Marian’s Did You Know... that the Confessions of the Limo Drivers Tell Some Memorable Moments?
Bruce Davis was one of seven or eight volunteer drivers that Mimi brought on to help with transportation for all the artists that performed at the legendary Bread & Roses Festivals of Music from 1979 to 1991. A long-time supporter of Bread & Roses Presents, his eight-year stint as a volunteer led to a thirty-year career in the nonprofit/music world as director of City Celebrations, the SF Ethnic Dance Festival and the Silicon Valley Arts Council. To this day, he thanks our founder, the late Mimi Fariña, for inspiring a singer-songwriter with a chance to make his mark on the world.
Like Bruce, the drivers were mostly volunteer performers. Sometimes they drove rental vans, but other drivers (like event volunteer Ken Harrison) took the extra step of renting fancy or vintage cars for ferrying in style all the visiting artists from airport to hotel to the festival venue at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley.
One of the ways Mimi kept them connected and engaged was through the perk of being able to stay with the celebrity performers at the Festival headquarters at the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley. The drivers had “All Access” passes to the multi-day festivals at the amphitheatre, “an amazing venue full of ten thousand people at each performance,” Bruce recalled. “We also had access to the most beautiful musical and comedy collaborations possible behind the scenes backstage and at the hotel. It should be a movie,” he said.
He recalls some of these amazing moments like when Michael Pritchard and the Smothers Brothers performed together after hours and how hilarious they all were. He reminisced about another time when he helped with an all-star fundraiser back in ’78 for the Boarding House which was held at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium (now the Bill Graham Civic Center). He remembered going way up to the highest point in the theatre to check out the king of comedy Steve Martin. And looking left he saw Billy Crystal and looking right he saw Robin Williams taking notes from the master.
Remembering the “impromptu Saturday night jams “ with great fondness, Ken Harrison recalled they always had a local band entertain along with the featured artists. He said, “One year it was a Klezmer band. A young volunteer came dressed in an impeccable Zoot suit and mesmerized the onlookers with his accomplished dancing. Of course it may have helped that his dancing partner was Joan Baez (who still loves to dance)!”
Ken said he did not see much of the music at the Greek Theatre as the drivers were busy running a shuttle from the hotel to the venue and sometimes directly back to the airport. He shared a great story about his first airport run for the three-day Festival in 1978. “The first group I picked up was The Persuasions, an amazing a capella band. They were friendly, fun-loving, always laughing and joking; that is when they weren’t singing. One of them exhorted, ‘Come on we have to sing for the driver.’ Thus began a show that lasted all the way back to the hotel in Berkeley. They also burst into song when we were standing backstage at the Greek Theatre one afternoon when Joni Mitchell walked up and joined in. The next year on her national tour, The Persuasions were her opening act.”
He said by luck of the draw, he had also picked up Joni Mitchell at the airport. He said he went the extra mile by offering to assist if there was anything needed during her stay. After her stellar appearance at the Festival, she asked if he would return a borrowed guitar amp to Neil Young. He recalled, “Not at the hotel as it turned out, but to Neil’s ranch in the mountains! Bread & Roses agreed and Joni provided a musician who knew the way. Thus began an adventure to the ranch, across the cattle guard where horses roamed free, to the sound studio on the property where we were invited to stay for dinner before the band started recording. WOW!”
The proceeds from the legendary Greek Theatre Festivals of Music supported Bread & Roses mission of bringing music to those who are isolated in Bay Area institutions. Several of the Bread & Roses institutional shows that Ken attended were also quite memorable. He shared, “ One was Michael Feinstein at San Francisco’s Laguna Honda Hospital. Some of the patients, who had suffered strokes and were unable to speak, began to sing along to the old songs. Seems speech is on one side of the brain and music on the other. It brought tears to my eyes.”
There are so many stories. And we are so grateful to all our committed volunteers who have helped to maintain our mission through the years. We’d love to hear your recollections. If you have a memorable moment you’d like to share from helping with a benefit concert or institutional show -- as a volunteer host or performer, event volunteer or supporter -- please let us know by leaving a comment below. Special thanks to Bruce Davis and Ken Harrison for sharing their stories and continuing to support our organization. We greatly appreciate all who have sustained us from 1974 to the present. We couldn’t do it without you!