get to worship in there. You definitely feel like you’re apart of something, like apart of this culture, because you’re literally in the Fremont which is the heart of San Luis Obispo.”

Michael Menga, worship guitarist and singer

She says that since the theater is so big they add curtains to block off the side seating, which emphasizes sitting in the middle, to ensure feelings of togetherness. They added folding chairs to the front too in order to close the gap the theater leaves open for pits when they do host concerts. Active also utilizes the fact that it is inside a theater by using a lot of audio, such as amplifiers, big speakers, and microphones, and the lobby’s concession stands.

“I think they did a really great job of using the lobby as like a focal point because they have a coffee stand, a donut wall and they make use of the concession stands, like they have people there Easter Sunday [with] bagel stand,” said Hansen. “They worked with what they had. Instead of hiding the fact that it’s a theater, they use the advantages that the theater has.”

Despite how well Active has maximized the space, it’s environment still isn’t for everyone. First-year political science major Jennifer Smith, who was raised Catholic, talks about how she prefers a more simple service.

Some students that attend Active grew up with a similar simple style that Smith is accustomed, but it’s the fact that this church is more modern that keeps them coming back.

“For me, something more simple brings you closer to your culture, especially in Catholic culture and religion. I’m used to the old school. Personally, that’s how I focus, based on those old traditions. I think being in that simple room and the idea that things aren’t materialistic, you just have books [and] simple wooden pews, bring me closer to my religion because it’s more about being together in a room,” said Smith.

“Previously, the churches that I have attended have been traditional services, where they have the whole communion and read out of a prayer book. I find that Active is a lot livelier, there are a lot more people my age who attend, and the sermons are a lot more relatable,” said Tribelhorn, who started going when a girl on her floor went and has gone ever since.

Looking Beyond the Surface

Working the Fremont Theater

The Fremont Theater is known for the events it hosts, but when people attend the shows they only see the intended perfection put on by the venue’s employees. They don’t know what goes on behind the scenes.

House manager Jennings Jacobsen describes what typical event night is for him and his staff.

“Usually our day starts eight to ten hours before the show even starts, so at the point where we’re ready for the show, it’s just preparing the staff for what’s coming,” Jacobsen said. “This Saturday we are showing Patagonia Films and there’s four different films and a q and a. The usual on something like that is organizing all the people involved, all the technical stuff, [and] the schedule, it’s very to the point.”

Despite wanting everything to run smoothly, Jacobsen says the patrons are what is most important when organizing an event.

“We try our hardest to make an inviting, beautiful place to see a show and some people are in it for the music, some people are in it for the scene, some people are in it for the alcohol, for the drug, you get all different kinds coming to shows. It doesn’t matter the demographic, it’s just keeping the patrons happy,” Jacobsen said.

The Fremont’s Outside Impact

After being around for 77 years the Fremont Theater has become a well-known name in San Luis Obispo. From its vintage outward appearance to the events it hosts, it is a location that brings people into the city. Its popularity has expanded even outside of the theater itself and has bled into the community.

The attention that the Fremont garners brings revenue into other areas in the city such as the restaurants, and the shops because people will come into SLO for a show and spend time in the surrounding area.

“Anytime you have something that brings people in and lets them see what you’re doing, and it’s in a positive way, it helps.”

Frank Hayes, Box Office Manager

Some people even come from far away areas and need to stay overnight, so they’ll stay in the hotels. The  Hotel Buena Vista is one of the places impacted by the Fremont, according to Brian Anthony, their front desk person.

“We’re a supporter of the SLO Comedy Festival. All of the comedians stay in our hotel, so during the festival, we send people down there to their Best of the West show, since that’s the one show they always have tickets for,” Anthony said.

The Fremont also has more explicit influences throughout SLO, such as their partnership with Boo Boo Records, the record store across the street from the venue. The shop sells tickets for the shows that the theater puts on.

The box office manager at the Fremont, Frank Hayes, is also a clerk at Boo Boo Records and talks about the partnership’s significance on the shop.

“It helps fill in little gaps of revenue here and there. Plus it’s a way to bring people into the store and check out the place,” said Hayes.  “I think it’s a great impact. Anytime you have something that brings people in and lets them see what you’re doing, and it’s in a positive way, it helps.”

   Not only does the theater benefit the city’s tourism, but the SLO art scene as well. The house manager for the Fremont pulls from local talent to open for bigger bands if they are lacking an opening act, says Anthony, which is another draw for locals to the venue.

“I like that the house manager there knows a lot of the local bands, so you’ll get to see some of the local bands you see out at the bars opening for a major band. It promotes the local entertainment, not just who you want to see,” Anthony said.

The theater’s notoriety alone as a landmark venue in the community is another push for the arts.

“I think it’s huge. Just by providing a place, an outlet, for music, for the arts, doesn’t matter what kind, you know [The Fremont]’s there.” said Hayes.

To hear more about the Fremont’s outside influence on the community, listen to the attached audio clip of Hayes.

About Me

I am Tessa Hughes, a first year journalism student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. I fell in love with journalism in high school while working for their newspaper The Gaucho Gazette. While there, I discovered my passion for writing about social issues and music. Going to concerts is a big part of my life and that is where I found inspiration to write about the Fremont Theater. Moving to SLO, I was worried about the lack of availibilty to live shows, until I discovered this theater. Its vintage appearance intruiged me and upon further research its history, its impact on the community, and the bands they book further excited me. That is why I chose the venue as the subject for this blog, so I could share what I have learned about this local landmark.

Trading Places: Benefit or Hindrance?

Gungor’s Recent Switch in Venue Poses the Question: The Fremont Theater or SLO Brew Rock

Slam poetry, rap, acoustic sets, and rock music: not a combination that is frequently provided in the same show, but this past Thursday, May 2, all were present in Christian indie rock band Gungor’s concert.

The night started upbeat with the musical hip hop offerings about social issues from the rapper Propaganda, then slowed down for three acoustic sets: two by the second opener The Brilliance about empathy, and one by headliner Gungor regarding faith. The evening ended with the pop sounds typically offered by what the group calls a “liturgical post-rock musical collective.”

However, the show was originally slated to be held at the Fremont Theater in downtown San Luis Obispo but was moved to SLO Brew Rock, a venue by the airport, a few days prior.

The change in venue didn’t appear to phase the performers but did hinder the audience as some members went to the initial location first and SLO Brew Rock had to provide chairs since there wasn’t seating in the room as there is at the Fremont. This change-up further posed the question: which venue is superior?

“I like SLO Brew better. It’s a much more open venue and has an outdoor space.”

Joshua Corrigan, Aerospace First Year

This question comes with a variety of factors. The Fremont, first of all, is older and bigger. It opened its doors in 1942, has 600 fixed theater seats, and has room to accommodate 900 general admission patrons.

SLO Brew Rock is more modern and can host smaller events. While SLO Brew started in 1988, SLO Brew Rock didn’t open until 2017 and can hold 600 people standing.

On these factors alone it can’t be decided which venue is better, for the most part, they are relatively comparable. It just comes down to preference. Aerospace engineering first year Joshua Corrigan has attended events at both locations and has made his decision.

“I like SLO Brew better. It’s a much more open venue and has an outdoor space, that’s not the street. Being able to be outside and breathe and not be surrounded by all the people that are at the concert is always a nice thing. Even though concerts are dope, sometimes you need a little bit of a respite.” Corrigan said.

The type of event being held may be a strong indicator of whether or not one venue is preferable.

The Gungor show had variety. Their approach to their music and messages within their songs are what draws in their listeners. Audience member Lizzie Zweng says why listens to the group.

“I love Gungor because I think they are communicating the love of God through art versus mainstream Christian music. I feel like Gungor captures the mystery of God. It’s more artful and poetic, how he communicates the love of God.” Zweng said.

This “artful and poetic” approach may be more conducive to SLO Brew Rock over the Fremont. Zweng said she liked the venue because it “feels like more of an intimate atmosphere, a little bit more homey and down to earth, which is fun.”

While the two venues are different, there is no true answer to which venue is better. There are other external factors, ultimately, it all comes down to what the audience member values about their concert-going experience and what venue would best satisfy their needs.

Spring into Shows: Fremont Concert’s This Quarter

Just because the weather is getting warmer does not mean students will be spending all of their time outside. The Fremont Theater is serving up a wide array of concerts from every music genre this spring quarter. It has started and will continue to offer a popular line-up until students leave for the summer in June.

The theater kicked off the quarter five days after students returned to campus with an upbeat performance by the Colorado-based musician Space Jesus. Accompanied by the acts Buku, Huxley Anne, and Eazy Baked, Space Jesus filled the vintage venue with his dance/ electronic sound. According to his website, “Space Jesus is the feeling you get when you travel through a wormhole in a fresh pair of Jordans.”

Well, that feeling was transformed once Space Jesus left the building and Flosstradamus entered. Trap artist Flosstradamus took the stage for his HDYFEST Global Warming Tour and students were introduced to the hi-def lifestyle the artist has allegedly become synonymous with, based on his bandsintown biography. This lifestyle brand has resulted in a clothing line, record label, and festival property, as well as dedicated fans known as HDYNATION. Cal Poly members of HDYNATION could see Flosstradamus nearly a week after dancing along to Space Jesus.

In attempts to slow it down a bit, the Fremont theater took a break from the music acts by hosting famous comedian Hannibal Buress. The former Saturday Night Live writer has recently graced screens with roles in Spiderman: Homecoming and Tag before he took center stage here in SLO on April 14 with his own stand-up routine.

Laughs aside, the Fremont went back to what it has become most notable a few short days later with the musical offerings of the English indie band Superorganism on their World Wide Trip Cont… Tour with special guest Simpson. Changing up the Fremont’s vibe, from the dance music it opened the quarter with, Superorganism provided students a more art-pop sound, such as what is given in their hit-single “Everybody Wants To Be Famous.”

Then on April 21, the theater switched it up again with a show from Earl Sweatshirt and Friends. They heavily promoted the rapper by doing ticket giveaways, highly encouraging students to come out to hear Sweatshirt’s personal alt-rap and horrorcore sounds right before midterms commenced.

The Fremont maintained the fact that it offers an eclectic range of genres, and in attempts to appeal to the large agricultural community on campus, tonight the country singer Aaron Watson will perform. If students have been following the theater’s social media platforms or local country music stations, they would have had the opportunity to win tickets or meet and greets with the star.

However, if free country tickets weren’t enough, a giveaway contest was also held for the folk band Gungor. While the contest has since closed, students can still purchase tickets to see the Grammy-nominated musical duo May 2 and hear them tell “honest and forthright stories.” The band has considered themselves to have “tapped their considerable music reserves to blur genres and break expectations creating a unique magnetic expression.” To learn more about the band before their show click here.

The Fremont also host shows that cater to older souls, such as in June, the famous country singer Wynona Judd and her band The Big Noise will take over.

Finally, for students that choose to stick around in SLO over the summer or are fans of Americas Got Talent (AGT), season 13 finalist Vicki Barbolak just announced a central coast date in July. Barbolak will be another break from the music scene. She is a stand-up comedian, who, according to her website, was also featured on AGT’s 2019 championship show because she was such a fan favorite.

With hot line-ups such as this, there is a reason many of the Fremont’s shows sell out. For additional information on upcoming shows, ticket giveaways, and more follow the Fremont Theater on Twitter.

The Flexing Fremont: How the Theater has Evolved Over Time

The above infographic displays how the popularity of seeing movies and seeing concerts has changed over the years.

The large neon sign first lit up May 29, 1942, for the star-studded premiere of the movie This Above All.  The Fremont Theater has become a staple in the San Luis Obispo community, hosting hundreds of events every year spanning from concerts, movie screenings, comedy shows, to even burlesque shows since its opening 77 years ago.

The venue has been hit, however, by modern competition over the years. According to an article on kcet.org, Bruce Sanborn, the owner of the theater back in 2012, said that “the people who go to the movies now, I don’t know if they appreciate [old theaters] enough to go to ones without all the bells and whistles.”

Current business freshman, Amy Lan, frequently attends the concerts hosted at the theater and doesn’t need “all the bells and whistles.” Lan says she prefers the Fremont Theater to traditional concert venues. Being from Los Angeles, she says she’s used to large venues where she is far away and has to watch the show from a screen whereas at the Fremont Theater she likes that she actually gets to see who she paid for and the impression of theater.

“I really like the vibe there because when everyone has the same music taste. They’re all drawn together. They are all similar to me in a way and it’s really fun being around those people,” said Lan. “So some of it [the vibe] is not good. It’s really hot, you’re really stuffed with people, and everyone pushes to the front but you get to see the artist. You’re so close to them, it’s so cool.”

It is the Fremont’s dedication to concerts that has kept it relevant throughout the changing times and as the trends and tastes of the general public have fluctuated. The theater was even the site of the reunion concerts for the rock band Yes, a group that hadn’t performed together in 15 years. The local landmark caters to what clients want, which has proven to be concerts. They have been able to do this all while maintaining the structural and historical integrity of the building, despite its primary draw no longer being films.

In a survey sent out to Cal Poly students, 80% said that concerts are the main reason they populate the theater, while only 10% prefer the theater’s film screenings. Out of the current 23 upcoming events listed on the theater’s website for spring quarter, two are for movies while 20 are for music events. Concerts have simply just become a more unique form of entertainment.

“I’ve considered movies but I just didn’t have the time for it. Concerts I just make the time for because they’re different, you know? They’re really fun,” said Lan.

It looks as if the bright sign will continue to stay lit due to this dedication to concerts from both the students and the theater itself. Some of the shows the Fremont Theater has planned for the upcoming months are Aaron Watson, Party Favor, and The Frights.


Devin Dawson 4.24.19
Aaron Watson 4.25.19
Party Favor 4.26.19
Shallou & Slow Magic: Into the Wild Tour 4.27.19
Chicano Batman 4.28.19
The End of the World Tour with Gungor 5.02.19
Slushii 5.07.19
STRFKR 5.08.19
Jai Wolf – The Cure to Loneliness Tour 5.14.19
A Night of Patagonia Films 5.18.19
The Frights 5.23.19
Melvin Seals & JGB 5.25.19
Jenny Lewis – On the Line Tour 2019 5.25.19
Fidlar 6.01.19
Wynonna and the Big Noise 6.04.19

Images screen-shotted from the Fremont Theater’s website.