It was 1987, and Sheila Groves-Tracey found herself in need of a job. She picked up the phone and called up New George's in San Rafael.
"I thought, 'Booking's kind of fun, and I'm doing OK with my own band. Maybe I'll try it,'" she recalls.
That fateful rumination would prove transformative for the North Bay's music community, as Groves-Tracey would go on to become the top talent buyer for the area. Twenty-six years later, she has booked literally thousands of bands, in dozens of venues. Often in the wings and out of sight of the regular fan, she is the force behind generations of North Bay residents' musical memories. Because of this, we're pleased to honor her with a Boho Award.
Hardworking and courageous, Groves-Tracey established a name for herself early. Within a year of taking the New George's job, she got a call from Neil Young's manager to book a Bay Area tour. Also in those early days came a remarkable night with Jerry Garcia and Carlos Santana both sitting in with Los Lobos at New George's. Melissa Etheridge played the San Rafael club. The Red Hot Chili Peppers played there. The Grateful Dead filmed a video on its stage. For seven years, Groves-Tracey was at the center of the Marin scene.
After leaving New George's, the Petaluma local turned briefly to the Cotati Cabaret, booking a little-known band called Primus on "dollar Tuesdays" before starting a long run at the Mystic Theatre. "And then we did Train on dollar Thursdays at the Mystic!" she says, remembering how, when the band got huge, they returned to the venue for a special tour kickoff.
Cake, Ben Harper, Santana, the Blind Boys of Alabama, the Blasters, R. L. Burnside, Gillian Welch—the list of highlight acts that came through the Mystic Theatre during her 12-year tenure is so long that Groves-Tracey can't keep track of them all. During that time, she also acted in local plays—How I Learnedto Drive, Medea the Musical, Joinedat the Head, Foxfire, Smell of the Kill—and played in local bluegrass and country bands.
She also offered plenty of local bands opportunities for sharing the stage with their musical idols. "One of the things I love the most about booking is booking the openers," she says, "because they so appreciate it, it means so much to them. And when they're really good, and everybody appreciates them, that feels so good to go, 'Yeah, see? Aren't they great?'"
In 2010, she was offered the job of general manager at the newly renovated Uptown Theatre in Napa. It wasn't a booking job, but of course, you can't keep a good woman down. After eight months, Groves-Tracey was booking the Uptown, too, bringing in Willie Nelson, Devo, the Pixies, Built to Spill, Boz Scaggs, Del the Funkee Homosapien, Lucinda Williams and plenty of others to the restored theater in the past four years.
And then came BottleRock. In just three months, Groves-Tracey was hired by the music festival and single-handedly booked over 50 bands—big ones, "half-million-dollar-offer type things"—for what would turn out to be a huge success while the festival was happening and a financial disaster in the aftermath. BottleRock organizers currently owe over
$2 million to workers, stagehands, vendors, caterers and others.
Groves-Tracey has no part in the money that's owed, and in fact, isn't immune from the woes of the festival that she herself booked: she's still owed $50,000.
"You know, it's such a bummer, because I worked so hard," she says now, resignedly. "It was such a massive, huge thing. And I couldn't wait for it to be over so I could say, 'I did it! I did it, and it worked!' And I can't quite do that, because it's hard to celebrate knowing that people are owed money."
Just this week, Groves-Tracey has left the Uptown to pursue a new phase in life as the new owner of the Twin Oaks Tavern in Penngrove, a roadside honky-tonk built in 1924 that's perfect for Groves-Tracey's simple-life outlook. Sitting at the back patio, the wind rustling through the trees and the occasional semi-truck lumbering by, she talks about plans for parking-lot parties, weekend concerts and even blues karaoke in the rustic landmark.
"I love the idea of going back to the basics and the roots of music, where you're not at the rock star level with the riders and the attitudes and the tour managers," she says, relief evident on her face. "But this? This is just music. Let's just play some music. Grab your banjo. Let's play."—Gabe Meline
SEBASTOPOL CENTER FOR THE ARTS
Twenty-five years of a good idea, with no bounds
click to enlarge
"The North Bay arts scene, especially here in Sonoma County, is abundant," says Linda Galletta (pictured), executive director of the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. "This is an area that, per capita, has more artists, writers, musicians and poets than anywhere else."
For 25 years, the Sebastopol Center for the Arts has been a vibrant and vital source of support and inspiration for those artists, as well as for the wider community in which those artists work, create and dream, making it a perfect Boho Award recipient. Many folks, however, do not remember exactly how humble its beginnings were one quarter of a century ago.
"The center actually started out as three file folders in my bottom desk drawer at the Sebastopol Chamber of Commerce," says Galletta, who worked for the COC at the time as an economic program specialist. "The center for the arts was initially a program of the chamber of commerce, where the economic development committee thought it would be a very cool idea to create a subcommittee that addressed the needs of artists and musicians and writers—not just for the artists, but as an economic development element for the community."
After three years, an offer came from the pastor at the Sebastopol United Methodist Church, which had a large basement area it was interested in making available to local nonprofit organizations.
"We thought, oh my goodness, we could actually move out of these desk drawers and into our own physical space," says Galletta.
They spent five years there, eventually moving to a 1,500-square-foot A-frame building next to a lumberyard.
"So we moved into the A-frame, and suddenly there was an explosion of growth and activity," she recalls. "We saw many more people coming in, and our programs began expanding."
It was obvious that the little arts organization was making a habit of growing and growing. Another move came six years later, to a 9,200-square-foot location on Depot Street, where they remained for another 10 years. After all of this nomadic activity, Galletta says the Sebastopol Community Arts Center—having developed a series of classes, performances and gallery shows featuring international participation from artists of all kinds—needed to settle down into what would be a permanent home.
"In 2007 and 2008, we began looking for what would be a sustainable, long-term home for this organization," Galletta says. "We began talking to the county of Sonoma, who at the same time had a building in the heart of the community—the veterans hall—that was aging and underutilized, costing the county hundreds of thousands of dollars to maintain and operate."
After two years of negotiating, a deal was struck giving the Sebastopol Center for the Arts a nearly unheard of 30-year-lease on the building at the edge of Ives Park. Last year, Galletta and her team took over operations, beginning work on an ambitious renovating and remodeling plan that will turn the 17,800-square-foot facility into a vital, multifaceted destination for artists, writers, filmmakers, musicians and performers of all kinds.
"The new building has given us the ability to expand our programming and classes," she explains. "It gives us so much more potential. We gained an auditorium with a real stage. The building also came with two grand pianos—and we already had one of our own, so now we have three. The county has been delighted with the improvements we've made to the building, turning it into a facility that can serve all of Sonoma County, both residents and visitors."
For Galletta, the real fun comes from working with so many brilliant artists.
"I love artists! They are a different breed of person," she laughs. "They are a breed that sees no boundaries. Artists are always looking ahead. It's inspiring to be around them."—David Templeton