Indigo Girls open season at Livermore’s Bankhead
By Lou Fancher
With about 300 people and the Bankhead Theater as a backdrop Saturday night at the Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center’s 11th season opening gala, “Brilliance at the Bankhead,” LVPAC Board Chair Jean King said Livermore has come alive.
“When I first moved here, you could roll a bowling ball down First Street and not hit a thing,” said King. “To me, this theater brings all things together. It’s a center for lectures, free events, theater, dance, music, visual art. We’re stable, and the rapport with the community is strong.”
As evidence, ticket sales for the annual fundraiser were brisk, says Executive Director Scott Kenison. Capped at 300 guests to maintain intimacy, the evening began with food and wine hosted by Wente Vineyards & Catering. Grooving to music supplied by the East Bay Jazz High School All Stars Band, people juggled glasses of Wente Brut and enjoyed butterfly prawn cocktail, quinoa-and-cucumber parfait, orecchiette pasta with porcini cream and smoked chicken breast, barbecue pork belly buns —and at intermission, seasonal tartlets, cream puffs, salted caramel brownies and coffee.
Kenison said the nonprofit cultural arts organization’s primary fundraising event garnered close to $230,000 in 2016. Hoping to surpass that number and pleased to see new faces joining regular supporters of the Bankhead, Kenison attributed the blend of new and established guests to this year’s headliners: Grammy Award winning duo the Indigo Girls — backed by the Livermore-Amador Symphony, led by music director and conductor Lara Webber.
“Our regulars who don’t know the Indigo Girls will love discovering them, and people who know the Indigo Girls but not the Bankhead are discovering all we can offer.”
Livermore City Council member Robert Carling joined King’s and Kenison’s “LIvermore is lively” chorus: “I moved here 41 years ago. As an interview candidate for a job at Sandia (National Laboratories), they took me to Pleasanton for dinner — Livermore didn’t have an upscale spot.”
Now, Carling said, the city can boast of art and local artists, the science of two national laboratories, great dining establishments and the history of Western rodeo all brought together.
“Being able to drive five minutes from our home and experience wonderful culture is amazing,” he said. “The only thing I want is a downtown hotel. I think it will activate and draw people from out of town to stay longer while visiting the Bankhead and local wineries.”
Kenison had his dream engine revving in high gear also: “A country act. I’d like to get a big country act in next season. That’ll bring in another whole audience.”
LVPAC devotes 60 percent of its $3.6 million operating budget to programming that annually supports more than 250 live performances, nine resident performing companies, 40 artists and arts educators at the Bothwell Arts Center, more than 50 classes and workshops open to the community and free family-friendly activities, art exhibits and cultural events.
Preshow sponsorships and ticket sales launched the gala with $165,000; a figure that grew in leaps and bounds during an exhilarating live auction led by auctioneer Lenny Broberg. Private dinners, winery-hosted luncheons, in-home concerts, Raiders and Warriors ticket packages, original fine art and getaways — including an overnight adventure that featured accommodations for eight guests at Purple Orchard Inn & Spa and dinner at Casa Real that went for a whopping $50,000 — had the audience heralding escalating, competing bids with gasps and applause.
A silent auction included, among other items, catered meals, wine, local tours, yoga or spa packages, and lunch with U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell. A pair of diamond earrings by Lance Cavalieri Jewelers valued at $6,500 went to the winner of a raffle. General “Amplify” fund-a-need donations called out in $5,000 and smaller increments filled the last moments of the live auction.
Development Director Chris Carter said in an email that a portion of the proceeds go directly to LVPAC’s Amplify Arts Education. The fund provides free public events, school assembly programs, and in 2016, ticket subsidies to 1,564 Tri-Valley students. Reached the day after the event, Carter said a rough estimate had the 2017 gala raising a record $300,000.
If audience response to the Indigo Girls was more sedate than the rodeo-like atmosphere of the auction, it was no less appreciative. John Fletcher, whose Fletcher Family was one of the presenting sponsors for the evening, admitted that he was unfamiliar with their greatest hits (“Galileo,” “Closer to Fine” and “Watershed” among them), but eager to hear the folk-rock duo. “For us, giving back and supporting the Bankhead is about the Bankhead being good for Livermore. This is a place where we learn about new things. Find new treasures.”
The upcoming season offers plenty of glitter: the return of popular artists like Tom Rush, Marc Cohn and the Blind Boys of Alabama, The Manhattan Transfer, Moscow Festival Ballet with “Cinderella,” and the Olate Dogs. New acts include comedian Vicki Lawrence, known for her character “Mama” from The Carol Burnett Show, pop hit makers OK GO, local performers African Guitar Summit, the R. Carlos Nakai Trio and more. Comedians, theater companies and LVPAC’s nine resident companies will round out the live performances.