Browne Concert Moved In Dispute

Instead of playing in front of 300 people in a natural wooded amphitheatre in Kensington, Calif., June 18th, Jackson Browne will perform a benefit concert for no more than 200 in a Berkeley restaurant a county away.

That’s because former Bill Graham Presents exec Danny Scher, who had offered his backyard venue in Contra Costa County for the benefit, agreed to move it to Downtown restaurant, which he co-owns, while an ordinance regarding home concert fund-raisers wends its way to the Board of Supervisors for a vote.

Contra Costa Supervisor John Gioia said he asked Scher to change the venue, according to the Contra Costa Times.

Gioia has crafted a county events ordinance that would allow Scher to stage up to four concerts a year but no more than two in a 45-day period. It would also limit the capacity of two events to 300 and the rest to 200.

Even so, Scher’s neighbors in the Coventry Neighborhood Group oppose the plan, which will likely go before the county’s Board of Supervisors in late June or July.

Scher has already been fined for previous concerts three times to the tune of $800, and has appealed those fines in Superior Court. In the meantime, he’s been fighting bureaucracy as well as a few neighbors as he battles to continue his concerts, which have featured Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal, Dr. John and others.

The next would have been Browne, to raise funds for counterculture icon Wavy Gravy‘s Camp Winnarainbow children’s performing arts camp in Mendocino County.

“Two years ago, the state legislature was going to pass a bill that would make it legal throughout the state to do fund-raisers at your home,” Scher told Pollstar. “I mean, I can’t believe that it’s illegal anywhere else in the state but, apparently, it’s only illegal here.

“They’ve never fined anyone in the history of the county. I’m the only one who has ever been fined for having a fund-raiser. People do them; we all know that.”

Scher says the complaints that resulted in fines all came from the same five neighbors, with the rest in the upscale neighborhood supportive, including police and fire officials. In addition to staging the concerts during the day, he arranges a shuttle from an El Cerrito commuter train stop to his home in the Berkeley Hills to mitigate traffic concerns and parking on his block.

“I don’t have lighting and I don’t have amplifiers. I have a microphone,” Scher said. “For a sound system, what I have are just little outdoor, all-weather speakers. There are five lights attached to trees – real trees, not light trees. It’s nice equipment but its not humongous.

“It’s like the old story; because you can hear something doesn’t mean it’s loud. It just means you can hear it,” Scher continued. “But it forced the county to deal with the issue because the state legislature was going to deal with it if the county wouldn’t.”

Once the county enacts such an ordinance, Scher intends to open up his amphitheatre, which he calls Coventry Grove, to artists willing to play for free for the good cause of their choice and without a full band configuration.

In addition to the Camp Winnarainbow fund-raiser, money has been raised at past events for the John Kerry for President campaign and for the Berkeley High Jazz Band.

— Deborah Speer