** at the risk of sounding like a moron, i'd also suggest l.a.
(i think l.a. is often overlooked when talking about creative music.)
yeah, i know, l.a. gets the rap of having no culture, blah, blah, blah.
from what i can tell, sf has had its own problems in terms of venues going down the tubes.
i have had friends who moved up to sf tell me that it is pretty clique-ish and hard to get with people. don't know if this is true. i think l.a. can be hard, but most of the people i know seem to be open to other/new folks. (read this is as it's not a competitive as nyc.)
i've noticed a fair amount of younger folks doing this stuff around here (it's funny playing in bands that are asking you about gigs you had around the time they were born . . . ); younger people coming into scene means more ferment and new energy - - all to the good. a lot of this could be because of the cal arts scene . . . hello andre! lots of seriously good players/thinkers coming out o' there.
there seem to be numerous small series and a few clubs that have interesting things going on here (and i'm not including the knit in this). i don't think that l.a. can compete with tonic/roulette, but i think it may be comparable or better than sf.
that it is more expensive to live in sf is also a factor (tho' l.a. is not cheap by a long shot).
you are probably not going to make a major financial stake playing here - - if you're gonna try to make living at playing non-mainstream, nyc might be the only place, but look again at the comments about the competitive atmosphere. (though it's gonna be tough there because of rents? is it true rents have gone down since september?)
i think the person who said that chicago has a good scene has a good point as well. it has been getting a fair amount of press from the genre mags that seem to follow the non-mainstream stuff (at least the ones that i've read).
i've heard very good things about and coming out of vancouver, b.c. support scene, good players, fair number of venues, nice town.
seattle seems interesting.
how about amsterdam (if you're young and unencumbered)? from what i can tell, great music scene, nice town, can travel to other european burgs to play.
my guesses about transport: l.a., you're gonna need to have a car; nyc, you may not, but if you do, good luck with parking; sf, you may not, but that means you're in the city (?), and that means higher rents - - or you live outside and will probably need one. chicago, my guess is that it would be easier with a car when hauling gear . . . hmmm, eric or someone?
there are great players in all of these places, each with the different flavor that comes from the town and the people making up the scene.
also, the reality is that, no matter where you go, the non-mainstream music scene is *never* gonna get the props it *should* (i think that the advantage of sf, nyc and chicago might be that the press is a *little* more receptive to this stuff than is the l.a. press - - though we have our champions of the music here as well.)
personally, i'm moving because i'm tired of being bored (and no,
creating/indulging in the current "scene" isn't an option). as far as i'm
concerned, sf and new york appear to be the cultural centers (as far as
variety and availability go) and i don't think i'd get along well with nyc.