Photography by Jeff Hunt
Anita Beshirs was born in Batesville, Mississippi, because the small Southern town her family lived in didn't have a hospital.
Welcome to our Valentine's 2024 episode all about Anita and her husband, Lester Raww. In Part 1, we'll get to know Lester and Anita through the stories of their childhood and early adult years.
Anita's dad was a Church of Christ minister who, along with her mom, never drank or even took medicinal drugs. Anita is the third child in her family (she has two older brothers) and when she just two years old, their parents moved them to the Cameroon jungle on missionary work.
The family lived in Africa in a house made of concrete blocks and with a tin roof. Anita spent the first six years of her life with no TV or radio and so she was forced to make her own fun. She was home schooled by her mom because her dad was busy doing his church work.
After four years, the family returned to Mississippi, now in the college town of Oxford, where Anita started grade school. She says she didn't want to go to college right away because she didn't know what she wanted to do with her life. But her parents insisted that she go to Christian college, which meant a school called Harding University in Arkansas. This is where Lester and Anita met, but more on that after we hear the story of Lester's early life.
His mom grew up in Florence, Alabama, near the Tennessee River and not far from Muscle Shoals. She moved to Florida and met his dad, who was a fighter pilot in the Navy. Lester has one older brother, born not long before him. Their dad was in and out of Navy and the family moved around, first to San Diego, then back to Flordia, and finally to Virginia, where Lester finished high school.
Because his family was also in the Church of Christ and his brother had gone to Harding, Lester chose the school, mostly as a way to escape life in Virginia. He had grown apart from the church when he was 13 and a friend introduced him to things like books by Robert Anton Wilson and William S. Burroughs, marijuana, and prog rock. Lester started playing guitar around this time, but we'll get more into that in Part 2.
Anita and Lester remember first meeting in their first year at college in the campus quad. Anita's first impression was, Oh god, this guy is such a freak. They didn't date for another four years, but hung out with a lot of the same people. Then, in her sophomore year, Anita spent a semester abroad in Florence. She came back a changed person.
At this point in the conversation, we hear them each describe was they were like as young adults. Anita says she was a bit of a prankster, but Lester's stories take pranks to another level. Because of their respective shenanigans, they were each "dormed" at Harding, which was the school's form of detention punishment. We all share a hearty laugh over this.
Anita says that at Harding, it was the first time in her life that she was popular. She was recruited into a social club (their version of Greek sororities) and was a rising star in Christian leadership. She liked it enough, but again, Italy changed her. Slowly, she stopped believing in god and Jesus.
Lester shares stories of how they and others would sneak in drinking and smoking cigarettes while at Harding. Slowly, Anita was finding a new identity and crowd of friends, including Lester. She left Harding for Ole Miss but went back because she figured out that she could graduate faster at Harding. The couple really started hanging out regularly in their fourth years of college. Both had dated others and in fact, Anita set Lester up with some of her friends. Lester had never got serious with anyone at Harding, though.
It was Anita's goal to get out of Harding unmarried. Her future husband wanted to move to New York to pursue a music career, and she was just ready to live a little, wherever. She broke up with her boyfriend in early 1990 and soon after this, the two got together.
We begin Part 2 where we left off in Part 1. Anita had been away from their Arkansas college town and missed Lester. Upon her return, she went to see him and they soon shared their first kiss.
Soon after that day, Anita had a pregnancy scare, and so Lester asked her, "Would you marry me if you are?" She said yes, but ended up not being pregnant. It didn't matter. They got married anyway. It was 1990 and they were both 22.
Lester had a semester to go in college, which meant that the young couple couldn't live together or he'd get kicked out of the Christian school.
He had started his first serious band—Cosmic Giggle Factory. They moved to Little Rock a few years later. Anita worked at Captain D's, a regional seafood chain fast-food joint, and then at a hotel. Eventually, she landed a job at Spectrum Weekly, an alternative paper in the Arkansas capital. Looking back, they say that they really loved their community there.
After four years in Little Rock, and after Bill Clinton got elected, they decided to leave before they would begin to hate it. Spectrum Weekly closed and Lester's band broke up. They took these as signs to leave.
Neither of them had ever been to San Francisco, but knew that they wanted to be in a city and many people they knew and trusted had good things to say about SF. Anita was working with an ESPN producer and through them met a person who lived here and offered them a place to live. So they packed up their Geo Prism, sold a lot of stuff, and maybe had $500 between them. It was November 1994.
Upon arriving in the Bay, Lester worked at Tower Records and Anita found work at a temp agency. She had "toyed" with art while living in Little Rock and picked that up again in SF. But she says she didn't take it too seriously until around 2015. She worked several academic and corporate jobs that she didn't like until around that time, when Annie at Mini Bar gave her a show there. She ended up being in a show at Mini Bar every year for the next four years.
One day in 2018 or so, Anita was at Fly Bar on Divisadero and learned that the owner needed someone to do art shows there. "I wanna do that!" she told them. Her first show at Fly was based on travel photography. Anita ended up curating shows at Fly until the pandemic, and had become involved in the Divisadero Art Walk. When COVID hit, the other Fly curator left town and Anita took over. She also did shows at Alamo Square Cafe, which stayed open during the pandemic. As other places started to open, she expanded her venues.
When Annie left Mini Bar and Erin Kehoe took over, Anita reached out and they decided to alternate curating art shows at the bar (where we worked with Erin to do Hungry Ghosts in summer 2023). Anita has since added even more venues, including Bean Bag Cafe, and says she has moved around $50K of art in five years.
This leads us to Anita's newest thing: KnownSF, which will officially launch later this year. For her shows, she likes to have one artist whose first show it is and one artist 50 or older. She says she wants to stick with the venues she's already showing at. Stay tuned and follow KnownSF on Instagram.
Then we get to Lester's band, The Pine Box Boys, who recently celebrated 20 years of existence.
When he first moved to The City, Lester had a hard time getting music going. He was dealing with confidence issues, which didn't make anything easier.
He enrolled at SF State, got a degree, went into a teaching credential program, and started meeting people. Through some of these new teacher-to-be friends, he started playing with a band that was already established. He says he was stoked to play a show in San Francisco, but that band fizzled out and broke up.
But Lester and another member kept playing together. It was a noisy, abstract band called Zag Men. As Lester tells us, the saying went, "If the Zagmen are playing, nobody's getting laid." He started creating soundtracks to silent films at ATA on Valencia. He was teaching and doing music on the side.
Pine Box Boys started in the same studio space at Fulton and McAllister that we recorded this podcast in. Lester showed his buddies some blue grass stuff he'd picked up when he was younger. And we learn that his mom used to sing him to sleep with old British murder ballads when he was a kid. So, Lester taught these friends some of those darker songs.
At first the band was a side project to his side project at ATA. But Lester points to the 2000 movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? which sparked a general societal interest in Americana and genres like blue grass. People began to want to hear Pine Box Boys more than Zag Men, so Lester went with it.
They played Cafe du Nord a lot and eventually started touring, both the US and Europe. Lester quit his teaching job and from 2006-2009, the band kept touring. They started to put out records (look for a new one, their sixth, soon). Eventually, he started teaching again, and when he got into school admin work, it ate into his music, but not so much that he had to quit.
During the pandemic, they did some streaming shows and online festivals. Eventually, when it was safe, they played a handful of parklet shows. He and Anita were regulars at Madrone already. Anita had an idea and asked Spike, who owns Madrone—what if Lester did a residency at the art bar? And so, the first Sunday of the month became "Apocalypse Sunday." November 2023 marked the two-year anniversary for the monthly show. Lester tries to always bring different genre bands in to play with his own. Mark your calendars! We've been to a few and they're a lot of fun!
We end with Anita and Lester responding to this season's theme on the podcast: "We're All in It." Anita points to wanting to see neighborhoods, which are thriving, mingle more and get to know each other. Lester ends with a rather choice quote about casseroles.
We recorded this episode at Antia's art studio on Divisadero on a rainy day in January 2024.