Marian's Did You Know: Benefit Concerts From the Greek Theatre Festivals to the 25th Anniversary
Bread & Roses Benefit Concerts (Part One): From the Greek Theatre Festivals of Music (1977-1991) to the 25th Anniversary Concert at the SF Opera House (2000)
When people hear the name “Bread & Roses,” they often associate it with the legendary "Bread & Roses Festivals of Music" that were held through the years from 1977 until 1991 at the Greek Theatre, an 8,000 + seat amphitheater in Berkeley. These mostly all-acoustic musical extravaganzas are still revered by those who attended them and remember the experiences they had at these unforgettable concerts.
The shows gave tremendous public relations exposure to Bread & Roses. To this day, many people in the greater Bay Area think of Bread & Roses as a concert producing entity, but may not know that the money raised from our benefit concerts goes to support our on-going program of live music for isolated Bay Area audiences. Our organization, founded by the late singer-songwriter/guitarist Mimi Fariña in 1974, is now in its 47th year thanks to all the benefit concert-goers and other supporters along the way.
The line-ups at these major multi-day musical events were unsurpassed. In 1978, Joni Mitchell appeared on the first day with Herbie Hancock. Day two saw Elizabeth Cotton on the bill with Odetta. Steve Goodman co-headlined the final day with The Persuasions. In 1980, Neil Young, Kris Kristofferson, Jennifer Warnes and Leonard Cohen appeared on day one, then The Kingston Trio, Taj Mahal and B.B. King on day two and the final day saw Van Morrison sharing a bill with Etta James. Reproductions are available of the posters from a couple of the festivals held in 1978 and again in 1980. (See breadandroses.org/merchandise)
The earliest Bread & Roses benefit concert was produced in 1976 at the Berkeley Community Theatre with Judy Collins, Bonnie Raitt, Maria Muldaur and David Grisman setting the stage for the long tradition of Bread & Roses music festivals. In 1977, the first “Bread & Roses Festival of Music” was presented featuring Theodore Bikel, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Terry Garthwaite, Arlo Guthrie, Ritchie Havens, John Herald and Dave Van Ronk.
Subsequent “Festivals of Music” were held at the Greek in 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981 and 1982, with a gap of seven years, then again in 1989, 1990 and 1991. Most were held throughout the weekend on several successive days and were all-day concerts.
In 1983, Bread & Roses staged a smaller benefit concert at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco with the Smothers Brothers, Father Guido Sarducci, Rob Reiner and Howard Hesseman. In 1984, a spring benefit was held at the Marin Center with Graham Nash, Robin Williams and Bob Goldthwaite.
Bread & Roses’ 10th Anniversary was celebrated in 1984 with a banquet at the Claremont Hotel featuring Joan Baez. In 1986, the annual benefit was held at the Great American Music Hall with Joan Baez, the late Dan Hicks and Neil Young. Also in 1986, Maria Muldaur did a benefit for Bread & Roses at the Cotati Cabaret. That same year, Bread & Roses returned to the Marin Civic Center with a benefit performed by Jerry Garcia, Peter Rowan and Maria Muldaur. Robin Williams also performed in 1986 at a private fundraising dinner.
In 1988, Bread & Roses hosted a “Stars & Film” Benefit back at the Palace of Fine Arts with Peter Coyote, the late John Cippolina and the late Dan Hicks. That same year, proceeds were shared from “Watchfire,” an album recording with Jerry Garcia, Mickey Hart, David Grisman, Holly Near, Pete Sears and others. In 1989, 1990 and 1991 Bread & Roses returned to the Greek Theatre with a star-studded line-up for three additional Festivals of Music.
In 1990, Bill Graham hosted a benefit at his hillside home Masada in Corte Madera with Michael Pritchard, Maria Muldaur, Mickey Hart and Wavy Gravy. In 1991, Bread & Roses produced a smaller benefit at Slim’s with Huey Lewis, Rickie Lee Jones and Bobby McFerrin. In 1992, Michael Feinstein performed a private benefit house concert.
In 1993, the first benefit concert was held on Alcatraz Island in the dining room of the main cell-house (400 seat capacity) with Joan Baez and San Quentin’s “Prison to Praise” choir. It took our founder, the late Mimi Fariña, years of negotiation with the National Park Service in order to secure permission for the concert, which was a first for this location. The Alcatraz concerts were labor-intensive to produce because everything, including generators for power, had to be transported over to the island by boat and up to the dining room of the cell-house. Hundreds of volunteers were needed to move production materials from the loading dock to the stage area. Several different independent producers helped over the years with this event. The production became easier in 1995 with the addition of strong and dedicated volunteers from the Delancey Street Foundation, one of the institutional audiences served by Bread & Roses.
In 1994, the second Alcatraz show featured Kris Kristofferson, Tracy Nelson and Father Guido Sarducci. In 1995, Bread & Roses hosted its most successful Alcatraz show with Bonnie Raitt and David Grisman playing to a sold-out audience. Bonnie famously quipped during the concert, “I’ve played in a lot of bars before, but never quite like this.”
The 1996 show with Joan Baez, Dar Williams and the Indigo Girls sold out quickly largely due to the Indigo Girls’ devoted fan base. The last Alcatraz show in 1998 featured Jon Hendricks, Les McCann and members of the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir.
The Alcatraz benefits were a daylong experience, including the concert. The ticket price ($150 - $5,000 range) included the boat ride to the island with a catered meal, a tour of Alcatraz or optional panel in the prison chapel on a topic related to Bread & Roses mission, and dessert/coffee on the return boat ride. The Red & White Fleet handled ticket sales through their box office and a VIP pre-event reception was held at One Boulevard in San Francisco.
Other smaller fundraising receptions, wine auctions and house concerts have been held throughout the years such as the 1995 performance of Holly Near’s "Wintersong" at a private home.
The long-awaited 25th Anniversary Benefit Concert was held March 20, 2000 at the San Francisco Opera House (3,000 + seats) to a sold-out audience. This event was over two years in the making and required extensive organizing by Mimi and staff including Lana Severn, Event Producer Kim Teevan, a full-time administrative office assistant, as well as a Friends Committee of staff, consultants and board volunteers. Booking for this concert continued almost until show time with last-minute additions including Lily Tomlin, Robin Williams and Bonnie Raitt. A benefactors’ thank you dinner was held one month prior to the event and a pre-event gala was held at Symphony Hall prior to the concert. A series of pre-event receptions with a celebrity guest of honor were held in the homes of Bread & Roses donors in Marin, San Francisco and on the Peninsula to build support and cultivate community prior to the concert.
The Opera House concert was Mimi’s last benefit before she died in 2001. True to form, the closing finale was a line-up of all the artists who participated – from Joan Baez (who brilliantly reprised her impersonation of Bob Dylan) to the late Pete Seeger, Kris Kristofferson, Tom Johnston (of the Doobie Brothers), Emcee Father Guido Sarducci and so many more. Mimi stood with the rest on stage and threw roses to the crowd during the grand finale, a trademark feature of the festivals of music through the years.
To this day, Bread & Roses still upholds the model of an annual fundraising concert, with smaller benefit events held throughout the year. Funds raised bring in substantial ongoing support for each year’s operating budget. Mimi Fariña was the artistic director and loving curator of all the fundraising concerts held during the organization’s first twenty-five years (1974-2000) -- exceptional experiences of live music that were designed to give audiences the same kind of joyful and intimate connection that our isolated audiences experience nearly every day of the year.
There are so many stories to tell of things that happened along the way. I recall the late Jon Hendricks famously took a nap in a padded stand-up bass case in a cell on Alcatraz before his benefit concert in 1998. I remember Mimi saying that when she looked at the photos of each event afterward that she could always see there was a couple in the audience who were falling in love. We’d love to hear your stories too! Please leave a note on the blog.
To Be Continued: Stay Tuned for Part Two Bread & Roses Benefit Concerts (2001 - 2021)
For more info about the “Bread & Roses Festivals of Music at the Greek Theatre,” see the related blogs: