Summer Concert Guide
Here’s the ultimate rundown on this season’s music scene—with insider tips—to make the most of the shows.
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FOX OAKLAND THEATER
➜This spectacularly refurbished concert hall has made Oakland’s Uptown neighborhood the entertainment destination of the Bay Area. Originally built in the 1920s as a movie house, the 2,800-capacity Fox sat dark from the late 1960s until February. Thanks to a $75 million restoration, the Fox is a perfect balance of old-school elegance and modern comforts (multiple bars, big balcony seats). Another Planet Entertainment has been booking sweet shows, from cutting-edge acts such as the Black Keys and Fleet Foxes to legends Jeff Beck and B.B. King.
Top Tickets: Of Montreal, July 24; Sonic Youth, August 2.
Wish You Were There: Oakland rock gods Green Day played their entire new album, 21st Century Breakdown, start to finish at a surprise show in April; a feat the band repeated the next night at the tiny Uptown club across the street from the Fox.
Buy Early Online: Since reopening, the Fox has been a runaway smash. Shows sell out fast, so sign up for on-sale announcements and presale opportunities on the theater’s website.
Location, Location, Location: Close to the 19th Street BART station, as well as terrific restaurants and bars such as Flora, Ozumo, and Luka’s Taproom & Lounge.1807 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, thefoxoakland.com.
»»» CONCERT TIP »»» Bummed you missed that Springsteen at Winterland show back in ’78? You can find a recording and many other classic concerts at wolfgangsvault.com. Just sign up and listen for free.
➜More than 20 years ago, Livermore’s Wente Vineyards booked Ray Charles for a one-night stand, and tickets sold so fast that a second show had to be added. The rest is history. Wente’s concert series is the East Bay’s premier high-end wining, dining, and rocking-under-the-stars venue for around 1,500 music fans. Before the music, guests can enjoy dinner in the winery’s restaurant ($219–$309) or a gourmet outdoor buffet ($159–$219). Just after dessert, an A-list headliner brings the entertainment. Concert-only orchestra seats are available for $129–$169, for people who don’t want dinner.
Best. Lineup. Ever. This summer, Wente's lineup includes Steve Miller (July 29), Sheryl Crow (August 31), and James Taylor (September 21). Enter to win tickets to see Gretchen Wilson on August 3 at diablomag.com.
Guaranteed Good Time: Anyone who has seen Chris Isaak perform his annual show at Wente (August 27) knows it’s a hoot, always with a few jokes about Isaak’s Stockton clan descending upon the winery. “During the show, my friends and family are out in the parking lot going through cars,” Isaak told Diablo in 2006. “So be sure to bring your valuables with you.”5050 Arroyo Rd., Livermore, (925) 456-2424, wentevineyards.com.
»»» CONCERT TIP »»» Layered clothing is the key to staying comfortable at outdoor venues such as Berkeley's Greek Theatre, which can be blissfully balmy or cold and foggy.
ONLINE EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: KFOG Acoustic Sunrise/Acoustic Sunset host Rosalie Howarth
Rosalie Howarth is my kind of music lover—someone who appreciates singer-songwriters, intimate concerts, and the connection an audience can have to both live music and the magic of radio. Best known as the soothing voice on KFOG’s Acoustic Sunrise and Acoustic Sunset every Sunday, the longtime Walnut Creek resident is one of the most enthusiastic and encyclopedic music fans that I know. We chatted over lunch about the best records of 2009 so far, as well as the concerts and venues she’s most excited about this summer.
Great to see you again Rosalie! So what are your favorite albums of 2009 thus far?
One of the most interesting albums so far is The Decemberists’ The Hazards of Love. It’s a concept album set in medieval times. It’s striking, original, very unusual. But my favorite record of the year is by a San Francisco band called Blame Sally. Four women, singing four-part harmonies. Their record is called Night of 1,000 Stars. They’ll be opening for Joan Baez at the free Stern Grove series on July 12. (Get there early).
Other albums I liked this year are River of Time by Jorma Kaukonen (Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna) and Madeleine Peyroux’s Bare Bones. She’ll have a show at Montalvo Arts Center on August 8.
For that big rock sound, you can’t do better than Green Day.
How about live shows—what are you looking forward to?
I’m looking forward to a few big shows, like Coldplay, but I think this summer feels like smaller is better. You can’t find a more gorgeous site than Wente Vineyards in Livermore. Just a beautiful location, where you have dinner first and then listen to an artist like Chris Isaak, who sells it out every summer. They have James Taylor booked this summer, which is a big deal. Taylor has so many fans, he will sell out a much bigger venue, so to be able to see him at a winery is a real treat. I’m also looking forward to Bonnie Raitt and Taj Mahal at the Paramount Theatre. They’ll each play a set and then do a set together.
We’re trying to tell people about more deals and free shows these days, because times are tight for a lot of families. You mentioned the popular series of free concerts at Stern Grove, but are there are other family friendly shows to recommend?
Of course! First, I’d really like to remind people that this is a great time to support your local coffee house and small club and your local indie record shop. In these economic times you really do feel like you’re in a village, and the great thing about supporting your local artists is that you will always be able to afford them. There’s nothing more rewarding about seeing a Jackie Green or a Brett Dennen make it. A good coffee house typ show coming up is Cheryl Wheeler and Kenny White—two terrific singer-songwriters—at the Freight and Salvage on June 21.
As far as free shows, Todos Santos Plaza in Concord has had a wonderful free series for years and years. Terrific artists perform every Tuesday afternoon and then again at 6:30 in the evening, always free. Also check out the series of Community Concerts at various East Bay venues. These cost a few dollars, but are very reasonably priced and they have some terrific artists and venues. The concerts at Cal Maritime Vallejo are really spectacular, what a gorgeous place to see live music. And it’s a great place to take your kids, and teach them some concert etiquette. I made sure to take my kids to shows and show them how to behave, to watch out for drunks, be safe and have a great time. My daughters’ first shows were both Santana concerts at the Pavilion.
This interview is going in the intimate venues section of the Ultimate Summer Concert Guide. There really isn’t a more intimate venue than the KFOG private concerts in the Playspace at the KFOG studios. Who are some of the artists you have hosted in the Playspace?
Oh so many. It’s a wonderful place for our listeners to see an artist, because you’re really no more than 25 feet from the performers. We just had the Dead in the Playspace, and over the years we’ve had Dave Matthews, Norah Jones, REM, Sarah McLachlan, Sheryl Crow, The Decemberists, Death Cab for Cutie, Steve Earle, Indigo Girls, Robert Plant, Andrew Bird, Counting Crows, Ozomatli, Ben Harper, Pretenders, Collective Soul, Goo Goo Dolls, Susan Tedeschi, and Jack Johnson, among many others. Some of these performances can be seen in the Fogvision section on KFOG.com, so make sure to check that out.
➜The setting at this winery venue in Saratoga is serene, and the food is terrific: Three-course dinners ($55) and buffet options ($35) are available. Performers take the stage in front of a historic Paul Masson winery building and play to a 2,500-capacity audience. Recent renovations mean there isn’t a bad seat. In fact, the back row is ideal—still close to the stage, with a knockout view of Silicon Valley.
Top Tickets: Wilco on June 26; Diana Krall on August 18–19; John Prine on October 1.
Budget Saver: Although the dinner options are excellent, concertgoers can buy show-only tickets for any of this season’s 60 concerts, often at very reasonable prices.
Gas Saver: The venue offers free preshow hors d'oeuvres to carpoolers.14831 Pierce Rd., Saratoga, (408) 741-2822, mountainwinery.com.
»»» CONCERT TIP »»» Bottled water is way cheaper than beer, and most venues let you bring an unopened (sealed) bottle with you into the show.
CLAREMONT RESORT AND SPA
➜Berkeley’s famed resort recently launched a series of jazz performances in its historic ballroom. The 2008 inaugural season included such jazz luminaries as David Benoit, Joyce Cooling, and Warren Hill. Preshow dinners, starting at $114, are offered 6–7:45 p.m., and headliners take the stage at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $54 to $119, and all the seats are great.
Top Tickets: The Sax Pack, June 5; more shows to be announced.
Bring the Kids: The Claremont has on-site child care for kids 5–12 whose parents are attending the jazz concerts. Activities include games, dinner, and a movie; cost is $60 for up to two children.41 Tunnel Rd., Berkeley, (510) 843-3000, claremontresort.com.
»»» CONCERT TIP »»» Foam earplugs, available at drugstores and at most venues’ first aid stations, will help protect your ears from point-blank amplification.
➜The legendary jazz club and Japanese restaurant in Jack London Square added a sister venue in San Francisco’s Fillmore district last year. Both locations offer terrific Japanese food and drink, and an intimate, old-school nightclub setting. They book top jazz and R&B artists every weekend, year-round.
Top Tickets: Oakland: Nancy Wilson, June 4–5; Michael Franks, June 19–21; Poncho Sanchez, June 26–28. San Francisco: Kurt Elling, July 9–12, Spencer Day, July 24–26.510 Embarcadero West, Jack London Square, Oakland, (510) 238-9200; 1330 Fillmore St., San Francisco, (415) 655-5600, yoshis.com.
➜This legendary dance hall may just be the epicenter of the psychedelic universe. Famous for its shows by the Doors, Hendrix, Joplin, the Dead, the Byrds, and many others in the late 1960s, the intimate Fillmore is still going strong. While most nights feature contemporary bands on the rise, megastars such as Carlos Santana, Prince, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have been known to thrill their fans with a show in the 1,150-capacity Fillmore.
Top Tickets: Gavin Rossdale on June 2; Tragically Hip on June 13–14; Duran Duran on July 7.1805 Geary Blvd., San Francisco, (415) 346-6000, thefillmore.com.
»»» CONCERT TIP »»» Don’t take the brown acid. It was a bad idea at Woodstock, and 40 years later, it’s still a bad idea.
➜This historic two-story theater, the site of countless Jerry Garcia Band concerts back in the day, has recently been given a facelift by new-in-town promoter Goldenvoice. A fresh coat of paint, new carpets, and additional seats in the front section of the balcony have spruced things up for concertgoers.
Top Tickets: Erykah Badu on June 6; Neko Case on June 9–10; Jewel on July 28; Al Green on September 2.
Toll Free: The theater is a block from the Powell Street BART station.982 Market St., San Francisco, thewarfieldtheatre.com.
➜Just around the corner from the Fox, the Paramount remains the world’s greatest art deco theater venue. Unlike the Fox, where the floor is standing room, the Paramount has seats throughout, so it gets less danceable acts. Still, an incredible venue.
Top Tickets: Tori Amos on July 13, Jackson Browne on August 19, Bonnie Raitt and Taj Mahal on September 16.
Cheap Tickets: If you’ve never been inside the Paramount and don’t want to pay for a high-price ticket, try the Classic Film Series, which runs on Friday nights. For just $5, you get to see a classic movie, newsreel, and cartoon. Historic tours are available the first and third Saturday morning of each month.2025 Broadway, Oakland, (510) 465-6400, paramounttheatre.com
Very close to Mountain Winery, the Montalvo Center for the Arts books concerts in its intimate 1,200-seat Garden Theater. This summer, Montalvo has teamed with powerhouse promoter Live Nation for its strongest lineup ever.
Top Tickets: Julio Iglesias on June 3; The Wallflowers on June 17; Jewel on July 21; Buddy Guy on August 15.15400 Montalvo Rd., Saratoga, montalvoarts.org.
GREAT AMERICAN MUSIC HALL
Gorgeous Gold Rush decor and a springy dance floor make this intimate, two-story hall a favorite of concert geeks.
Top Tickets: Kim Lalley, channeling Nina Simone, on June 6, Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women on June 26, Reverend Horton Heat on July 6–7.
Head’s Up: The Great American books independently of the major promoters, so check the website regularly for show information.859 O’Farrell St., San Francisco, (415) 885-0750, gamh.com.
ALSO CHECK OUT:
This club in Martinez presents a wide variety of live acts in a cozy, friendly atmosphere.
707 Marina Vista Ave., Martinez, (925) 228-6985, armandosmartinez.com.
924 Gilman Street Project
The all-ages, nonprofit punk club that launched Operation Ivy and Green Day.
924 Gilman St., Berkeley, 924gilman.org.
Grand Ballroom at Regency Center
Similar in size to the Fillmore, the Grand books big acts.
1290 Sutter St., (415) 673-5616, goldenvoice.com.
Oakland rockers Rogue Wave headline this tiny club on June 6.
628 Divisadero St., San Francisco, (415) 771-1421, theindependentsf.com.