Cohn, Doobies’ 25 Years Of Charity

The Doobie Brothers and manager Bruce Cohn have been marking a lot of milestones lately. Not only is 2011 the band’s 40th anniversary, but fall will also mark the 25th year of gathering at Cohn’s Glen Ellen, Calif., winery and amphitheatre to raise money for a variety of important causes.

Cohn’s Charity Events Fall Music Festival, slated for Sept. 23-26, has become a fixture in California’s wine country and a “must-stop” for many artists from the Bay Area and beyond. This year’s is hoped to be the biggest and best yet.

The festivities will feature a dinner and auction Sept. 23, followed by two days of music and a celebrity golf tournament at nearby Sonoma National Golf Course.

Last year’s dinner was prepared by celebrity chef Bradley Ogden, of One Market in San Francisco, and Cohn says he hopes to get Thomas Keller of nearby Napa Valley’s famed French Laundry to do the honors this year.

The 3,000-capacity amphitheatre, located on a hillside surrounded by vineyards, includes a VIP area with food service, with packages available for purchase in April. General admission presales are expected to begin in May as the festival lineup is finalized.

For Cohn and Doobie Brothers guitarist and founding member Patrick Simmons, it’s a labor of love as well as an extension of the kind of philanthropy they’ve been quietly involved in for most of the band’s career – even during the years the band was not formally together.

“It’s the 25th anniversary of this particular event, but it all started with the Doobies way before that,” Cohn told Pollstar. “In the mid-’70s or so we did a golf tournament in Los Angeles for the United Way. I got the idea for the golf tournament from that.”
Simmons says that giving back has been part of the band’s history from the start.

“It’s an ongoing part of what we’ve been doing for the past 40 years,” Simmons told Pollstar. “The concert series was something Bruce was thinking about for a long time before he did it.

“We’ve always been active in fundraising activities for charitable causes and often we’ve done concerts around the country with other artists and on our own as well. We had done it at different venues here and there. It came to Bruce at one point, that the overhead to do charitable concerts is such that you end up paying a huge amount of money on production and facilities,” Simmons explained.

“To be able to do it on the premises of the winery enabled us to save on the venue costs. Then we got people to volunteer as opposed to paying employees to put a show on,” Simmons said. Between the concerts, dinner, auction and golf tournament, the event has raised as much as $450,000 for a variety of non-profits and other charitable groups.

“We began working on an annual basis with Stanford Children’s Hospital and Ronald McDonald House,” Cohn said. “The Doobies did a concert there every year for 18 years. They even have an amphitheatre there named for the Doobie Brothers. Even the years where the band broke up, where they didn’t work for five years, they all came back together every year for that one show for children with leukemia and cancer. Sometimes it’s heart wrenching, because these are kids with very serious illnesses,” Cohn explained.

The band and Cohn have made relationships over the years with some of the beneficiaries, including kids who’ve grown up and finished college with the help of the Mentoring Alliance, and Boys and Girls clubs.

One in particular stands out for Cohn. A young pianist being treated for leukemia at Stanford Children’s Hospital for several years and a fan of the Doobie Brothers was able to perform at Shoreline Amphitheatre in nearby Mountain View with the band before she died.

“We brought her over by ambulance from Stanford and she got onstage and played for 19,000 people. She passed away not long after that,” Cohn said. “Last year I was in New York and I got a phone call from her brother, who was an infant when she was sick.
“He’s now signed to Universal and he’s had seven albums as a pianist. He contacted me and we had him come sit in with the Doobies when they played the Mountain Winery in Saratoga, Calif. Their mother came to that. It was incredible.”

Cohn says the charity has about 40 primary beneficiaries, including local veterans groups that have long been a focus of the Doobies’ efforts. The band recently performed a free show in Nashville for Operation Stand Down.

But come September, they’ll be back in Glen Ellen to celebrate 25 years at the B.R. Cohn Winery, play some music and raise some money.

Cohn hopes to bring back performers and headliners from past years. And if he’s successful, it could be the biggest collection of headline talent the Bay Area has seen in one place in some time.

“I’ve invited, basically, every headliner that’s played in 25 years to come back for this anniversary,” he said. “What we will do is have a backup band of side men so everyone can come on and do a few songs each, and not bring all the equipment and everything.

Besides the Doobie Brothers, Cohn says previous performers on the invitation list include Bonnie Raitt, Joe Walsh and Glenn Frey, David Crosby and Graham Nash, Jackson Browne, Willie Nelson, Loggins & Messina, Joe Satriani, Sammy Hagar, Taj Mahal, Cheap Trick and Journey.

“I’d love to get them. So we shall see.”