San Francisco Giants' boss Bill Neukom and Vaughn Walker, the retired federal judge who threw out Proposition 8, will be among the featured speakers at the Bohemian Grove encampment of rich and powerful men beginning Friday in Monte Rio.
Also scheduled to present Lakeside Talks during the 17-day Bohemian Grove retreat are Daniel Yergin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and energy expert; Willie Smits, a conservationist and defender of Borneo's orangutans; and former Secretaries of State George Shultz and James Baker, according to a source.
The talks, presented beside a small lake ringed by towering redwoods, are a daily highlight of the summer encampment held by the San Francisco-based Bohemian Club and dating back to 1878.
Like everything else that transpires within the Bohemians' 2,700-acre enclave along the Russian River, the talks are secret, to the chagrin of critics who contend the plutocrats and politicians are either plotting the future of the free world, engaging in nefarious ceremonies or both.
Nothing like that actually happens, according to Matt Oggero, the club's general manager. "It's a group of guys out in the woods having a good time," he said.
Even the protesters who used to collect at the grove's gate have pretty much given up, although there have been recent Internet rumblings of such an effort, Oggero said.
"It wouldn't surprise me to see a few people show up," he said. Last year, the protest "turned out to be one guy," Oggero said.
What the Bohemians do most is hang around in the 119 camps among the redwoods, consume alcohol and eat three meals a day at a large outdoor Dining Circle.
Diversions include entertainment and the Lakeside Talks, which in past years have featured not-yet President Richard Nixon in 1967 and former President George H.W. Bush, who in 1995 introduced his son George to the powerbrokers.
Also on the Lakeside Talks list this year are documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson and the ambassadors from Australia and Mexico.
G. William Domhoff, a UC Santa Cruz sociologist who wrote a book about the Grove, described it as "an Elks Club for the rich; a fraternity party in the woods."
The 2,400 men expected to attend this summer include corporate titans, but also musicians and artists, local business leaders and even ordinary folks like schoolteachers, Oggero said.
The Bohemian Club's motto for more than 130 years has been, "Weaving Spiders Come Not Here," and Oggero said members tend to stick to the ban on talking business. "It's all about fellowship," he said.
The encampment also gives the area an economic lift, as private jets swoop into the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport and the campers spend money at local stores.
The grove hires a large staff, about 750 people this year ranging in age from 16 to more than 70 and working for $10.50 to $17 an hour, Oggero said.
About 60 percent of the workers are high school and college-age youths, many of them getting their first job experience.
A former Santa Rosa resident, who bussed tables at the Grove several years ago, said she was restricted — due to her gender — to the dining area.
The only Bohemian she recognized was actor-director Clint Eastwood, whom she served orange juice. "It was exciting," she said.