The Doobie Brothers at B.R. Cohn Fall Music Event in Sonoma

The Doobie Brothers at B.R. Cohn Fall Music Event in Sonoma

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Article by Joel Selvin

Like a family picnic more than a rock concert, the Doobie Brothers, freshly reinvigorated with a new hit record, presided over the annual Sonoma Valley fundraiser this weekend run by the band’s longtime manager at his Glen Ellen compound, the B.R. Cohn Winery.

Adult children of original Doobie Brothers made impressive turns on the stage – Tom Johnston’s soul-singing daughter Lara fronted a tidy band of seasoned professionals that included saxophone session great Tom Scott and Pat Simmons Jr. opened the show solo acoustic – and their dads brought the afternoon on the sunny slope beside Cohn’s lush vineyards to close with a thunderous set that included three songs from the first new Doobie Brothers record in ten years, “World Gone Crazy.”

A new version of the band’s long-forgotten first single, “Nobody,” remodeled by guitarist John McFee, hit the radio last week across the country. KFOG is all over the new Doobies track – back on the radio in the first time since forever.

The first of the two-day event drew a capacity crowd of wine-drinking rock fans living the Sonoma lifestyle, all easily old enough to remember all the daylong concert’s supporting classic rock attractions; The Turtles, War, Grand Funk Railroad and Cheap Trick. “We’re going to know every song from here to the end of the set,” one concert-goer assured his wife, as the campy, funky Turtles swung into “Elenore.”

“My grandmother has all your records,” Turtles lead vocalist Mark Volman, his hair dyed a shade of black not found in nature, said the hotel desk clerk told him.

Bruce Cohn, who has managed the band since shortly after they changed their name from Pud, has built his landmark winery into a thriving operation – makers of not only widely recognized fine wines, but prize-winning olive oil, as well as creating a destination tasting room and popular wedding site on the 90-acre ranch where he also lives and raised his family. He and his brother Marty grew up on a Sonoma County goat farm and learned a severe work ethic early in life that paid dividends of success in music and viniculture. Cohn once ran a cheap-O car lot called Goniff’s Used Cars, goniff being Yiddish for “thief.” Marty, who is suffering from esophageal cancer, was around backstage as upbeat as ever.

Cohn’s annual benefit concerts celebrate their 25th anniversary next year and, although the Doobies have loomed over the event’s history, Cohn has inveigled dozens of their associates over the years to play the boutique rock festival; Steve Miller Band, Journey, Crosby and Nash, Bonnie Raitt, Little Feat. The second show Sunday featured Eddie Money, Loverboy, Night Ranger and the Greg Kihn Band.

The Doobies themselves, grizzled and great, have grown old gracefully. Tom Johnston, one of the great under-rated rock singers, blends voices with Pat Simmons so effortlessly at this point, it’s like listening to one vocalist singing two notes. In this sylvan setting, in the unconscionably blue skies of the Valley of the Moon, their beautiful families mingling backstage, their fierce music raising its head one more time, the Doobies are a long way now from the Chateau Liberte, the biker bar and former stage coach stop in the Santa Cruz mountains where the band posed for the first album cover.

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