The most inspiring moment at this year’s BR Cohn Winery Fall Music Festival didn’t even happen on stage. In fact it was only witnessed by a handful of people backstage and the crowd had no idea it was happening at all. I was back stage in the hospitality area to the left of the stage- a large patio covered area with bistro tables, a deli spread, drinks, etc. It was a room full of musicians, stage crew, media folks, and their wives and girlfriends- maybe sixty to seventy-five people. There were guys from every band. I had been talking with Pat Simmons of the Doobie Brothers about how good my son Ry is on the guitar. Being a proud daddy I was of course bragging about the kid’s prowess, which had just been on display earlier during a scorching set of classic Greg Kihn Band mojo, and Pat said he was blown out by the kid’s playing. Randy Spendlove, 2 time Grammy winner and President of music at Paramount Pictures, and Joel Selvin, co-author or Sammy Hagar’s autobiography “Red” and SF Chronicle legend were within earshot and I was beaming like a proud papa.
Suddenly, some very serious-looking roadies came through- maybe half a dozen- big, beefy dudes in black T-shirts with some logo I couldn’t see. ”Stand aside, everybody stand aside.” We were leaning against the railing overlooking the beautiful rolling fields of BR Cohn vineyards. I’m thinking, who’s telling Pat Simmons to stand aside? What gives? We were just standing around.
“Move away from the railing and clear a path through here, now.” We all moved. Pat and Joel went back to the beverage area, Randy and I sat down at a table. About five minutes later, a golf cart pulls up and Leon Russell gets out looking about 100 years old and walking slower than Jim Otto at an awards dinner. I’m not kidding you, he was the oldest man I ever saw. He looked like Methuselah. I remembered that Leon looked old even when he was young. He moved through the crowd at a snail’s pace, leaning on his cane, his great gray beard and hair blowing in the breeze. He stared straight ahead, and just kept moving. He had a posse of roadies around him.
Suddenly all conversation stopped. Leon floated through the room. All eyes were upon him. Somewhere in the back, somebody started to clap. First one or two, then five of six, and within a few seconds the entire room erupted into spontaneous applause. Then, all the people sitting at the tables, including me and Randy, stood up! They gave Leon Russell a standing ovation that lasted until he walked up the ramp and onto the stage.
What a moment. That was the highest form of respect a musician can get- all the guys in the Doobie Brothers, all the other bands, guys like Carlos Reyes, Jeff Watson, and Jim Messina- every damn musician in that room stood up and cheered. Wow! It transcended the moment and I got a lump in my throat.
And the man was just walking through!
When he started playing everybody went to watch and it was magic, but I digress.
The gig itself was absolutely fabulous, but I’m saving that for the next blog.
I got a whole bunch of great stories. Tune in next time!
Jeff Watson, Joe Satriani, Bruce Cohn, Sammy Hagar, and me backstage.
Picture taken by my buddy Pat!
Pat Johnson Studios
140 South Park
San Francisco, CA 94107