Francisco Mavarez is never happier than when he’s in the middle of a song.
After picking up the guitar when he was 14 years old, the singer-songwriter known as Cisco, now 57, never put it down. Mavarez said he has no other interests.
“When I’m not playing, I’m looking for a microphone I need, setting up my amps, always trying to come up with a better sound,” the Mission resident said. “My life revolves around music.”
Prior to the pandemic, the full-time musician would often perform on stages, at Fisherman’s Wharf and at bars and other venues across the city; among his favorite spots were the Devil’s Acre and Vesuvio Cafe in North Beach. In response to the pandemic, he busked to make the best of circumstances, often on 17th or 18th streets in the Mission.
Performing full time, he said, is rewarding — but “not very glamorous, my friend.”
In the early 2000s, Mavarez took gigs on the side while working as a supervisor for a catering company in Atlanta, Georgia. Fifteen years ago, he transitioned to playing full time, because “when you get a job and you want to play, you don’t do either of those things well.”
Mavarez moved to Las Vegas first and stayed for eight years. He left after his ex-wife threw his belongings out of the house, he said. Because his name is Cisco, on Dec. 31, 2016, he moved to San Francisco.
Despite the exorbitant cost of living, he’s thankful to be here, he said. When he first moved to the city, he’d live on the streets or stay at shelters, including The Sanctuary on 8th Street.
“They really supported me,” he said. “Lots of resources here. The help is here. If you help yourself, people will help you.”
He said they’d keep his belongings in their office so people wouldn’t steal them. They’d also give him a pass to play in the streets late into the night and return at 3 a.m.
It’s a generosity he associates with others in San Francisco.
“Something very strange about this city to me: Every time you’re really depressed, someone out of nowhere that I don’t know, never seen in my life, comes talk to me and makes me feel better,” he said. “There’s always someone.”
Maravez said he worked his ass off and saved up enough to make a deposit for a small place by Valencia Street two and a half to three years ago.
“It’s inside of a shoebox, but I’m good,” he said. “I don’t have much, but I can’t complain because the price is right.”