Santa Rosa grocery store musician keeps the beat to keep the needy fed

One unusual thing about the Oliver's Market in Rincon Valley is that musician and retired businessman Ron Schultz plays year-round outside the front door, mostly because he believes the world needs more performing art that folks needn't pay for.

A second interesting thing about this particular grocery store is that it sells an extraordinary amount of Campbell's Pork & Beans.

A third is that that those first two factoids are related.

Although his routine has changed for the holidays, Schultz's regular practice is to go to the Montecito Boulevard market shortly before 1 p.m. every Wednesday.

Still boyish at 69, he sets up a little background-music amplifier, a stool and a snare drum or washtub bass. Beside him he places a donation jar with a sign that reads, "100% percent of your tips buys food for the hungry."

And for two hours, he plays mellow jazz for his own entertainment and, he hopes, that of passers-by. This has been going on for a year. He calls his mission Performers with a Heart.

"It's a serious program, but it's a lot of fun," he said outside the store the other day. He views it as "expanding the arts to a whole new area."

The shoppers who Schultz hopes will enjoy the musical interlude clearly do not have to pay for it. His central objective is to encourage musicians and other performers to make their art available to the public for free.

His tip jar provides a way for the music to produce an additional community benefit. He uses the cash to buy, at Oliver's, cans of Campbell Pork & Beans that he donates to the FISH food pantry.

The FISH volunteers like to have pork-and-beans to give to people in need because it's hearty and versatile. Schultz buys it by the case.

He said it's not uncommon for his tip jar to take in $25 an hour, quite good for a street musician. He was flabbergasted one Wednesday earlier this year to play for his usual two hours and count up $254 in tips.

His total take for the year: $4,014.85. That works out to a monthly average of $335.

And that buys a lot of pork-and-beans. About once a month, Schultz takes a wad of cash into the market and purchases as many cases of cans as he can afford.

Store director Frank Camilleri gives him a high-volume discount. Thanks to Schultz, the grocer said, "we order 10 to 12 cases at a crack.

"I can about guarantee we're the best customer for Campbell's Pork & Beans in the state," Camilleri said.

"Ron's a real easygoing, friendly, low-key guy," Camilleri said.

He likes that the musician doesn't pressure anyone to donate money but simply plays alongside a jar that benefits others.

"It's not for himself at all. That's what I love about the guy," Camilleri said.

With the arrival of the holidays, Schultz has adjusted his routine and his mission. These days, he's playing outside Oliver's from 1 to 3 p.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and outside the nearby Safeway on Calistoga Road those same hours on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

And beside him is not his customary tip jar but a Salvation Army kettle. He did the same thing for 25 days during the holidays last year and brought in nearly $2,000 for the Salvation Army.

Schultz also is refining other music-and-service programs that he'd like to see replicated by other performers. He takes music and a flame-free electronic birthday cake into homes for disabled adults, senior facilities and a daycare center.

"This is not charity," he points out. "It's a performing arts program" -- one that doesn't cost anything and that produces a bit of good beyond the simple pleasure of the music.

Schultz figures that when he plays outside of Oliver's he is performing a concert similar to any other, except there are no tickets or seats.

There is one another difference, he said. "There's no applause, but you don't expect it."

Reach Chris Smith at 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.