Scher Of The Victory

Danny Scher is back in the concert business.

The former Bill Graham Presents exec recently settled a second suit with a California county that crafted a restrictive event ordinance that he says singled out the benefit concerts he’d been hosting in the 300-seat amphitheatre on his Kensington, Calif., property.

Scher settled with Contra Costa County, which was ordered in federal court to pony up some $25,000 in legal fees and make changes to the ordinance. He’d already won $29,000 in damages and attorneys fees from the county in 2005, after appealing fines totaling $800 for three events in 2003 and 2004.

But this time, he got more than his money back – the county was ordered to revise its events ordinance to include key exemptions and make it less restrictive. “I’m very pleased,” Scher told Pollstar. “I’m not pleased that it was this difficult.”

The kerfuffle began almost a decade ago, when Scher began hosting fundraisers at his home for various causes near and dear to him – including one particular concert with Bonnie Raitt that benefited political action committee

Neighbors in the hillside community hadn’t complained about prior concerts to benefit the Berkeley Jazzschool, but Scher believes some were not pleased with his choice of beneficiary and, in this case, filed complaints about noise, parking and lack of notice.

Scher attempted to mitigate neighbors’ concerns by establishing a shuttle to his home from a nearby Bay Area Rapid Transit stop to eliminate parking congestion in the neighborhood, limiting events to three per year and notifying neighbors well in advance.

However, the county came back with an ordinance requiring property owners to apply for a permit, pay a $150 deposit plus time and materials used by the county to process it and notify neighbors within 500 feet, who would also be solicited by the county for comment on the events.

One provision that especially irked Scher was that the county would publicize the beneficiaries of his fundraising efforts, public or private. “Not only would the county circulate flyers saying that I was doing a fundraiser, but who I was doing the fundraiser for and the name and address of an organization’s contact person in case anyone wanted to discuss it with them,” Scher said.

“It was the most restrictive freedom of speech ordinance that we could find in the United States, that controls what you could do in your own home. People – even my kids – would ask why I didn’t just pay the fees and get the permits, but it was the principle of the thing.”

Scher’s home and amphitheatre are now exempted from the permitting process and he wants artists and organizations to know he’s back in business – for nonprofit causes he and they believe in.

“The amphitheatre is beautiful,” he said. “Artists can come in and do something very different, maybe just themselves and a bassist, that doesn’t take tickets out of the market if they are playing in the area. It’s an amazing setting and people really love it.”

Is he concerned that disapproving neighbors who have battled him since 2001 might try to find another way to shut his backyard concerts down?

“Well, three of the five neighbors who complained have since died,” Scher explained. “I’m going to outlive them all.”