Hurray for the Riff Raff’s Segarra spent formative time in SF 

The day Alynda Lee Segarra turned 17, a decade ago, she staged a big birthday bash for herself in her native New York borough of the Bronx. A day later, she was on a Greyhound bus, bound for her dream city, San Francisco.

“I slept in Buena Vista park. That was the first place I went,” she says, sighing. “I was experiencing the Haight neighborhood and just trying to figure out what the hell I was going to be doing with my life. There were a lot of kids living on the street at the time, so I just fell in with all of them.”

She admittedly depended on the kindness of strangers.

Yet she found her musical calling with a vagabond troupe dubbed The Dead Man Street Orchestra, and later settled in as the banjo-plucking frontwoman for Hurray for the Riff Raff, which returns to The City this week.

Back then? She begged for change on Haight Street, got fresh socks and food from a homeless shelter, and ran with a wolf pack of six teens, guarded by their black Labrador, Plague, who believed himself to be pack leader.

“We were a lot more innocent than most of those kids,” she says. “But I was really just excited to be so far away from New York, excited to explore the country.”

When Segarra left town, she and her friends hopped boxcars, Woody Guthrie-style. They continued traveling America like hobos, dodging police and railroad bulls along the way.

“We always said we were too cute to get arrested, but that wasn’t true,” she says. “We got arrested in North Carolina, and spending some days in jail was definitely a wake-up call for me. And there were a couple of close calls, like, ‘Whoa! I’ve got to really pay attention to this giant moving train and where I put my foot!’”

Landing in New Orleans, Segarra formed Hurray with transgender fiddle player Yosi Pearlstein.

“Our band has always been really aligned with the queer community, and San Francisco is one of the first cities where we started getting a following,” she says.

Their music — as on the new “Small Town Heroes,” with Segarra’s smoky warble infusing “Blue Ridge Mountain,” “Crash on the Highway” and “New SF Bay Blues” — is pure gothic Americana.

The stories ring true because she has lived them.

Segarra won’t extensively discuss her exploits riding rails. Kids still do it, illegally, and the community is sacred to her. “But when I think about it, I can’t believe I did that,” she says. “I’m just a scaredy cat now. Just being in this band, I get nervous!”


Hurray for the Riff Raff

Where: Independent, 626 Divisadero St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday

Tickets: $15 (sold out)

Contact: (415) 771-1421,

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Tom Lanham

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