Valley fire benefit concert rocks Wells Fargo Center

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The “Putting Out the Fire” benefit concert for victims of September’s Valley fire in Lake County presented six hours of nearly nonstop live music Sunday afternoon and evening at Santa Rosa’s Wells Fargo Center, but the classic rockers and country stars never stole the spotlight from the real reason for the event.

A total tally of the money raised to help fire survivors wasn’t immediately available, but organizers said they were aiming for a high six-digit figure, and the gifts announced from the stage during the show certainly made that goal seem attainable.

The Lytton Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians presented $100,000 to the United Way of Wine Country Valley Fire Relief Fund. G&C Autobody partnered with State Farm to give one family who lost its home in the fire a refurbished car, and, along with Enterprise Rent-A-Car, gave another car to a newly married couple from Middletown left homeless and jobless after the fire.

Organizers of Sunday’s concert — subtitled “Thanksgiving for Middletown” — also presented plaques to a long line of firefighters and first responders who fought the blaze.

The 76,067-acre fire, one of the most destructive in state history, destroyed more than 1,300 homes and killed four people before it was brought under control in a massive firefighting effort.

Eric Hoffmann, assistant region chief for Cal Fire, said outside the auditorium that for the people who lost their homes, the recovery will take much longer than it did for most of those who fought the fire.

“It’s not a sprint,” he said of the recovery time. “It’s definitely a marathon.”

The fundraising never stopped throughout Sunday’s benefit. Emcee John O’Hurley, an actor familiar from TV’s “Seinfield,” auctioned off celebrity-signed guitars for as much as $4,000.

One of the event’s musical highlights was the return to the stage of longtime Sonoma County resident Norman Greenbaum, 72, still recovering from a serious traffic collision eight months ago. He sang his 1969 megahit “Spirit in the Sky.”

Looking a little fragile, Greenbaum rallied quickly in response to the crowd’s cheers. He also sang two of his other favorites, “California Earthquake” and “Canned Ham,” backed by Imperial Messenger Service, which was led by David Frieberg, a veteran of Jefferson Starship and the original Quicksilver Messenger Service.

Guitarist Robby Krieger of the Doors jammed on “Light My Fire” and drummer Danny Seraphine of the band Chicago played the hits “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is” and “25 or 6 to 4” with the tribute band Stealing Chicago.

Country fans also saw their share of big names, singing along with Joe Diffie on “John Deere Green” and Diamond Rio on “One More Day.” Nashville recording artists Craig Morgan and Jon Pardi also performed.

Local talent was well represented, with performaces by celebrity chef Guy Fieri, comedian Will Durst, country singer-songwriter McKenna Faith and 12-year-old twin rockers Vittorio and Vincenzio Piazza, better known as V2 (pronounced “V Squared.”)

But at the end of the day, the show was all about the fire survivors.

“We both have friends who lost their homes in the Valley fire,” said Mary Gannon Graham, who came to the concert from Sebastopol with her friend Rochelle Shaw. “I just wanted to be part of the festivities and support the fundraiser,” Shaw said.

Nearly 1,600 people attended the sold-out concert, organized by the Amaturo Sonoma Media Group, Ron and Carolyn Kirk’s Bay Productions and Wells Fargo Center for the Arts.

Reach staff writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com.

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