A new Contra Costa music venue? Recent Orinda Theatre
show gets rave reviews
By Lou Fancher Correspondent Contra Costa Times
Is this city an up-and-coming live rock concert destination?
Could be, judging by the speed at which 750 tickets were sold to hear the alternative rock bands Toad the Wet Sprocket and Luce as well as acoustic guitarist Jeff Campbell perform at the Orinda Theatre on May 15.
Organized and presented by Notes4Notes, a Moraga-based nonprofit with a mission, the breast cancer benefit concert sold out within a few days.
Aiming at a specific rock music demographic and with the right venue, musicians, sound and lighting professionals -- plus a solid cause -- the event proved alternative rock can find a home in Orinda.
But that doesn't mean putting on a concert in the stylish-but-staid art moderne movie theater was easy. Notes4Notes President Sandy Preto, the tour de force behind the Orinda Theatre's one-night transformation into a rollicking house of "Toadheads," explained how she, an army of volunteers and hired professionals made it happen.
"We built the stage for a full-scale production," she said. Sound On Stage handled the sound system and Preto's life-partner, Mark Carlton, put his production and marketing expertise to work arranging professional lighting and a slew of donors.
Wine for the weeknight concert came courtesy of Lamorinda-based Parkmon Vineyards. Concord's DC Solar Solutions helped sponsor $195 tickets for approximately 50 meet-and-greet-the-band patrons, with Barbacoa restaurant and San Francisco Specialty contributing food.
The limited number of top-tier tickets was restricted by the outdoor patio dining area's size, Preto said, not by demand. On Facebook, people lamented having missed the opportunity to buy the higher-priced tickets (regular tickets were $65).
At the concert, Walnut Creek attorney Lisa Mendes-Drackert said she's been a Toadhead since she was 16 and "had butterflies" when she saw the cause and the band.
"Supporting fighting cancer and listening to a good band, people will pay big money," she said. Her husband, Steve, called the intimate (by rock concert standards) venue "trendy" and predicted people would someday boast, "I saw Toad when they were at the Orinda Theatre."
Moragans Chris and Stacy Charlesworth said a small town supporting one of its own may have launched Notes4Notes' benefit concerts, but they considered the Orinda show "a kickoff, with a lot more to come."
Preto said the theater's proximity to Highway 24, BART, restaurants and bars -- and plenty of parking -- made the location an advantageous choice. Plus, she liked the parallels between the theater's history and her recovery from surgery, chemotherapy and hormone treatments.
"It's been under the wrecking ball several times and has survived, just like me," she said.
Notes4Notes' mission, born from invasive lobular carcinoma (breast cancer) discovered in Preto's body in 2011, is to promote healthy lifestyle habits and support cancer-fighting organizations by using live music to raise awareness and funds.
A previous concert at Lafayette's 200-seat Town Hall Theatre in February 2013 raised $7,500 for the International Center for Integrative Medicine. Proceeds from the mid-May concert were directed to breast cancer treatment and prevention through Fran Drescher's Cancer Schmancer Movement.
"I want to bring local awareness to the type of work Drescher's doing. Lamorinda is educated and motivated. People need to know about it," Preto said.
Perhaps because they are releasing their first recording in 16 years, Toad's appearance in Orinda drew live music buffs from all over the Bay Area.
"I'm shocked it's so nice here," said Bruce Nidetz, of Pleasant Hill, about his first visit to the theater. "There's no cooler venue anywhere near here."
Sheri Simon, a Notes4Notes board member, said the location seemed an obvious choice during brainstorming sessions last fall.
"We knew with the right band and the right cause, it would be a sellout," she said.
With plans to present three to four concerts annually, Preto and Notes4Notes board member Clive Worsley announced from the stage that the next concert will be on Oct. 18 at Orinda's Bruns Amphitheater, with the headliner being announced in the near future.